‘I’m not religious,’ people sometimes say today, ‘but I am spiritual.’ These essays demonstrate that such a division would have been unimaginable to the women considered here. While in common parlance ‘spirituality’ is often distinguished from participation in institutional religion, the essays collected here explore the spirituality that was made possible by and in turn animated life in holy Orders. These are not stories of freelance, eclectic spiritual beliefs and practices. Rather, as the introduction advises us, this volume offers a contribution to the history of women religious which includes the spiritual virgins that Marit Monteiro considers, ‘women who nominally were not religious, but who nevertheless considered themselves as such’ (p. 119) and the Ursulines, ‘lay women who lived a life of prayer and penance in their own homes, without vows or common habit’, (p. 5) as Quericiolo Mazzonis explains. For the most part, these women conformed to the restrictions and Rules imposed by the Church and their Orders. Their spirituality was made possible by and defined through institutional structures, even when they resisted, appropriated and reformed them. Marguerete Porete, as Rina Lahav shows, transgressed by conforming: that is, by structuring a sermon exactly like the ones men gave. In founding her Institute, Mary Ward similarly provoked controversy by presuming to adapt the Jesuits’ model of institutional organization for women.
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Frances E. Dolan
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