1st Edition

Sensing the Sacred in Medieval and Early Modern Culture

Edited By Robin Macdonald, Emilie Murphy, Elizabeth L. Swann Copyright 2018
    272 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    270 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This volume traces transformations in attitudes toward, ideas about, and experiences of religion and the senses in the medieval and early modern period. Broad in temporal and geographical scope, it challenges traditional notions of periodisation, highlighting continuities as well as change. Rather than focusing on individual senses, the volume’s organisation emphasises the multisensoriality and embodied nature of religious practices and experiences, refusing easy distinctions between asceticism and excess. The senses were not passive, but rather active and reactive, res-ponding to and initiating change. As the contributions in this collection demonstrate, in the pre-modern era, sensing the sacred was a complex, vexed, and constantly evolving process, shaped by individuals, environment, and religious change. The volume will be essential reading not only for scholars of religion and the senses, but for anyone interested in histories of medieval and early modern bodies, material culture, affects, and affect theory.


    [Robin Macdonald, Emilie K. M. Murphy, and Elizabeth L. Swann]

    I: Prescription and Practice

    1. Problems of Sensory History and the Medieval Laity

    [John H. Arnold]

    2. Virtus regens animam: William Peraldus on Guiding the Pleasures of the Senses

    [Richard Newhauser]

    3. What Makes Things Holy? The Senses and Material Culture in the Later Middle Ages

    [C. M. Woolgar]

    II: Concord and Conversion

    4. Double Conversion: The Sensory Autobiography of Sir Kenelm Digby

    [Joe Moshenska]

    5. The Senses and the Seventeenth-Century English Conversion Narrative

    [Abigail Shinn]

    III: Exile and Encounter

    6. Hearing Exile and Homecoming in the Dutch Stranger Church

    [Erin Lambert]

    7. A Sense of Place: Hearing English Catholicism in the Spanish Habsburg Territories, 1568-1659

    [Emilie K. M. Murphy]

    8. Sensing Sacred Missives: Birch Bark Letters from Seventeenth-Century Missions in New France

    [Robin Macdonald]

    IV: Figuration and Feeling

    9. "O She’s Warm": Evidence, Assent and the Sensory Numinous in Shakespeare and His World

    [Subha Mukherji]

    10. Robert Southwell’s Intimate Exegesis

    [Bronwyn V. Wallace]

    11. God’s Nostrils: The Divine Senses in Early Modern England

    [Elizabeth L. Swann]

    Afterword: Making Sense of Religion

    [Michael Schoenfeldt]


    Robin Macdonald completed her PhD at the University of York and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Western Australia.

    Emilie K. M. Murphy is a Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of York.

    Elizabeth L. Swann is a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge. From September 2018, she will be Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies within the Department of English Studies, Durham University.

    ‘... this volume is an excellent and original collection which offers a new and fresh approach to medieval and early modern sensory and religious history. One of its many strengths is that it presents new arguments against the progressive disembodiment of religious belief in highlighting the role the senses played in religious belief and experience. Additionally, it provides fresh methodology to tackle the problems embedded in Sensing the Sacred'- Emotions: History, Culture, Society 3 (2019).

    ‘[The book’s] clear focus on what it means to sense the sacred lends a tight coherence to the volume and makes an important intervention into the complex interdisciplinary space of how the senses functioned historically within religious experience: exploring "convergences between theories about the spiritual and physical senses…the formation of confessional identities, the construction of sacred space, and the nature of virtue"’ - Renaissance Studies Volume 34, Issue 3