Medieval Mysticism: Women's Agency Through Contemplation




Novak, Katherine

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Contrary to the pervading opinion that women who chose lives of secluded religious contemplation were repressed by a male-dominated society, Women Religious actually demonstrated a great deal of agency. Drawing from Phyllis Mack’s concept of spiritual agency, women who enclosed themselves due to religious conviction actually exercised greater agency than most women in medieval society. The belief that their visions were divinely inspired gave them the authority to pursue their own interests outside of social expectations and even allowed them to engage with leading theological figures throughout Europe. Spiritual piety, in other words, enabled female agency. By examining the lives of three medieval mystics, Christina of Markyate, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe, this thesis argues that these women established themselves as not only mystics but also authorized themselves as spiritual leaders by emulating the lives of early holy women and cultivating Christocentric piety.



Women's History. English History. Mysticism.