Call for Papers: RSA 2015 panel proposal ‘Women’s Active Religious Communities in Early Modern Europe and Beyond’
The Renaissance Socity of America Annual Meeting, Berlin 2015. Panel proposal: Women’s Active Religious Communities in Early Modern Europe and Beyond.
Organizers: Liise Lehtsalu (Brown University), Sarah Moran (Universities of Bern and Antwerp).
Despite early modern church authorities’ ambivalence towards unenclosed, active female religious communities, such communities proliferated and thrived in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. They offered women access to a religious lifestyle and identity, as well as career options in teaching, healthcare, and administration. These institutions were thus not just central in the lives of their members but also played major social roles in their local neighborhoods, cities, and regions.
The historiography of women’s active communities has focused on the spirituality of their founders, their dedication to service, and (for Catholic communities) their struggles with the Counter-Reformation Church on the issue of monastic discipline. But they are still markedly understudied; historians have generally taken active communities’ mission statements at face value, and only seldom made an effort to understand the situation ‘on the ground.’ Moreover, whereas current scholarship is largely concerned with elite women, the great majority of active communities that sprung up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries originated among the non-elites and drew their inhabitants from the middling sorts. Women entered such communities for a myriad of reasons beyond a spiritual calling or a call to service, but we know little about the social, economic, and gendered factors at work in their decisions. There is also a dearth of research on how active and semi-monastic communities impacted and interacted with their urban environments, on their relationships to other local groups, on their contributions to artistic and literary culture, and on how they negotiated their status in the face of conflict. Finally, women’s groups that formed outside of the Catholic context, like the Anglican ‘nunneries’ and the Dutch hofjes for elderly women, have been left out of the conversation entirely.
This interdisciplinary panel aims at deepening our understanding of active women’s religious communities and their importance to early modern social and cultural history, and at opening new lines of inquiry for researchers. We invite papers on Christian communities of various types – tertiary convents, beguines and beatas, teaching congregations, hospital sisters, and others – and from both Europe and its colonies. Please e-mail a title, abstract (150-word maximum), keywords, a one-page curriculum vitae (300-word maximum), and A-V requests (if any) to both Liise Lehtsalu (email@example.com) and Sarah Moran (Sarah.Moran@UAntwerpen.be) by May 31 2014.