Saturday, September 10, 2016

This is a final reminder that the Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group is sponsoring and co-sponsoring (with the Syon Abbey Society) three sessions for the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo 2017 and welcomes submissions.  Details of the sessions, contacts and a brief introduction to our group (there's a listserv!) are below: 


The Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group is sponsoring three sessions at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo for 2017:

1) New Approaches to the Helfta Nuns and Their Contemporaries (contacts: C. Annette Grisé, Barbara Zimbalist)

2) Syon Abbey and Its Associates [co-sponsored with the Syon Abbey Society] (contacts: Brandon Alakas, Stephanie Morley)

3) Imitatio Mariae in the Meditationes vitae Christi Traditions across Europe (contacts: Leah Buturain, Laura Saetvit Miles)

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a completed Participant Information Form to the co-organizers of your selected session by 15 September 2016. Electronic submissions are preferred.

Details of the session topics and co-organizer contact information are found below. Please send general inquiries and requests to join the listserv to Cathy Grisé:

1) New Approaches to the Helfta Nuns and Their Contemporaries
Organizers: Members of VDCG Committee

In the second half of the thirteenth century, the female monastery of Helfta played a significant role in the cultivation of Western European mysticism. The circle of nuns comprising three visionaries and their abbess—Mechtild of Hackeborn (1240-1298), Gertrud the Great of Helfta (1256-1302), Mechtild of Magdeburg (1207-1282/94, a beguine who joined Helfta later in life), and Gertrud of Hackeborn (1232-1292, Abbess of Helfta and sister of Mechtild), respectively—were responsible for several important visionary treatises (including Liber Specialis Gratiae, The Book of Special Grace, and Das fließende Licht der Gottheit, The Flowing Light of Divinity) that defined German mysticism for their time: for example, they developed nuptial mysticism using imagery of holy women as Brides of Christ, and dedicated themselves to the Devotion of the Sacred Heart as part of their active program of female education, piety, and community. This interdisciplinary session will allow scholars and students to showcase recent research on the Helfta nuns and explore how these holy women expanded and changed traditional paradigms, as well as to compare this material with that of other late-medieval mystics.

Dr  C. Annette Grisé
Dept. of English and Cultural Studies
McMaster University
1280 Main St. W.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
L8S 4L9

Dr Barbara Zimbalist
Department of English
Hudspeth Hall, Room 113
500 W. University Ave.
El Paso, Texas 79968-0526

2) Syon Abbey and its Associates
Co-sponsored with the Syon Abbey Society
Organizers: Brandon Alakas and Stephanie Morley

The Syon Abbey Society and the Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group invite paper abstracts for its joint session “Syon Abbey and its Associates” which treat any aspect of writing associated with the intellectual and spiritual culture that flourished at the abbey. Syon’s reputation as a stalwart centre for orthodox reform and prolific source of vernacular devotional writing since its foundation in 1415 has been well-documented and long-recognised. This session seeks to examine the channels of connection beyond the convent walls, both in terms of the abbey’s impact on contemporary thinkers, patrons, printers, and lay readers, as well as the influence—material and spiritual—the world beyond its walls may have exerted on the abbey.

A nodal point for high-ranking aristocrats and intellectuals in late medieval and Tudor England, Syon attracted a diverse body of individuals ranging from Margaret Beaufort and Katherine of Aragon to Richard Pace, Thomas More, and John Fisher. These connections are often noted but seldom explored. How, for example, were ties forged and maintained between the Birgittine community, secular elites, printers, and the reading public? For over a century, Syon both ministered to and depended upon a vast network of lay support for its pastoral initiatives and its commitment to reinvigorating—and, finally, preserving—monastic life. This session aims to probe the nature of this long-nurtured relationship between the spiritual and the secular which accounts for the formidable authority and longevity of Syon Abbey.

Papers may address the movement and circulation of books to or from the Abbey; consider particular relationships between authors or patrons on either side of the convent walls; or examine specific texts or translations associated with the abbey for traces of broader associations. Any and all disciplinary and methodological approaches are welcome.

Dr Brandon Alakas
Department of Fine Arts and Humanities
University of Alberta, Augustana
4901 - 46 Avenue
Camrose, AB T4V 2R3

Dr Stephanie Morley
Department of English
Saint Mary’s University
923 Robie Street
Halifax, NS B3H 3C3

3) Imitatio Mariae in the Meditations vitae Christi traditions across Europe
Organizers: Leah Buturain and Laura Saetvit Miles

The pseudo-Bonaventuran Meditationes vitae Christi (MVC) is considered the single most influential devotional text written in the later Middle Ages. This paper panel will explore how the textual tradition of the MVC and related gospel meditations fostered creative forms of imitating Mary, or imitatio Mariae. While imitatio Christi has received scholarly attention, imitatio Mariae merits more fruitful consideration - especially as it compasses texts and images that engage both laity and religious in imitating the Virgin’s virtues. This panel will focus on performative rituals and texts used to recapitulate her life events, such as the Annunciation. How did imitatio mariae enrich the "devout imagination" of the faithful? How did readers perform Mary’s own performance of speech, silence, and prayer? We hope to solicit abstracts that tap into the variegated traditions of the MVC from across Europe, in Latin and multiple vernaculars.

Dr Leah Buturain
USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
1946 N. Serrano Ave.
LA, CA 90027

Dr Laura Saetveit Miles
Department of Foreign Languages,
University of Bergen
Postbox 7805, N-5020 Bergen, Norway

Notice of new Society at the International Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI

The Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group seeks to fill the gap left by the departure of the Mystics Quarterly sessions at Kalamazoo, with a broadened focus to include vernacular spiritual writings of the late Middle Ages--championed by female visionaries, but also written and disseminated by clerics and monks, and read by women religious as well as by the laity. We sponsored our first session in Kalamazoo 2016 for scholars and students of late-medieval, vernacular devotional culture. We wish to complement the work being done by such groups as the Syon Abbey Society, the Lollard Society, and the Anchoritic Society.

Our mandate for the Vernacular Devotional Culture includes making up for the loss of the Mystics Quarterly sessions (no longer taking place at Congress) by sponsoring sessions on medieval mystics and mysticism, fostering collaboration among societies devoted to religious cultures, and showcasing recent scholarship on vernacular spiritual traditions in medieval Western Europe.

For further information please contact:
Cathy Grisé, McMaster University (
Barbara Zimbalist, University of Texas at El Paso (
Jennifer Brown, Marymount Manhattan College (
Stephanie Amsel, Southern Methodist University (

Listserv: is just being established. Please email Cathy Grisé at for details, or look for upcoming information on the website.

Dr Stephanie Morley
Department of English
Saint Mary's University
Halifax, NS B3H 3C3 Canada
Tel: (902) 420-5719
Fax: (902) 420-5110

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