The 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich’s theology, dissolving gender binaries and incorporating medieval constructs of the female into the Trinity, captivates scholars across rhetorical, literary, and religious studies. A “pioneering feminist”, as Cheryll Glenn dubs her, scholarship attempts to account for the ways in which Julian’s theology circumvented the religious authority of male clerics. Some speculate that Julian’s authority arises from a sophisticated construction of audience (Wright). Others situate Julian in established traditions and structures of the Church, suggesting that she revised a mode of Augustinian mysticism (Chandler), or positing that her intelligence and Biblical knowledge indicate that she received religious training (Colledge and Walsh). Drawing from theories on space and gender performativity, this essay argues that Julian’s gendered body is the generative site of her authority. Bodies are articulated by spatial logics of power (Shome). Material environments discipline bodies and, in a kind of feedback loop, gendered performance (re)produces power in time and space. Spaces, though, are always becoming and never fixed (Chavez). An examination of how Julian reorients hierarchies and relations among power, space, and her body provides a hermeneutic for recognizing how gender is structured by our own material cultures and provides possibilities for developing practices that revise relations and create new agencies.
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