All her books since have been anchored in the distinction between Dominator relationships and Partnership relationships, which provides a lens for viewing and understanding societies, intimate relationships within families, religions relations between humans and the divine , and the relationship between humanity and the earth. Before turning to that idea, let me explain the title of Eisler's book, The Chalice and the Blade , which I borrowed as the title of this talk. Every Unitarian Universalist knows what a chalice is, and if you go to the Unitarian Universalist Association website you'll find an explanation of how this symbol became associated with our denomination. However, in choosing the chalice as a key word in the title of her book, Eisler probably did not have UUism in mind.
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The author presents a conceptual framework for studying social systems with particular attention to how a society constructs roles and relations between the female and male halves of humanity.
Eisler highlights the tension between what she calls the dominator or domination model and the more naturally feminine partnership model. Eisler proposes tension between these two underlies the span of human cultural evolution. She traces this tension in Western culture from prehistory to the present. The book closes with two contrasting future scenarios. These challenge conventional views about cultural evolution up to the time of the book's publication.
Briefly her thesis is despite old narratives about an inherently flawed humanity, more and more evidence shows humanity is not doomed to perpetuate patterns of violence and oppression. Female values offer a partnership alternative with deep roots in the pre-Patriarchy paradigm of cultural evolution.
No utopia is predicted; rather, a way of structuring society in more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable ways is envisioned. The method of social analysis in the book is multidisciplinary in its study of relational dynamics. In contrast to earlier studies of society, this method concerns what kinds of social systems support the human capacity for consciousness , caring, and creativity, or conversely for insensitivity, cruelty, and destructiveness.
The study of relational dynamics is an application of systems analysis : the study of how different components of living systems interact to maintain one another and the larger whole of which they are a part. Its sources include cross-cultural anthropological and sociological surveys,  and studies of individual societies  as well as writings by historians , analyses of laws, moral codes , art , literature , scholarship from psychology , economics , education , political science , philosophy , religious studies , archaeology , the study of myths and legends; and data from more recent fields such as primatology , neuroscience , chaos theory , systems self-organizing theory, non-linear dynamics, gender studies , women's studies , and men's studies.
A distinguishing feature of the study of relational dynamics pays particular attention to matters marginalized or ignored in conventional male-oriented studies. It highlights the importance of how a society constructs relations between the male and female halves of humanity, as well as between them and their daughters and sons, taking into account findings from both the biological and social sciences showing the critical importance of the "private" sphere of family and other intimate relations in shaping beliefs and behaviors.
The author compares two underlying types of social organization in which the cultural construction of gender roles and relations is key. Eisler places human societies on what she calls the partnership-domination continuum.
At one end of the continuum are societies oriented to the partnership model. At the other are societies oriented to the dominator or domination model. These categories transcend conventional categories such as ancient vs. Western, religious vs. The domination model ranks man over man, man over woman, race over race, and religion vs.
It comprises an authoritarian structure in both family and state or tribe, rigid male dominance, and a high degree of abuse and violence. The partnership model consists of a democratic and egalitarian structure in both the family and state or tribe, with hierarchies of actualization where power is empowering rather than disempowering as in hierarchies of domination.
There is also gender partnership and a low degree of abuse and violence, as it is not needed to maintain rigid top-down rankings. In this book, Eisler traces tensions between these two models, starting in prehistory. It draws from many sources, including the study of myth and linguistics as well as archeological findings by the Indo-Europeanists J.
Based on these findings, Eisler presents evidence how for the longest span of prehistory, cultures in the more fertile regions of the globe oriented primarily to the partnership model, which Eisler also calls a "gylany", a neologism for a society in which relationships between the sexes are an egalitarian partnership. This gender partnership was a core component of a more egalitarian, peaceful, and matrifocal culture with a focus on life-giving, centering on nurture.
These societies once were widespread in Europe around the Mediterranean, and lasted well into the early Bronze Age in the Minoan civilization of Crete. Later, culture skewed towards Patriarchy during a chaotic time of upheaval related to climate change and incursions of warlike, nomadic tribes. These peoples brought with them a domination system and imposed rigid rankings of domination, including the rigid domination by men of women and the equation of "real masculinity" with power and violence.
This led to radical cultural transformation. Eisler's book is not the only work describing this massive cultural shift. Other scholars have paid special attention to a radical change in gender relations.
However, Eisler does not use the term " patriarchy. She proposed the real alternative is a partnership system or gylany. Nonetheless, some critics have accused Eisler of writing about a "matriarchy" in prehistoric times. According to them, she claims earlier societies where women were not subordinate were ideal.
Eisler does point out how more partnership-oriented societies described in The Chalice and the Blade were more peaceful and generally equitable; yet, she emphasizes they were not ideal.
She further makes it clear the point is not returning to any " utopia " but rather using what we learn from our past to move forward to a more equitable and sustainable future. Some archaeologists also question these earlier societies were more peaceful, especially critiques of Marija Gimbutas, one of Eisler's sources.
In addition, some archaeologists question whether the great profusion in these earlier cultures of female figurines, going back 30, years and perhaps even longer, indicates that they venerated a Goddess or Great Mother. Indeed, when these figurines were first excavated in the 19th century, the men who found them in millennia-old caves seemed to think they were an ancient kind of pornography, and called them Venus figures a term still used today.
