Teaching Other Voices: Women and Religion in Early Modern Europe

By Margaret L. King; Albert Rabil Jr. | Go to book overview

TEACHING WOMEN'S DEVOTION IN
MEDIEVAL AND EARLY MODERN ITALY1

Lance Gabriel Lazar

Religious symbols, beliefs, and traditions profoundly influenced the cultural contributions and achievements of early modern women across Europe. Thus, it is rewarding to consider women's religious formation and the devotional models set before them, which absorbed so much of their time and attention. My experience teaching devotional texts to undergraduates (using selections in various scattered translations) suggests that this material can contribute not only to historical surveys but also to courses in comparative literature, Italian literature, art history, and music history, owing to the important role women played in convents and pious associations as patrons and also as producers of literature, art, and music.2 Still more importantly, the study of devotional texts opens up the religious experiences and practices that were at the core of women's identities in premodern Europe.

I shall divide my discussion into three sections. The first considers the kinds of questions that arise from the perspective of religious studies. The second addresses some of the characteristic themes emerging from religious

1. I wish kindly to acknowledge the efforts of Albert Rabil, Margaret King, and Maia Rigas in
strengthening this chapter through their prudent editing.

2. See the wave of recent anthologies and monographs in many disciplines, including Letizia
Panizza and Sharon Wood, eds., A History of Women's Writing in Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000); Elissa Weaver, Convent Theatre in Early Modern Italy (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge University Press, 2002); Helen Hills, Invisible City: The Architecture of Devotion in Seventeenth
Century Neapolitan Convents (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Colleen Reardon, Holy
Concord within Sacred Walls: Nuns and Music in Siena, 1575–1700 (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2002). See also the older but valuable anthologies of Craig Monson, ed., The Crannied
Wall: Women, Religion, and the Arts in Early Modern Europe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
1992); E. Ann Matter and John Coakley, eds., Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A
Religious and Artistic Renaissance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 1994).

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