Cultures of Devotion

Kathleen Ashley

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Cultures of Devotion

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  • History
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Gender and Sexuality



Cultures of devotion in multiple forms were central to medieval lives, and because of their significance they became sites for defining and negotiating gender identities and issues. The essay first examines whether participation in communal rituals and popular devotion was open to women as well as to men. A second issue was the availability of membership for women in the religious orders, and a third was the relationship between male religious authorities and the women who sought a life of holiness, whether in or out of traditional communities. Other topics involve the gendered role of visual images and material objects in stimulating mystical experiences, and the role of devotional texts explicitly addressed to women. Finally, the essay takes up the destabilizing of gender identities in the language of medieval spirituality. In all cases, new paradigms and scholarship of the last forty years have challenged previous assertions about religious culture.

Keywords: lay/laity; communities; mysticism; devotional; image; text

Article.  7951 words. 

Subjects: History ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Gender and Sexuality

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