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Rafal Matuszewski awarded grant for workshop on adolescence and sexual maturity in historical and cross-cultural perspectives

When are you (sexually) mature? A KNAW grant will enable associate professor Rafal Matuszewski to organise an interdisciplinary workshop on this question.

‘There is little universal consensus about where the line is or should be drawn between immaturity and sexual maturity,’ Matuszewski says. ‘These differences are well reflected in national legislations. The age of sexual consent is set at 21 in Bahrain, but in Nigeria it is 11. These few examples show that being recognised as an adult does not necessarily, or not only, depend on the individual’s physical or mental development, but is also socially and culturally constructed.’

Matuszewski advocates interdisciplinary research to identify this interplay of factors. ‘Being a historian myself, I have an undeniable weakness for anthropology and sociology,’ he admits. ‘I am interested in studying human beings and social phenomena in their broad historical contexts and over the long term, and I always – almost instinctively – try to look beyond the boundaries of my own field of ancient Greek history. After all, as Carlo Ginzburg once put it, ‘To see, you have to distance yourself from what you know.’ The best and potentially most stimulating way of distancing oneself from one’s own disciplinary inclinations is to enter into dialogue with colleagues working on similar topics from the perspective of different disciplines or methodologies.’


Matuszewski is therefore organising a workshop in April 2025 titled The Social and Cultural Construction of Adulthood and Sexual Maturity: Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives, for which he received an Early Career Partnership from KNAW. This grant of ten thousand euros enables early career researchers to organise an interdisciplinary meeting. ‘I hope to contribute in a small way to bridging the divide between the humanities and the sciences by providing an opportunity for a group of scholars to share and compare their findings on the particular topic of adulthood and sexual maturity in a cross-disciplinary way.’

‘By looking at different cultures and historical periods, and by complementing this exploration with insights from experts in psychology and neuroscience (working, for instance, on brain development in puberty), this meeting is likely to shed light on the processes and dynamics of how human maturity is constructed, and consequently on a complex subject that is both highly important and currently socially relevant.’

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