Re-evaluating female monasticism’s “ambiguous identity” in the ninth- to eleventh-century West

01 January 2015 → 31 December 2020
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Evolutionary biology
    • General biology
  • Medical and health sciences
    • Social medical sciences
ninth- to eleventh-century West ambiguous identity Religion Area studies History Gender
Project description

This project focuses on the observance and organization of women religious in the central Middle Ages (9th-11th centuries) to investigate female monasticism as a deliberately "ambiguous" form of social and religious organization. Traditional scholarship subscribed to the notion that, because of a failure to adopt homogeneous standards for observance and organization, women religious never matched the spiritual efficiency, cultural proficiency, and reformist impetus of their male peers. While recent case studies have revealed significant achievements in all of these domains, this heterogeneity is still regarded as revealing women religious’ and patrons’ refusal to subordinate local vested interests to institutional, cultural, and spiritual progress. By means of an analysis of evidence from c. 100 institutions from Lotharingia and Saxony relating to the self-perception of these women and the expectations of their patrons, the researchers will propose a new paradigm for evaluating female monasticism's "ambiguity". Two hypotheses will be tested. The first is that groups of women religious relied on ambiguous identities to construct credible narratives of self, respond effectively to changing societal contexts, and distinguish themselves from competing institutions. The second is that religious and secular elites supported these strategies, and regarded diversity in observance and organization as a means for women religious to respond adequately to society's diverse needs.