Special Issue "Gender and Spirituality in the Renaissance: Teaching Women’s Religious Writings, 1300–1650, from Europe and the Americas"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 October 2017)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Jane Tylus

Department of Italian Studies, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 212-998-8738
Interests: Late medieval and early modern Italy and Europe; particularly issues related to gender and religion; history of theatre; literature of 19th-century Sicily; the history and culture of Siena

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

While a great deal of work on women’s writing has appeared in the last ten-fifteen years, there is little in the field that pulls together the scholarship on the writing by and about female religious figures, as well as on religious writing by lay women. Nor are there many books that bring together work on women in Europe as well as in Asia and the Americas. This will be a comparative volume that features women’s religious writing across the continents, across religions, and across periods, with the specific focus of identifying innovative ways of teaching those works in a university or college course.

The aim of this volume is to bring together some of the most current and ground-breaking work on women’s spirituality as expressed through their poems, plays, treatises, autobiographies, and other creative work in the late medieval and early modern periods in Europe and the Americas. While there have been some important anthologies of essays on women’s religious writing in early modern Europe (Rabil and King’s Teaching Other Voices: Women and Religion in Early Modern Europe, 2007; Sylvia Brown’s Women and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe, 2007) and monographs on women’s religious writing and activities in the Americas (e.g., Marilyn Westerkamp, 2011) and in Europe (e.g., Merry Weisner Hanks, 2007), I am unaware of recent attempts to bring together women’s ‘voices’ from Christian, Muslim, and Judaic traditions in the period spanning the birth of the vernacular in Europe, the banishing of Muslims from Spain, and the ‘discovery’ of the new world. In particular, with the stunning number of new translations in The Other Voice series, now at Toronto, ever more texts are available in English from this period, a number of which focus on women religious and/or women’s religious writings. It indeed seems high time to return to Rabil and King’s very effective 2007 volume—now ten years ago—in order to widen its scope and to update its range of women writers whose works are now available for teaching and scholarship in English.

Essays on single figures or texts will be welcome, as are comparative essays that undertake to frame questions about female spirituality and writing in light of more than one religious tradition or national focus. While we will consider essays on contemporary writings about female spirituality (e.g., hagiography), the focus will be on writings by both lay and religious women.

