The Other Sisters is a research blog dedicated to the study of women who pursued forms of religious life outside of the cloister in medieval and Early Modern Western Europe and New France. These women include but are not limited to tertiaries, penitents, lay sisters, recluses, Deo devote, oblates, and secular canonesses. Although many non-cloistered religious women played significant roles in society, they appear marginal in the traditional historiography of pre-modern Western Christendom. This is due primarily to a model that compartmentalizes women’s groups and imposes artificial categories on their lived experiences. There is a need, therefore, for a collaborative research project focused on non-cloistered religious women between the twelfth and eighteenth century, from Italy to New France, which will enhance the study of this important and global part of Christian history. By defining and contextualizing the experiences of these women, the Other Sisters research project is producing the basis for a necessary corrective to the standard historiographical picture and helping to clarify the place of religious women in the Church and society.
Two questions animate this project. The first is about identity and terminology. What should we call these women and how do we situate them in Church history? The second question is about the roles these women played in society. What social and economic roles did non-cloistered religious women fulfil?
To answer these questions and more, the goals of the project are as follows:
1- To establish a methodology to reconstruct the individual experiences of devout women living outside traditional ecclesiastical institutional structures;
2- To rethink categories used to discuss feminine religious experience in both the Middle Ages and the early modern period; and
3- To understand the roles and functions of non-cloistered religious women over a long period and by prioritizing links and continuities.
This collaborative blog presents the various stages of the project and tracks the progress of the research conducted. It features the following:
1- Postings concerning the day-to-day work of the researchers involved.
2- Discussions of historiographical issues.
3- Presentations of archival findings.
4- Case studies of non-cloistered women.
5- A comprehensive searchable bibliographic database of scholarship concerning non-cloistered women.
6- An interactive series of maps illustrating the geographical locations of particular groups of non-cloistered religious women and tracking the development of specific movements.
The Other Sisters blog disseminates the archival, historiographical, and geographical findings about non-cloistered women by the researchers as they happen. It is a first look into the research that is setting the stage for an inclusive history of non-cloistered religious women in the Western Church between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to giving these women a proper place in the historical record, the Other Sisters blog has as its goal the creation of a medium for exchange and dialogue within and beyond the academic community. The posts, archival sources, bibliography, and maps provide factual information and present avenues for further research, while the “comments” section of the blog welcomes insights and reflections from interested readers.