But these sculptures are highly stylized, often pregnant, and sometimes with no facial features — hardly the stuff of pornography. So today this notion has largely been discarded. Instead, some archaeologists contend that these stone sculptures are dolls. But the idea that prehistoric artists created these figurines for little girls flies in the face of the fact that these are nude figures with highly accentuated vulvas and breasts—hardly what one would associate with children's play.
Moreover, some of these female sculptures could not be dolls since they are not portable. For instance, the famous Venus of LaSalle is carved on the rock facade of the entrance to a cave, which, as Eisler suggests in The Chalice and the Blade, was most probably the site of ancient religious rites celebrating the life-giving and sustaining powers inherent in woman's body and in our Mother Earth.
Since The Chalice and the Blade was published in , new findings support its thesis of earlier gender equality as part of a more peaceful and equitable social system. For example, writing of the Minoan civilization noted above, Greek archeologist Nanno Marinatos confirmed this was a culture in which women played major roles in a religion where the Goddess was venerated. Marinatos also notes how this was a more peaceful culture; which unlike other "high civilizations" of the time, was not a slave society, but exhibited a generally high standard of living throughout.
Hodder confirms gender equity as a key part of a more partnership-oriented social configuration in this generally equitable early farming site where there are no signs of destruction through warfare for over 1, years. In this Scientific American article Hodder writes—.
Even analyses of isotopes in bones give no indication of divergence in lifestyle translating into differences in status and power between women and men Going back further, to the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, another body of research that supports Eisler's proposal that this period was also oriented to the partnership side of the domination-partnership continuum is on contemporary foraging societies, especially the anthologies edited by anthropologist Douglas P.
This work is directly relevant to prehistoric times because for most of the millennia of our earliest cultural evolution our species lived in foraging groups. Fry's anthology of articles by scholars studying these types of societies documents that the vast majority of them are characterized by the more peaceful, gender balanced, and generally egalitarian configuration of the partnership model.
Data from other world regions also supports the thesis of an earlier partnership direction. For example, after The Chalice and the Blade was published in China by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a group of scholars at the Academy wrote a book showing there was also in Chinese prehistory a massive cultural shift from more partnership-oriented cultures to a system of rigid domination in both the family and the state.
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Toward a social ecology: Contextual appreciation of the future and the present. New York: Plenum Press. Cross cultural summary. Sanday, ; Coltrane, Coltrane, S. March Father-child relationships and the status of women: A cross-cultural study.
American Journal of Sociology, 93 5 , The Chrysanthemum and the sword: Patterns of Japanese culture. Veiled sentiments. Berkeley: University of California Press. Eisler, R. Brain and Mind, Vol. New York: McGraw-Hill.
The Creation of Patriarchy. New York: Oxford University Press. The Pomegranate 10, Autumn, pp and Marler, J. Edited by Cristina Biaggi. Manchester, Conn. Minoan religion: Ritual, image, and symbol.
Women and Men at Catalhoyuk. Scientific American. January, pp. Editor in Chief Categories : non-fiction books English-language books Gender studies books. Hidden categories: Wikipedia articles with style issues from November All articles with style issues.
The Chalice & the Blade: Highlights of International Impact
Eisler was honored as the only woman among twenty great thinkers including Vico, Hegel, Spengler, Adam Smith, Marx, and Toynbee featured in Macrohistory and Macrohistorians, in recognition of the lasting importance of her work. Donate to CPS. Your Name required. Your Email required. Your Message. Quotes div.
The Chalice and the Blade
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The Chalice & the Blade: OUR HISTORY, OUR FUTURE by Riane Eisler (Harper & Row: $16.95; 261 pp.)
As one acquainted with Riane Eisler's book ''The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future'' from its inception, I am writing regarding the distortion and misrepresentation of this remarkable book as antimale ''science fiction'' by its reviewer, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese Oct. I am one of 19 social scientists and other scholars, both male and female, who reviewed this book prior to its recent publication. Because its reconstruction of our past, present and future is based on neglected and even suppressed as well as long-established findings from a wide range of fields, and because this reconstruction differs so greatly from traditional including the reviewer's Marxist views, sections relevant to their expertise were screened for accuracy by two archeologists, two historians, an anthropologist, two systems theorists, three sociologists, three psychologists, three religious studies scholars, two art historians and an economist. In contrast to the reviewer's attempt to trivialize this extraordinary work, assessments by the above group ranged from ''groundbreaking'' and ''catalytic and pioneering'' to ''the most important book since Darwin's 'Origin of Species. Rather than resorting to distorting omission for example, failure to even hint at the archeological evidence discussed at length in the book, backing its conclusions , quoting out of context and ridicule, an honest review from someone who believes and this is a quotation from the review within context that ''violent conflict'' is the ''midwife to some of the greatest leaps toward freedom,'' and who intimates that war is just ''human nature,'' would have openly addressed the author's and the reviewer's fundamental ideological differences. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese replies:.
'The Chalice and the Blade'
The author presents a conceptual framework for studying social systems with particular attention to how a society constructs roles and relations between the female and male halves of humanity. Eisler highlights the tension between what she calls the dominator or domination model and the more naturally feminine partnership model. Eisler proposes tension between these two underlies the span of human cultural evolution. She traces this tension in Western culture from prehistory to the present. The book closes with two contrasting future scenarios.
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