1st Edition

Gender and Medieval Mysticism from India to Europe

Edited By Alexandra Verini, Abir Bazaz Copyright 2024
    254 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book opens up a dialogue between pre-modern women identified as mystics in diverse locations from South Asia to Europe. It considers how women from the disparate religious traditions of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity expressed devotion in parallel ways. The argument is that women’s mysticism demands to be compared not because of any essential "female" experience of the divine but because the parallel positions of marginalization that pre-modern women experienced led them to deploy intimate encounters with the divine to speak publicly and claim authority. The topics covered range from the Sufi devotional tradition of Sidis (Indians of African ancestry) to the Bhakti poet Mīrābaī and the nuns of Barking Abbey. Collectively the chapters show how mysticism allowed premodern women to speak and act by unsettling traditional gender roles and expectations for religious behavior. At the same time as uncovering connections, the juxtaposition of women from different traditions serves to highlight distinctive features. The book draws on a range of disciplinary expertise and will be of particular interest to scholars of medieval religion and theology as well as history and literary studies.

    1 Introduction

    Alexandra Verini

    Part I Mysticism as Resistance

    2 Weeping as Resistance in Islamic and Christian Contemplative Hagiography

    Ayoush Lazikani

    3 Mysticism between Women in Early Medieval England

    Kathryn Maude

    4 Public Scandal and Mystical Marriage: Margery Kempe and Mīrābaī

    Katherine Zieman

    Part II Reimagining the Female Mystic

    5 Tongue Untied: Women and Forbidden Speech in Medieval India

    Subhashree Chakravarty

    6 Enclosed Life and Mystical Form in the Ancrene Wisse

    Aparna Chaudhuri

    7 Gender Fluidity in Sìrīvaisònòava Theology: The Status of the Cowherd Women

    Manasicha Akepiyapornchai

    Part III Shaping Mystical Femininity

    8 The Discipline of Mahadevi and Lalla: Religious Ambiguity in the Gendering of Ascetic Female Hindu Saints

    Dean Accardi

    9 Imagined femininity in Sant Mysticism

    Galina Rousseva-Sokolova

    10 Invoking Mirabai: Elision and Illumination in the Global Study of Women Mystics

    Nancy Martin

    Part IV Women Mystics Across Time

    11 Swaying in the Presence of the Saints: Women's Mediation of Spiritual Authority in the Sidi Sufi Devotional Tradition of Gujarat

    Jazmin Graves

    12 Love Knows no Bounds: Contemporary Artist Engagement with Marguerite Porete and Hadewijch

    Louise Nelstrop

    13 Afterword

    Liz Herbert McAvoy


    Alexandra Verini is an Assistant Professor of English at Ashoka University.

    Abir Bazaz is an Assistant Professor of English at Ashoka University.

    "This is an impressive, reflective volume of diverse essays that help to understand a historical pattern between 700 and 1500 CE, as women increasingly confronted gender norms by asserting religious/spiritual authority—often referred to or translated as ‘mysticism’. By strategically limiting the scope to South Asia and Europe, the contributors present a manageable set of examples that can be brought into meaningful conversation, thereby joining in the growing current of critical comparison in religious studies. We find here careful analyses of detail-rich local cases, reflections on provincialities of key terms (especially ‘mysticism’), and considerations of transregional and long-term relationships between gender and appeals to religion/spirituality to construct the world differently. Highly recommended for anyone interested in understanding women and gender in the premodern world, mysticism as a social force, cross-cultural translation, and the critically comparative study of religion." – Jon Keune, Michigan State University, USA