The project aims to examine castration that had a religious background, i.e. was self-chosen and performed after puberty, a so called ritual castration, in contrast to the one performed involuntarily during childhood in various parts of the secular society. Earlier studies of castration in antiquity have generally not differentiated between different types of castration and therefore not analyzed the implications of religious castration. We lack today a thorough diachronic study of ritual castration in antiquity, which examines its prevalence in various cults, geographical distribution and analyzes influences, origin, purpose and function. This project aims to fill that gap. An integrated examination of all available sources such as archaeology, iconography, inscriptions and ancient texts, aims at analyzing religious castration in a socio-historical-religious context from ca 800 BC -  AD 400 in eastern Mediterranean and Italy. Ritually castrated are found in the cults of the Mother Goddess Kybele, Attis, Astarte or Atargatis, Ishtar and Hekate, in addition to early Christianity. The second aim is to compare the ritually castrated in antiquity with those from later periods, such as the skoptsys, a Russian Christian sect from the 18th-29th centuries, and the hijras who worship the Mother goddess Bahuchara Mata in southern Asia today.

A third aim is to analyze whether the term or concept of a third gender, often used in anthropological and gender studies, may be applied and used on material dealing with the ancient society. The parallels between the ritually castrated from antiquity and those from contemporary south Asia are many, and the latter are described as a third gender by the contemporary society, while the ancient authors never used such a term. The ancient sources rather defined ritually castrated as effeminate men or as being neither men nor women. It is my intention to compare and contrast these groups from different periods and discuss how these may relate with the modern concept of a third gender. I will examine whether parallels may be drawn between the ritually castrated in antiquity, and those who today claim they belong to a third gender.