Prof. Dr. Jane Tylus
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

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Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Authority, Religion, and Women Writers in the Italian Counter-Reformation: Teaching Diodata Malvasia’s Histories
Religions 2018, 9(4), 120; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9040120
Received: 9 November 2017 / Revised: 1 March 2018 / Accepted: 9 March 2018 / Published: 9 April 2018
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Abstract
Recent decades have seen the rediscovery of a significant number of texts authored by Italian women between 1560 and 1630. And yet the commonplace that the Counter-Reformation silenced women writers has persisted. One figure useful for teaching a more nuanced vision of post-Tridentine [...] Read more.
Recent decades have seen the rediscovery of a significant number of texts authored by Italian women between 1560 and 1630. And yet the commonplace that the Counter-Reformation silenced women writers has persisted. One figure useful for teaching a more nuanced vision of post-Tridentine Italy is the Bolognese nun Diodata Malvasia (c. 1532–post-1617). She authored a pair of histories recounting her convent’s efforts to maintain their way of life amidst an era of convent reform, employing strategies that capitalized on their education, familial and civic connections, and position of spiritual privilege. Malvasia’s writings demonstrate the ways in which women not only published in this period but began to speak with increasing authority. I offer some possibilities for how Malvasia’s chronicles can be used to teach students about women writers’ agency in post-Tridentine Italy, as well as the complex thinking with which one must approach a regime like the Counter-Reformation. Full article
Open AccessArticle Teaching Widowed Women, Community, and Devotion in Quattrocento Florence with Lucrezia Tornabuoni and Antonia Tanini Pulci
Religions 2018, 9(3), 76; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9030076
Received: 23 November 2017 / Revised: 9 January 2018 / Accepted: 20 February 2018 / Published: 9 March 2018
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Abstract
In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, a woman’s social identity changed when her husband died. She became both a symbol of his loss, and a living monument to his legacy—an ambassador between the living and the dead. Responsible not only [...] Read more.
In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, a woman’s social identity changed when her husband died. She became both a symbol of his loss, and a living monument to his legacy—an ambassador between the living and the dead. Responsible not only for preserving his memory on earth, a widow was also expected to pray on behalf of her husband’s soul, to work to rescue him from the torments of Purgatory through her dutiful appeals. Widows were at once asked to pray quietly alone, and tasked with work central to society: the salvation of souls after death. This dual identity—sometimes isolated, yet of fundamental importance—makes the widow an opportune subject for students of early modern conceptions of the relationship between religion and gender. In this essay, I look at widows in Lucrezia Tornabuoni’s Judith, Hebrew Widow and Antonia Tanini Pulci’s The Destruction of Saul and the Lament of David. Taught side-by-side, these texts provide students with multiple, interconnected ports of entry into the early modern world, encouraging an investigation of how the two women writers worked to place widows at the center of their respective stories, rather than relegated to the margins. Full article
Open AccessArticle Conventual Writing and Context: The Case of Port-Royal
Religions 2018, 9(3), 69; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9030069
Received: 11 December 2017 / Revised: 23 January 2018 / Accepted: 26 February 2018 / Published: 1 March 2018
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Abstract
Many of the spiritual texts produced in the early modern period were written by nuns. To teach these texts adequately, it is not sufficient to study the work itself or the biography of the author. Effective exegesis of the texts requires detailed attention [...] Read more.
Many of the spiritual texts produced in the early modern period were written by nuns. To teach these texts adequately, it is not sufficient to study the work itself or the biography of the author. Effective exegesis of the texts requires detailed attention to the conventual culture in which these works were written, since this culture is foreign to the vast majority of contemporary students and readers. This contextual analysis operates on three levels. The first level introduces the students to the general nature of the convent and the life of a nun: the evangelical vows, the rule/constitution of the order, and the different types of religious orders. The second level focuses on the specific culture of the convent where the texts were composed. This involves analysis of the convent’s particular spirituality, apostolate, literary genres of communication, and relationship to broader ecclesiastical and political movements of the times. The third level studies the gendered nature of the nuns’ writings. This contextualist-cultural method of teaching écriture couventuelle is illustrated through analysis of the writings of the prolific Port-Royal abbess, Angélique de Saint-Jean Arnauld d’Andilly. Full article
Open AccessArticle “In The End, God Helped Me Defeat Myself”: Autobiographical Writings by Camilla Battista da Varano1
Religions 2018, 9(3), 65; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9030065
Received: 31 October 2017 / Revised: 20 December 2017 / Accepted: 14 February 2018 / Published: 25 February 2018
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Abstract
Camilla Battista da Varano (1458–1524), a mystic and Franciscan nun, spent most of her life in Camerino in east-central Italy. Now a saint—since 17 October 2010—she composed two autobiographical treatises across a ten-year period mid-way through a literary career that spanned the end [...] Read more.
Camilla Battista da Varano (1458–1524), a mystic and Franciscan nun, spent most of her life in Camerino in east-central Italy. Now a saint—since 17 October 2010—she composed two autobiographical treatises across a ten-year period mid-way through a literary career that spanned the end of the fifteenth and the early part of the sixteenth centuries. In one, La vita spirituale (My spiritual life, 1491), she delivered a complete spiritual life story, tracing her religious devotion from the ages of eight to thirty-three. She described her relationship with a number of men, including her father and several clerics who—to one degree or another—inspired and guided her devotional life. By the time she wrote, she had been a professed Franciscan nun for seven years. She presented herself at that point as one who had undergone visionary, mystical experiences and as a woman who had both benefitted and suffered under the control of men like her father and her spiritual directors. In the other, Istruzioni al discepolo (Instructions to a disciple, 1501), she told the story of her affectionate relationship with a male disciple she was directing spiritually but used a literary conceit to hide her own identity. She wrote about the spiritual director the male disciple loved and admired in the third person, apparently in a self-deprecating manner inspired by humility but thinly veiling her obvious self-confidence. In these texts, and in other of her devotional treatises, she claimed the ability to provide spiritual direction of her own and wrote in bold imagery, creatively manipulating scripture at times. She exercised a do-it-yourself approach to discernment of God’s will and even to the process of confession. She criticized inattentive spiritual directors and asserted that both her visions and the impetus for her devotional writings came directly, unmediated, from God. But Camilla also exhibited deferential attitudes and strong connections to traditional Franciscan theology while including female authors in that tradition she apparently admired, like Caterina da Bologna (1413–1463). She also wrote at times with vivid expressions of obedience to the variety of men who held some authority over her. She was, apparently, not an individual easily understood through the standard images usually associated with late medieval and early modern women. A fuller portrait of Camilla is emerging as scholars today seek to recover her original voice. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Virgin Mary in the Early Modern Italian Writings of Vittoria Colonna, Lucrezia Marinella, and Eleonora Montalvo
