The veil: a complex symbol



Closely associated with Islam, the veil is often seen as a sign of the oppression of women.

And yet, the work of Carly Daniel-Hughes, from the Department of Religion at Concordia University, has shown that this vestimentary symbol has a complex history and multiple meanings. The researcher focused on veiling among women in early Christian times, from the first to the fourth century CE. While the practice of veiling has been widely studied in the context of Islam, the veil's role in Christianity has received little attention.  And yet, it is extremely revealing.

While veiling existed in the early days of Christianity, not everyone agreed on the use of the veil.

The work of Carly Daniel-Hughes has demonstrated the importance of dress codes in communicating religious beliefs and their role in defining the Christian identity, compared with the rest of Roman society of the time. While veiling existed in the early days of Christianity, not everyone agreed on the use of the veil, leading to much debate within the nascent religious community. These discussions can help us to understand the relationship between dress and religion in present-day Québec and Canada. The researcher's work clearly shows that clothing does not have a single meaning (such as oppression), but is a complex and multivalent symbol, depending on context.

Clothing communicates a set of values and can be a way for women, particularly those from ethnic minorities, to assume their complex—ethnic, political, religious—identities. This research has been the subject of two books and several conferences in Canada, the United States and Italy.