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Title: Writing religious communities : the spiritual lives and manuscript cultures of English women, 1740-90
Author: Aalders, Cynthia Yvonne
ISNI:       0000 0004 5914 5474
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis examines the spiritual lives of eighteenth-century English women through an analysis of their personal writings. It explores the manuscripts of religious women who practised their faith by writing letters, diaries, poetry, and other highly personal texts—texts that give unique access to the interior, spiritual lives of their authors. Concerned not only with the individual meaning of those writings but with their communal meanings, it argues that women’s informal writing, written within personal relationships, acted to undergird, guide, and indeed shape religious communities in vital and unexplored ways. Through an exploration of various significant personal relationships, both intra- and inter-generationally, this thesis demonstrates the multiple ways in which women were active in ‘writing religious communities’. The women discussed here belonged to communities that habitually communicated through personal writing. At the same time, their acts of writing were creative acts, powerful to build and shape religious communities: these women wrote religious community. A series of interweaving case studies guide my analysis and discussion. The thesis focuses on Catherine Talbot (1721–70), Anne Steele (1717–78), and Ann Bolton (1743–1822), and on their literary interactions with friends and family. Considered together, these subjects and sources allow comparison across denomination, for Talbot was Anglican, Steele Baptist, and Bolton Methodist. After an introductory chapter, Chapter Two focuses on spiritual friendship, showing how women used personal writings within peer relationships to think through religious ideas and encourage faith commitments. Chapter Three considers older women as spiritual elders, arguing that elderly women sometimes achieved honoured status in religious communities and were turned to for spiritual direction. Chapter Four explores the ways in which women offered religious instruction to spiritual children through the creative use of informal writings, including diaries and poetry. And Chapter Five considers women’s personal writings as spiritual legacy, as they were preserved by family and friends and continued to function in religious communities after the death of their authors.
Supervisor: Garnett, Jane ; Gleadle, Kathryn Sponsor: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Eighteenth-Century Britain and Europe ; Church history ; Christianity and Christian spirituality ; Women ; religion ; life writings ; diaries ; letters