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IMC 2016: Sessions

Session 1618: Food and Female Sanctity

Thursday 7 July 2016, 11.15-12.45

Moderator/Chair:Diane Watt, School of Literature & Languages, University of Surrey
Respondent:Liz Herbert McAvoy, Centre for Medieval & Early Modern Research (MEMO), Swansea University
Paper 1618-aBad Taste: Suffering through Eating by Medieval Religious Women
(Language: English)
Lieke Andrea Smits, Centre for the Arts in Society, Universiteit Leiden
Index terms: Language and Literature - Dutch, Monasticism, Religious Life
Paper 1618-bFasting Women: Past and Present
(Language: English)
Kyle Ann Huskin, Department of English, University of Rochester, New York
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English, Religious Life
Paper 1618-cMiraculous Cures of Poisoning: Famous Cases in Medieval Hagiography
(Language: English)
Sabina Tuzzo, Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università del Salento, Lecce
Index terms: Hagiography, Language and Literature - Latin, Mentalities, Religious Life

Paper -a:
Most medieval ascetic food practices are placed in the category of holy fasting. This can, however, obscure the diversity of religious practices of eating and not-eating. Liesbeth Gisbers, canoness of the convent of Diepenveen in the northern Low Countries, searched, according to her vita, actively for the most unsavoury food she could find and was even disappointed when one of her sisters got ahead of her. How can this practice be understood within its religious context? Was this a common, acceptable manner of following Christ? In this paper, these questions will be addressed by paying attention to voluntary and involuntary suffering, the role of imitatio christi in the life of Christ's brides and the difference between hunger and appetite.

Paper -b:
In this paper I compare language used by and about medieval fasting saints to that used by modern anorectics, relying on primary sources like hagiography, pastoral handbooks, and pro-ana websites. All sources are studied as repositories of discourse, with special focus given to the (pseudo-)religious language used in pro-ana communities. Direct comparison between medieval and modern practices cannot be made: that was settled thirty years ago by Bynum, Bell, and others. Nevertheless, discursive similarities may productively be viewed as vestiges of medieval religious culture - namely, anxieties about the body, constructions of gender identity, and moralization of consumption - which still underlie today's secularized society. Taking their perspectives seriously reveals perceived shortcomings of medicalized approaches to eating disorder treatment, and modern psychology could actually benefit from the more nuanced medieval understandings, which take into consideration the symbolism of patients' behaviors instead of labeling them irrational or delusional.

I do not attempt to consider ethical issues surrounding pro-ana websites: I simply take the fact of their existence as meaningful as part of their larger social context. In gathering data, I utilized websites with associated private forums, as the demographic of private (versus public) forums is older, more gender diverse, and more introspective. In addition to reading sites’ general contents, I also openly solicited statements for the project from members. I obtained written permission from website hosts, forum moderators, and individual members before including any contents in the final paper.

Paper -c:
In my paper 'Miraculous Cures of Poisoning: Famous Cases in Medieval Hagiography', I intend to speak about miraculous cures and healings attribuited to the saints. Starting from the Gregory of Tours’ Historia Francorum until the Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum), I will present a choice of spectacular cases of famous and unknown poisoned persons that had been miraculously healed or saved by saints. Moreover, I am going to also focus on other famous cases in which God saved saints' lives who had been poisoned. This last topic, very common in the Medieval hagiography, was often used also for adding biographical notes in those saints' lives of which biography was fragmentary or not so much relavant.