Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Embodied Word: Female Spiritualities, Contested Orthodoxies, and English Religious Cultures, 1350-1700

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Embodied Word: Female Spiritualities, Contested Orthodoxies, and English Religious Cultures, 1350-1700

Article excerpt

The Embodied Word: Female Spiritualities, Contested Orthodoxies, and English Religious Cultures, 1350-1700. By Nancy Bradley Warren. [ReFormations: Medieval and Early Modern.] (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2010. Pp. xi, 339. $36.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-26804420-6.)

Warren's provocative work highlights previously unexplored aspects and influences of English female religiosity in medieval and early-modern Europe. Warren reads medieval and early-modern texts in "conversation with each other" (p. 20), and she joins some authors unexpectedly in this exchange of ideas such as the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich matched with Protestant Grace Mildmay and English Benedictine nuns living in exile on the continent in the seventeenth century. Holy bodies, Warren emphasizes, have power. This power can inhere in individuals and communities and be transmitted through the bodies themselves; texts about those bodies; and usage of these texts for a variety of purposes both religious and nonreligious, from the medieval to the early-modern era.

Warren crafts her analysis around four variations of understanding embodiment, which she terms incarnational piety, incarnational epistemology, incarnational textuality, and incarnational politics. Although the usage of the terms may force the reader to flip back in the text to ascertain their precise meanings, Warren's interpretive framework is sound. She carries it through her work deftly, calling readers' attention to how different aspects of embodiment work together and build upon one another in the lives, beliefs, texts, and actions of her subjects. These embodiments impact not just the lives of these women and their spiritual communities but also larger local, national, and international identities.

Warren's work builds on historical scholarship on embodiment and women's religiosity such as Caroline Bynum's as well as studies of specific women or groups of women such as David Wallace's work on Luisa de Carvajal and Caroline Bowden's on English female religious communities in exile. Warren also advances study of English women writers' contributions to social, religious, and political concerns of their day, extending the insights of scholars such as Carole Levin, Frances Dolan, and Katherine Gillespie. What distinguishes Warren's work is her attempt to nuance our understanding of artificial boundaries and deceptive binaries in our interpretations of women's religiosity. …

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