UC Davis MEMS Publications
Mystics, Goddesses, Lovers, and Teachers: Medieval Visions and their Modern Legacies
Edited by Claire Waters, Steven Rozenski, and Joshua Byron Smith
The conjunction of medieval religious studies and gender studies in the past several decades has produced not only nuanced attention to medieval mystics and religious thinkers, but a transformation in the study of medieval culture more broadly. This volume showcases new investigations of mysticism and religious writing in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. It also presents groundbreaking explorations of the feminized divine, from medieval to modern, and the many debts of medieval secular texts and cultures to the religious world that surrounded them. Medieval crossover also defines this volume: the contributors examine the crossovers between male and female, cloister and saeculum, divine and human, and vernacular and Latin that characterized so much of the complexity of medieval literary culture. These collected chapters examine mystics from Hildegard of Bingen and Juliana of Cornillon to Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, and Tomás de Jesús; the modern theologies of Philip K. Dick and Charles Williams; goddesses like Fame, Dame Courtesy, and Mother Church; and the role of religious belief in shaping conceptions of pacifism, obscenity, authorship, and bodily integrity. Together, they show the extraordinary impact of Barbara Newman’s scholarship across a range of fields and some of the new areas of investigation opened by her work. Book link.
Suicide by Proxy in Early Modern Germany: Crime, Sin, and Salvation
by Kathy Stuart
Suicide by Proxy became a major societal problem after 1650. Suicidal people committed capital crimes with the explicit goal of “earning” their executions, as a short-cut to their salvation. Desiring to die repentantly at the hands of divinely-instituted government, perpetrators hoped to escape eternal damnation that befell direct suicides. Kathy Stuart shows how this crime emerged as an unintended consequence of aggressive social disciplining campaigns by confessional states. Paradoxically, suicide by proxy exposed the limits of early modern state power, as governments struggled unsuccessfully to suppress the tactic. Some perpetrators committed arson or blasphemy, or confessed to long-past crimes, usually infanticide, or bestiality. Most frequently, however, they murdered young children, believing that their innocent victims would also enter paradise. The crime had cross-confessional appeal, as illustrated in case studies of Lutheran Hamburg and Catholic Vienna. Book link.
The Stolen Bones of St. John of Matha
by A. Katie Harris
On the night of March 18, 1655, two Spanish friars broke into a church to steal the bones of the founder of their religious institution, the Order of the Most Holy Trinity. This book investigates this little-known incident of relic theft and the lengthy legal case that followed, together with the larger questions that surround the remains of saints in seventeenth-century Catholic Europe.
Drawing on a wealth of manuscript and print sources from the era, A. Katie Harris uses the case of St. John of Matha’s stolen remains to explore the roles played by saints’ relics, the anxieties invested in them, their cultural meanings, and the changing modes of thought with which early modern Catholics approached them. While in theory a relic’s authenticity and identity might be proved by supernatural evidence, in practice early modern Church authorities often reached for proofs grounded in the material, human world—preferences that were representative of the standardizing and streamlining of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century saint-making. Harris examines how Matha’s advocates deployed material and documentary proofs, locating them within a framework of Scholastic concepts of individuation, identity, change, and persistence, and applying moral certainty to accommodate the inherent uncertainty of human evidence and relic knowledge.
Engaging and accessible, The Stolen Bones of St. John of Matha raises an array of important questions surrounding relic identity and authenticity in seventeenth-century Europe. It will be of interest to students, scholars, and casual readers interested in European history, religious history, material culture, and Renaissance studies. Book link.
Merits of the Plague
By Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani
Introduction by Joel Blecher and Mairaj Syed
Edited by Joel Blecher and Mairaj Syed
Translated by Joel Blecher and Mairaj Syed
Notes by Joel Blecher and Mairaj Syed
Six hundred years ago, the author of this landmark work of history and religious thought—an esteemed judge, poet, and scholar in Cairo—survived the bubonic plague, which took the lives of three of his children, not to mention tens of millions of others throughout the medieval world. Holding up an eerie mirror to our own time, he reflects on the origins of plagues—from those of the Prophet Muhammad’s era to the Black Death of his own—and what it means that such catastrophes could have been willed by God, while also chronicling the fear, isolation, scapegoating, economic tumult, political failures, and crises of faith that he lived through. But in considering the meaning of suffering and mass death, he also offers a message of radical hope. Weaving together accounts of evil jinn, religious stories, medical manuals, death-count registers, poetry, and the author’s personal anecdotes, Merits of the Plague is a profound reminder that with tragedy comes one of the noblest expressions of our humanity: the practice of compassion, patience, and care for those around us. For more info, see book link.
Digging the Past
By Fran Dolan
We are today grappling with the consequences of disastrous changes in our farming and food systems. While the problems we face have reached a crisis point, their roots are deep. Even in the seventeenth century, Frances E. Dolan contends, some writers and thinkers voiced their reservations, both moral and environmental, about a philosophy of improvement that rationalized massive changes in land use, farming methods, and food production. Despite these reservations, the seventeenth century was a watershed in the formation of practices that would lead toward the industrialization of agriculture. But it was also a period of robust and inventive experimentation in what we now think of as alternative agriculture. This book approaches the seventeenth century, in its failed proposals and successful ventures, as a resource for imagining the future of agriculture in fruitful ways. It invites both specialists and non-specialists to see and appreciate the period from the ground up.
Building on and connecting histories of food and work, literary criticism of the pastoral and georgic, histories of elite and vernacular science, and histories of reading and writing practices, among other areas of inquiry, Digging the Past offers fine-grained case studies of projects heralded as innovations both in the seventeenth century and in our own time: composting and soil amendment, local food, natural wine, and hedgerows. Dolan analyzes the stories seventeenth-century writers told one another in letters, diaries, and notebooks, in huge botanical catalogs and flimsy pamphlets, in plays, poems, and how-to guides, in adages and epics. She digs deeply to assess precisely how and with what effect key terms, figurations, and stories galvanized early modern imaginations and reappear, often unrecognized, on the websites and in the tour scripts of farms and vineyards today. For more info, see book link.