Research Stream


Jessica McCandless
The University of Adelaide

Seventeenth-Century English Nuns in Exile: Mysticism and Emotion

This project examines the emotionality of early modern nuns’ mystical experiences with a focus on contextual analysis through literary influence, emotional practices and affective atmospheres.

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This project explores early modern spiritual writing of mystical experiences as an emotional practice that is learned, habituated and fuelled by its surroundings. It investigates spiritual diaries for emotional practices that created visionary experiences. It considers the English Carmelites in Antwerp, as Teresian and Ignatian spiritual methods encouraged a deep affective piety with an importance on reading and writing.

As part of this project, Jessica McCandless looks at a range of religious documents including diaries, convent chronicles, spiritual exercises, prayers and songs. The structure of the convent, as well as objects and spaces within it, are also considered as part of an affective atmosphere that fuelled mystical experience. Literary influences are noted and nuns’ spiritual writings are analysed for literary conventions influenced by their reading. This literature includes secular works from plays and novels and religious reading including the Bible and past mystics.

Mystical writing from the middle ages has been extensively studied through literary and theological lenses. This project aims to carry that into the early modern and through a history of emotions lens, Jessica has been able to analyse mystical writing in a more nuanced way. By considering mysticism as an emotional practice that is learned, repeated and habituated, the mystic is transformed into an active agent in their religious life. Space and literary influence create an affective atmosphere surrounding the mystic that further intensifies emotions. Therefore, this project sheds new light on the inner and outer emotional worlds of mystical experiences to the early modern period.

Image: Giovanni di Paolo, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena. © Metropolitan Museum of Art.