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Type: Thesis
Title: Mysticism and Emotional Transformation in a Seventeenth-Century English Convent
Author: McCandless, Jessica
Issue Date: 2020
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : History
Abstract: Despite the growing scholarship on early modern English nuns, little analysis has been done on their practice of mysticism and how it affected women and conventual life. Research has focused on the nuns’ spirituality, authorship, identity, as well as cultural and intellectual production. This study builds upon this scholarship and applies a history of emotions lens to analyse the mysticism included in the spiritual writing of nuns. Compared to other English orders during this time, the English Carmelites were atypical in their spiritual practice, documenting intense mystical visions and experiences in their annals. The first English Carmelite convent, founded in Antwerp in 1619, presents an interesting case study of how emotional, visionary mysticism legitimised their convent under a post-Tridentine Church. Each chapter engages with a different emotions methodology, across different aspects of conventual life, to build a wider, more nuanced analysis of the experience of early modern mysticism and how it affected the convent. First, it will be shown how the prominent dispute between the Carmelite nuns and friars formed a unifying “emotional community” within and around the convent. This community ultimately sought to legitimise its institutional practices and in so doing, also legitimised its practice of emotionally transformative mysticism. This will be done by separating, naming and studying multiple “emotional communities” involved in the dispute and the nuns’ lives to find the social influences on their mysticism. Second, the spiritual writing and methods of St Teresa of Avila and St Ignatius of Loyola will be examined to link and explain the spiritual influences that guided the “emotional practices” of the convent. The saints’ writings will be briefly analysed to compare with the mystical experiences of the seventeenth-century nuns. This will demonstrate how their mysticism was learned and practiced using these saints as their guide. Third, in considering that both Teresa and Ignatius stressed the importance of reading in their spiritual methods, the books that belonged to the convent library, in conjunction with the spiritual writing of the nuns, will be compared to show how reading was also an emotional tool that fed mystical practices. Using the Antwerp library collection currently held in the archive at Douai Abbey, guidebooks will be analysed as extensions of the Catholic Church’s “emotional regime”. As nuns felt they failed to conform to the emotional expectations of the regime and their spiritual mentors, they experienced “emotional suffering”. It will be argued that through mystical experience, books are shown to effectively alleviate this suffering. Finally, these three aspects of the convent will be brought together through the analysis of the nuns’ most prolific mystical visions, those experienced within the physical space. It will be shown how their experiences of mysticism created an “affective atmosphere” within the convent. This atmosphere fuelled, and was fuelled by, the mystical experiences of the nuns in an emotionally transformative way. This chapter will show how mystical events were grounded in the space of the convent and were experienced communally, either through witnessing a mystical nun, or shared through the convent’s annals. This thesis aims to show how seventeenth-century English Carmelite mysticism was learned and practiced as a spiritual and emotional tool. It led not just to mystical union with God, but also served to emotionally transform the practitioner in times of need. Furthermore, the documentation of these experiences in the convent annals served to edify the community, creating both an affective atmosphere and emotional community of mysticism throughout the convent’s history. Finally, the acceptance of such an atypical community by Church superiors and the wider community contributed to legitimising the nuns’ historical narrative built upon mysticism, and ultimately gave them agency within the seventeenth-century Church.
Advisor: Walker, Claire
Barclay, Katie
Toivo, Raisa
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2020
Keywords: Catholicism
Early Modern
Seventeenth Century
History of Emotions
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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