Religions 2018, 9(2), 59; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9020059
Received: 25 October 2017 / Revised: 22 December 2017 / Accepted: 5 February 2018 / Published: 13 February 2018
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Abstract
The Marian writings of the Roman poet Vittoria Colonna (1490/92–1547), the Venetian polemicist Lucrezia Marinella (1579–1653),1 and the Florentine educator Eleonora Montalvo (1602–1659) present an accessible model of the Virgin Mary in the early modern period that both lay and religious women [...] Read more.
The Marian writings of the Roman poet Vittoria Colonna (1490/92–1547), the Venetian polemicist Lucrezia Marinella (1579–1653),1 and the Florentine educator Eleonora Montalvo (1602–1659) present an accessible model of the Virgin Mary in the early modern period that both lay and religious women could emulate in order to strengthen their individual spirituality. While the Catholic Church encouraged women to accept and imitate an ideal of the Virgin Mary’s character traits and behavior for the good of society, these three women writers constructed a more fruitful narrative of the Virgin’s life and experience that included elements and imagery that would empower women to enhance their personal practice of meditation. Full article
Open AccessArticle Fast, Feast and Feminism: Teaching Food and Gender in Italian Religious Women’s Writings
Religions 2018, 9(2), 56; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9020056
Received: 1 November 2017 / Revised: 28 December 2017 / Accepted: 6 February 2018 / Published: 10 February 2018
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Abstract
In the wake of Caroline Walker Bynum’s essential studies on the crucial role food played in the lives of medieval religious women, significant attention has been given to the connection between premodern women’s spiritual practices and eating practices. However, the relationship between religious [...] Read more.
In the wake of Caroline Walker Bynum’s essential studies on the crucial role food played in the lives of medieval religious women, significant attention has been given to the connection between premodern women’s spiritual practices and eating practices. However, the relationship between religious women and food is not limited to body manipulation, inedia or eucharistic frenzy. Indeed, recent critical work has provided accessible translations and critical apparatus necessary for an exploration of food and women’s religiosity that builds on Bynum’s rich foundation and examines the many ways in which women expressed themselves through food, both material and metaphoric. This approach not only allows students to engage with women’s writing through the familiarity and universality of food, but moreover reminds them of the real, living, breathing women behind the texts, thus opening the door to a feminist rereading of texts—not as proto-feminist themselves, but rather in the re-valuing of the substantial contributions of their female authors, who had subtle social awareness, public professional pursuits, and complex and varied relationships with God. Full article
Open AccessArticle Incoherent Subjects, Incomplete Lives: The Limits of Spiritual Autobiography in Spain
Religions 2017, 8(12), 277; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8120277
Received: 3 November 2017 / Revised: 25 November 2017 / Accepted: 15 December 2017 / Published: 20 December 2017
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Abstract
For many years Teresa de Ávila’s Libro de la vida was considered an exceptional work of literature, in both senses of the word “exceptional”. The work of Isabelle Poutrin, Francisco Durán López and others has made us question one of these meanings: no [...] Read more.
For many years Teresa de Ávila’s Libro de la vida was considered an exceptional work of literature, in both senses of the word “exceptional”. The work of Isabelle Poutrin, Francisco Durán López and others has made us question one of these meanings: no one doubts Teresa’s great literary value, but we now know that hers is one of hundreds (if not more) spiritual autobiographies/diaries kept by early modern Spanish women (and a few men as well). None of these lesser known vidas are as comprehensive or polished as Teresa’s Vida, and many are fragmentary and even incoherent. Insofar as these partial accounts of spiritual graces have been studied or translated, they are often excerpted, paraphrased, or translated in such a way as to make them more legible than, I argue, they really are. I propose then to consider how we might integrate these failed (in the sense that their authors’ spiritual narratives were never deemed models for others), fragmentary, incomplete, and incoherent narratives into the study of the “spiritual autobiography”. This chapter will examine a selection of such autobiographies to make the argument that, by examining a more complete corpus of spiritual autobiographies, and not just the most polished and successful ones, we get a different and fuller picture of the possibilities and limits of women’s self-fashioning through language in the early modern period. Full article
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Open AccessArticle “For the Salvation of This Girl’s Soul”: Nuns as Converters of Jews in Early Modern Italy
Religions 2017, 8(11), 252; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110252
Received: 5 October 2017 / Accepted: 11 October 2017 / Published: 22 November 2017
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Abstract
This article argues that converting Jewish girls and women constituted an important expression of Italian nuns’ religiosity throughout the age of Catholic Reform. Unlike their male counterparts, however, converting nuns rarely left behind accounts of their conversionary efforts. Moreover, since these endeavors were [...] Read more.
This article argues that converting Jewish girls and women constituted an important expression of Italian nuns’ religiosity throughout the age of Catholic Reform. Unlike their male counterparts, however, converting nuns rarely left behind accounts of their conversionary efforts. Moreover, since these endeavors were directed exclusively at female Jews they are often obscured in the historical record and in modern historiography. The article tackles the difficulties of recovering the voices of converting nuns and presents examples that suggest how they could be circumvented. Exploring the potential of drawing on previously understudied texts, such as nuns’ supplications, the article calls for the integration of this specific manifestation of female devotion into the scholarship and teaching on women’s religious life in the early modern era. Full article
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