Dr Julia Lewandowska has been awarded a research grant Sonata 16 by the National Science Centre Poland (NCN). Between 2021-2024 Lewandowska will carry out a research project entitled The Mother Tongue: Textuality, Authority and Community in the Post-Teresian Reform Female Monasticism (ca. 1560–1700).

Scientific goal of the project

The main objective of this project is to examine the relevance of early modern women religious’ thought in the critical period of the history of the Christianity which saw the threat and subsequent rupture within the Western Church –especially turbulent and symptomatic in the Hispanic Monarchy, the self-proclaimed defender of the Roman Catholic Church unity against the Protestant Reformation– by investigating four sets of problems. Firstly, (1) the changing dynamics of intellectual, religious and secular culture that has prescribed the models for female agency and voice within the public and ecclesiastical discourses. Secondly, (2) the practices of female spiritual leadership and religious authority negotiated through their textual production that responded to the Church in crisis. This will be followed by the investigation of (3) the meanings and implications of their reflection along with (4) the spiritual, literary, and intellectual impact of their texts within and beyond female monastic communities.

Therefore, the crucial aim of the project is to locate, analyse and interpret women religious’ writings along with their influence over the literature, culture, and the Christian spirituality in the Early Modern Spain and Europe after the Discalced Reform (from the 1560) that responds roughly to the conclusion of the relevant Council of Trent (1545-1563). This goal will be achieved by study of the selected, yet representative corpus consisting of barely known or little studied texts –to a significant extent manuscripts and old prints– created in the milieu of female catholic monasticism in the Spanish Empire. This geopolitical context is understood as the nucleus of the reform of Discalced Carmelites by Teresa de Jesús from Ávila (1515-1582, O.C.D.), and therefore critical for the renewed spirituality that constituted the most original female-authored Catholic answer to the Church’s crisis. It will also consider, as important points of reference, those European lands where the discalced reform had major implementation, i.e. Spanish Habsburgs’ dependencies, Kingdom of France, and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the mid of the 16th to the end of the 17th century.

Expected results and their anticipated impact

The intellectual legacy of nun authors in post-Teresian female monasticism –barely known in the cultural history of The Western world–  significantly enriches our knowledge about the presence of thought, writing and agency of women in the history of the Catholic Church and the early modern literary and intellectual culture. Approaching them from the interdisciplinary perspective (literary and cultural history, women’s studies, history of ideas and religion, and historiography) will allow to exceed dominant readings of female writings as “devotional” or “mystical” and therefore separated from dominant public discourses and wider impact on spiritual, political and intellectual culture. In this sense, the inclusion of the written reflection of these religious authors that came after Teresa de Jesús as her “spiritual daughters” into the heritage of cultural history and European thought may constitute a new and transforming interpretation of the women’s place and role in the context of the early modern history of culture and religion.

The project assumes primary sources’ search in almost thirty religious, diocesan, regional, national and papal archives in Spain, Portugal, France, Poland, Belgium and the Vatican. Through an interdisciplinary approach situated at the intersection between cultural and religious studies, literary studies and the history of Church and religion, it aspires to show the contribution of religious women’s thought to intellectual culture as the fruit a fruit of wider infra and extramural collaboration, existence of networks and a positive sense of community. In terms of international cooperation, the project is thought as a platform for establishing or deepening existing research exchanges with, among others, the Universitat de Barcelona, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Universitat d’Alacant, Universidad de Sevilla, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Madrid), Pontificia Universitat Gregoriana and Universiteit Antwerpen.

Principal Investigator
Dr Julia Lewandowska
Duration of the Project