Women, Martyrdom, & Religious Drama in the Abrahamic Traditions


The WOMARD project, a comparative study of the dramatic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Shi’i Islam, is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), and led by Professor Elisabeth Dutton. The project began on Feb 1st 2024 and will run for four years. Dutton, a specialist in early European drama, will collaborate with Dr Lucy Deacon, an expert in the Iranian ta’ziyeh tradition, and Dr Sara Khalili; Dr Sonya Yampolskaya will join the team in 2025 to work on Yiddish and Hebrew materials.


Whilst the traditions of religious drama in Judaism, Christianity, and Shi’i Islam are historically independent of each other, they appear to share certain characteristics; however, scholars have hitherto been unable to study these traditions together, because relevant scripts are often unedited and are written in a range of languages including Yiddish and Persian. An important contribution of this project is to edit and translate the scripts of early purimshpil and Iranian ta’ziyeh plays, making them accessible for wider scholarly and heritage community audiences. The WOMARD team will study these plays alongside examples of European biblical drama. Staging plays will be essential to the project research: the project team also hope to revivify and promote understanding of these dramatic traditions through editing, translation & performance.


Spanning half a millennium and three continents, the project is ambitious in scope, but it is designed to avoid the pitfalls of ‘grand narratives’. The three-way comparative work does not seek to identify universal truths or genetic relationships: rather, it will attend to both the similarities and the differences between the drama of the traditions in question, conscious at all times of the agency of composers, performers, and audiences, and the socio-historical contexts in which they moved.  Three main strands of comparative enquiry will provide focus: the portrayal of female figures; martyrdom and sacrifice; and presentation and conversion of the religious other.


Please visit the website of the project here.