This week we consider the uses of the body in mystical practice, and particularly the question of whether or not we can identify a distinctively female somatic spirituality . Ever since Caroline Bynum published her now classic Holy Feast and Holy Fast in 1987, the dominant position within the field has been that women's spiritual practices were marked by an emphasis on exterior, bodily practices, particularly extreme asceticism. Critics, most notably Amy Hollywood, have recently begun to argue that this characterization is not accurate, and that when we listen to women in their own voices (rather than through the voices of their male confessors or supporters) we see a variety of approaches. We will try to weigh in on the Bynum-Hollywood discussion by examining the experience of Beatriijs of Nazareth, one of the women who plays an important role in Bynum's original work on this subject. When you read the Hollywood article, please keep in mind that in arguing for a strong orientation towards interiority in Beatriijs' spirituality, Hollywood is intentionally taking on the Bynum thesis. As you consider the usefulnes of Bynum's characterizations, see if you can think of any other factors we might want to consider. For example, what about male asceticism? How does St. Francis fit into Bynum's scheme? How do we deal with the role of male confessors and other supporters in communicating female spirituality, and what do male reworkings of female experience teach us? What is the role of vernacular vs. Latin traditions or the approach of the learned vs. the unlearned? Even if Bynum turns out to be wrong in places, does the whole notion of a distinctive religious sensibility for medieval women need to fall apart? Does the thesis still have an important contribution to make to our understanding of medieval spirituality and/or gendered experience in western traditions?

Suggested Order of Reading
I recommend that you follow this order for the reading: Bynum's Holy Feast and Holy Fast (whatever portion of the text was assigned for you) to get an idea of the issues; the introduction and texts for Beatriijs of Nazareth in Petroff, and then Hollywood's essay "Inside Out"