Soul Travel: Spiritual Journeys and Sacred Voyages in Early Modern Europe

14 September 2017
De Montfort University, Leicester

In recent years, scholars have been increasingly interested in recovering personal spiritual experiences and their representation in the early modern period. Personal spirituality has been one important lens through which scholars have scrutinised the nature of religious change in this period and its impact on communities and regions. One of the most enduring historiographical debates has centred upon the ‘rise’ of the individual as an autonomous, consciously-expressed self in the Reformation era. Linked to this has been the relationship between personal, interiorized spirituality and external actions. Already in the fifteenth century, Franciscan and Carthusian practices and Devotio moderna traditions encouraged withdrawal, self-examination and mental prayer. The growth of interiority, it is argued, augmented further, during and after the Reformation. For example, John Bossy’s interpretation of the transformation of early modern Catholicism, from a communitarian to an individual and personal faith, has been enormously influential, the purpose of devotion becoming reconciliation to God rather than obligation to the community.

The purpose of this one-day colloquium is to examine a particular manifestation of interiority and its relationship to material experience: that of the spiritual journey or pilgrimage. This could take the form of an imagined real journey, such as Louis Richeome’s The Pilgrim of Loreto or an allegorical voyage such as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  This meeting has as its objective an exploration of spiritual and interior journeys, understood broadly.

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