Call for Papers: Cultivating and Contesting the Spiritual Meaning of Male Hair

Published: March 14, 2024

Viator Cluster: “Cultivating and Contesting the Spiritual Meaning of Male Hair”

 Editors: Dawn LaValle Norman (Australian Catholic University) and Lea Niccolai (Cambridge University)

The connection between hair and the sacred is as pervasive as it is underexplored. Millennia of religious traditions, from across the world, describe and prescribe rites of cutting, shaving, covering, adorning, and dyeing hair.

Hair is the most readily changeable part of bodies. Some of it, especially head hair, is highly visible and confronting; other body hair may be hidden, removed, or seen only by intimates. All hair is freighted with religious meaning. In many cultures, a person’s hair itself, whether its absence or arrangement, and the behaviors that surround it, can be key markers of identity, such as age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, community, political association, and religious affiliation or piety. The essays in this Cluster challenge scholars to “read” hair across a number of contexts, situating it amongst many potential meanings from internal and external viewers.

We seek papers that investigate, compare, and theorize the intersections between male hair and religion in late antique, medieval, and pre-modern societies. This Viator Cluster thus addresses a gap in scholarship, as much less attention has been paid to male hair, including beards and body hair, in hair studies. For men, how to grow, shave, and groom hair are daily choices that can advertise such affiliations and entwine entire identities and ontologies of belief. We are especially interested in religions beyond Christianity and traditional Greco-Roman cults, and welcome papers focusing on hair in Islam, Judaism, and non-European traditions.

Specific foci for papers might include:

    1. How do hair and beards acquire religious meaning and what sorts of meaning do they acquire? Are the processes and implications different for different types of hair (beard/facial hair vs head hair or body hair)? How much does context matter when reading hair religiously? What happens to hair when religion itself is contested?
    2. How does religion shape rituals involving hair (e.g., shaving, adorning, dyeing, powdering, wig-wearing, covering)? When and how do these rituals acquire spiritual dimensions? Are there differences for those who see themselves or are seen as profane vs holy? How do religious considerations intersect with the practicalities and technologies of hair maintenance?
    3. How does religion shape the treatment of hair that has been removed from the body (e.g., locks of hair cut as mementos, for use in magic, or as relics of the dead)? How is removed hair understood relative to growing hair on the body? Do specific considerations govern it differently from other kinds of bodily excretions?
    4. What religious arguments underly the different commands to shave or not shave pubic and other body hair? How is this involved in inter-religious self-definitions? How does the rhetoric of body shaving relate to how cultures define sexual difference?

We are particularly interested in essays that consider the underlying arguments for why hair choices are legislated or encouraged, how such legislation is enacted, how internal justifications bend or shift across cultures, and how arguments about hair intersect gender as a social construct.

For more information about the past events run by our project, please see here: and the blog post here:

Submission guidelines

We invite papers between 3,500 and 5,000 words. There will be further time to revise your submission if it is successful. Submit papers as email attachments to by 1 September 2024. Papers will be assessed through anonymous peer review, so please make sure that they are free of identifying information, only including your name and departmental affiliation in your email and not in the body of your paper.

Successful papers will be notified by 1 October 2024.

The deadline for the delivery of the final papers is scheduled in February 2025, and publication of the issue (Viator 56, no. 2) for fall 2025.

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you have any queries.