Sunday, 25 October 2015

More from Vancouver

I thought I was done blogging the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference, but the session on Early Modern Women's Writing in the punishment slot (8:30am on Sunday) was too good not to notice: I think probably the all-round best panel I attended.

I'm accustomed to expecting great things from Kate Narveson, who didn't disappoint, in her account of how several early seventeenth-century women produced Bible collages which constructed a very particular view of God - emphasising his comforts, care and (it seemed to me - Kate didn't put it this way) his maternal qualities. In doing so they clearly constructed the God they wanted, needed or had encountered, but did so on the irrefutable grounds of the bare scriptural text.

Paula McQuade, whose book on catechisms is stuck in editorial limbo but must surely emerge soon, was also as humane and insightfue and as ever. He sense that the act of catechesis could be and often was a profoundly intimate moment in family life, and in particular between mothers and children, is worth holding on to. As she points out, the stereotype of catechesis as a repressive and disciplinary process simply is not supported by any significant evidence from the earlier period, even if some Victorians felt that way.

Victoria Burke's work is newer to me, but she was talking about a text I thought I knew, namely Elizabeth Isham's autobiography from the 1630s. What she revealed, however, was the extent to which Isham is, quietly and unfussily, making herself into a scholar in this text: not just referencing an enormous amount of reading, but processing it critically and testing her emerging views against various authorities and against Scripture. She began by suggesting that Isham's work is intellectual rather than conventionally devotional, which is clearly the case, but she ended up demonstrating something rather more important: that this was devotion by the means of intellectual labour. It's quite a trick.

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