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'Mad for Him'. Women, Religion and Mental Illness in the Late Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Age

Objective

This research will analyse the biographical and autobiographical texts of late-medieval and early modern women who were deemed to be mystics, blessed, or saints. The main objective is to determine to what extent extreme religious experiences (ecstasies, visions, physical sensations) might be attributable not to unexplainable relations with the Godhead, but to very explainable medical causes. What their contemporaries saw as mystical experiences can, from our modern perspective, be characterized in medical terms. Questions at the basis of the project are, therefore: what is the boundary between illness and sanctity? Is it possible to draw a demarcation line between alleged miracles and mental illness? What do biographical texts tell us about this? Where, how, and when have these texts come down to us and who has transmitted them? This research will consider five cases of mental illnessess (anorexia, visions, hysterical pregnancies, folie à deux and post-partum depression) in biographical texts of six religious women: St.Lutgardis of Aywières †1246, St.Angela of Foligno †1309, the Bl.Giustina of Arezzo †1319, St.Margareta Ebner †1351, Margery Kempe †1438, Bl.Colomba of Rieti †1501. These six women may well illustrate a broad spectrum of diseases. This research is important because: a) biographical texts that reveal how women saints lived their daily lives marked by ecstasies and mental alterations, that have not yet been fully investigated; b) similar studies exist, but they focused only on a single nervous disease and were limited mostly to Italian women saints; c) current studies have not taken into account the fundamental iconographic sources.

Call for proposal

H2020-MSCA-IF-2018
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Funding Scheme

MSCA-IF-GF - Global Fellowships

Coordinator

UNIVERSITA CA' FOSCARI VENEZIA
Address
Dorsoduro 3246
30123 Venezia
Italy
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 237 768

Partners (2)

THE GOVERNING COUNCIL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

Participation ended

Canada
Address
Kings College Circle 27
M5S 1A1 Toronto
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
PONTEFICIA UNIVERSITA URBANIANA
Holy See/Vatican City
Address
Via Urbano Viii 16
00165 Vatican City
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments