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Title: Gender and religious guidance in the twelfth century
Author: Bos, Elisabeth Kendall
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1999
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The consistent denigration of women, and the representation of the feminine as inferior in works by the medieval clergy has received considerable attention from scholars of medieval women in recent years. Yet these negative views of women in general did not necessarily represent a dominant influence in the relationships clergymen established with historical women. The letters exchanged by medieval clergymen and women provide a valuable source of information concerning their personal dealings. Using the evidence of these letters, this thesis will attempt to assess the extent to which gender influenced the spiritual guidance which the clergy provided for women, and how it affected male perceptions of women's spiritual lives. The first chapter follows the introduction by discussing the way in which the clergy came into contact with the women they advised. In most cases where a correspondence developed between a man and woman, the relationship is characterised by co-operation. Men provided spiritual guidance to women and women were frequently in a position to offer practical or financial support in return. Chapters II and III deal with women's intellectual and moral development respectively. Women were sometimes represented as inherently inferior in terms of their intellectual capacity and moral fortitude. Yet the advice which men gave to women clearly indicates that these were also areas in which individuals (both male and female) were taught to expect the transcendent grace of God to influence their spiritual development. Through this grace, human weakness could be transformed into spiritual strength. Consequently, gender, in itself, did not prevent women from achieving spiritual excellence or understanding the mysteries of God through study. Chapter IV focuses upon the way in which male perceptions of the spiritual lives of individual women influenced the way clergymen interacted with women. Twelfth-century monastic culture allowed for several forms of social bond between men which represented a public acknowledgement of spiritual solidarity and shared religious sympathies. The involvement of women in these bonds bears out the suggestion of the previous two chapters, that the consistently negative views of women in general, were not reflected in the practical interaction of men and women on religious issues. A brief conclusion summarises the issues raised and demonstrates that the focus on letters of spiritual guidance has yielded valuable results.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available