Gender and Religion in Early Modern Europe

Volos, 20-21 June 2008
Main University Library

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Androniki Dialeti (University of Thessaly)
Shaping religious identities in the early modern Italian controversy about women

Focusing on the debate about women (querelle des femmes) in early modern Italy, the paper discusses the impact of the Counter-Reformation on the shaping of female / male religious identities. Examining various writings concerning gender roles and identities – treatises and dialogues on female / male superiority, biographies, conduct literature, medical writings etc – and the contemporary correspondence, the paper suggests that, although religion was an important aspect of the debate already from the fifteenth century, it became a key determinant of gender identity only in post-tridentine Italy. Furthermore, the paper shows that the first half of the sixteenth century witnessed a trend among Italian intellectuals, especially in Venice, to question gender and religious order by suggesting alternative theological interpretations in their “defences of women”. However, the gradual establishment of the Counter-Reformation ideals led to the marginalization of these attitudes and the crystallization of gender and religious norms, as they were mainly expressed in conduct and religious literature. The Index of prohibited books was of vital importance in this shift. Finally, the paper examines the nun Arcangela Tarabotti’s controversial attitude towards gender and religion, suggesting that, in the new post-tridentine fashion, religion features prominently in her writings but, at the same time, religion becomes the main vehicle for defending women.