"Many Paths in This Road of the Spirit": The Flexibility of Women's Religiosity in Early Modern Spain
University of Kansas
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This dissertation examines women’s religiosity in early modern Spain, and it addresses the possibilities and limits of women’s religious expression. The overarching argument is that because the Catholic Church faced the challenge of articulating the parameters of acceptable religious behavior during an era of widespread reform, the tensions between official and unofficial religious practice created the possibility of flexibility in women’s religiosity. However, this flexibility had its limits since rhetoric surrounding religious practice did not separate the idea of a good woman from a good Christian woman, and women were expected to express religion within society’s definition of good womanhood. Focusing on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this dissertation is divided thematically into four chapters. Chapter 1 focuses on theologians’ prescriptive literature and descriptions of women’s ideal religiosity, and Chapter 2 examines male and female-authored sources about women’s life cycle in order to see how religiosity was acted out in day-to-day practices. Chapter 3 draws upon women’s accounts of their own religiosity, especially autobiographies of female mystics, and shows how women drew from concepts of good womanhood to justify their claims of mystical experiences. Chapter 4 considers how Inquisition trials of women accused of sorcery and witchcraft offer insight into why women believed they were acting as good Christians even when inquisitors did not see it that way. This dissertation is significant because it encourages a reevaluation of seemingly fixed binaries in the early modern period. It recognizes that women’s religious flexibility was more acceptable and apparent during a time when power relations were being rearticulated and binaries were being redefined. In doing so, this dissertation challenges scholarship that suggests women were simply limited by religious reform or gained agency because they manipulated a male-dominated system.
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