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Women and the Transmission of Alternative Religious Knowledge in the Late Medieval Mediterranean

Project description

Medieval women in transnational religious changes

In late medieval Europe, several movements challenged the institutional and doctrinal claims of hegemonic Christianity and were pronounced ‘heretical’. Without priestly office or formal Latin education, ‘illiterate’ women involved in these movements have been characterised as keen followers and caregivers, but their intellectual role has been considered marginal. The EU-funded ILLITTERATAE project aims to research women’s role in the transmission of alternative religious ideas, focusing on groups that were known as ‘beguins/beguines’ and often associated with the reforming branch of the Franciscan order in western Mediterranean cities. ILLITTERATAE will locate and map their activity using social network analysis, geographic information systems, and an open-access app, producing a digital catalogue of sources and proposing a new model for transnational religious changes.


ILLITTERATAE explores religious radicalisation in later medieval Europe. It deals in particular with the role of women in the process of conversion to alternative religious movements in the late-thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Without priestly office or formal Latin education, ‘illiterate’ women have been characterised as keen followers and caregivers, but their intellectual role in these movements has been considered marginal or nonexistent. ILLITTERATAE interrogates their impact on the transmission of religious ideas and devotional knowledge in the western Mediterranean region by focusing on conversion from mainstream Christianity and redefining the metrics of religious radicalisation. ILLITTERATAE will concentrate on communities that came to be known as 'beguines/beguins', building and cataloguing an extensive corpus of archival and textual sources connected to the development of a ‘beguin’ identity across the Mediterranean. It will also map the local, regional, and transnational levels of this movement, deemed to be ‘heretic’ by the papacy in the early fourteenth century, through the combined application of Social Network Analysis and Geographic Information Systems. Finally, an Open Access web-based application will make the digital output of the project accessible to the scientific community and the wider public, including the source catalogue, digital editions of relevant texts, historical and geographical maps, network graphs, statistical diagrams, and references to modern scholarship. These will combine to allow users to augment the original sources by juxtaposing them with different layers of information. ILLITTERATAE will develop a relational model for thinking about religious change that crosses traditional national boundaries, thus reinforcing the agenda of Horizon 2020 by including women in religious leadership narratives, taking into account the dialectic between repression and dissent and the connection between violence and extremism.


Net EU contribution
€ 224 933,76
E1 4NS London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — East Tower Hamlets
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 224 933,76