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German Mysticism and the Politics of Culture


Ulrike Wiethaus

Probing deeply into texts by and about prominent Christian mystics, religious authors, and saints, German Mysticism and the Politics of Culture challenges the reader to rethink the medieval past as a contemporary presence. This «presence of the past» shapes memory of place, valorizes the trope of ecstatic sexual union as death, and continues the religious marginalization of female voice and authority. The chapters focus on the works and lives of Hadewijch, Marie d’Oignies, Dionysius of Ryckel, Heinrich Seuse, Margarete Ebner, St. Elisabeth, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, and the stigmatic Therese Neumann. Part One of the volume examines the dynamics of cultural memory and forgetting as they relate to issues of sexuality, female authority, and national politics; Part Two explores themes of love and death, erasure and displacement. Medieval Christian mysticism, the author argues, cannot be narrated as a story of great cultural accomplishment but, rather, as a fundamentally agonistic scenario shaped by actors whose impact still affects us today.
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This collection of essays is the outcome of many years of collaborative work with colleagues and students in the United States and Europe too numerous to name here – but still, thank you, fellow academic travelers. At key moments, listening to and learning from women and men committed to a contemplative way of life deepened my understanding. As always, I am grateful to Judith Sutera, OSB, for her dry wit, erudite insights, and for keeping us secular academics at Kalamazoo on our toes; to Annette Esser and Avis Glendenen, for asking where the women are. Being in place has been neither foreground nor background, but ground and grounding. The presence, simultaneously faint and strongly insistent, of medieval consciousness encapsulated in hewn rock, carved wood, ink, city maps, landscapes, and various art work in places such as Marburg, Bingen, Maria Medingen, and Antwerp inspired, evoked, and posed questions. Nothing in this collection could have been written without the impact of feminism on the academy, whose second wave carried me through graduate school onto the shores of independent academic work.

For chapter one, special thanks and my collaborative and inspirational debt belong to E. Ann Matter and Michael Sells; for chapter five, to Gary Ljungquist, Sharon Farmer and Carol Pasternack, for chapter seven, to Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Duncan Robertson, and Nancy Bradley Warren ← ix | x → in terms of academic dialogue, and to the nuns at Maria Edingen for inviting me and for keeping Margarete Ebner’s presence alive; for chapter eight, to Juliette...

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