Contested bodies. The religious lives of co ses. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

This project researches human remains that were instilled with religious meaning within European Catholicisms of the modern era (c.1750-1950), a period when debates about dead bodies were complicated with medical breakthroughs and changing rates and understandings of mortality. The focus is on bodies that 'behaved' out of the ordinary after death and whose physical state could itself be deemed miraculous by some. Particular emphasis is on the remains of men and women religious since the enthusiasm and the criticism they inspired, generated a co us of visual, material and textual sources that has not yet received much attention. The project approaches the afterlife of the body as a 'religious object', grounded in its materiality while transcending the 'material world', in order to examine 1) the mentalities and practices that instil the dead body with religious significance, and 2) broader historical shifts in the ways in which religious communities dealt with the dead body (including issues of belonging and ownership). The long term and comparative perspective will allow us to show how 1) the meaning of the 'religious' body varied according to the historical and geographical contexts, and the divergent contexts within and between religious orders, 2) the strategies used to imbue the co se with religious meaning changed because of the interdependent nature of the category 'religious' and changing views on the body within different streams of Catholicism.

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Medicine and Catholicism since the late 19th Century 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

By studying the interactions between medicine and Catholicism across Europe, the United States and beyond, this Scientific Research Network (WOG) aims to extricate the study of medicine and religion from the modernization paradigm and produce a more nuanced and diversified view of both traditions. For this, we build on recent interconnected histories of medicine and Catholicism, in which storylines of conflict have been replaced by histories of entanglement and cross-overs. Similarly, scholars of religion and social movements have started to reassess the relationship between Catholicism and modernity, for instance by focusing on progressive movements within the Church. Historians of health and sexuality have drawn attention to the militancy of progressive Catholics to have the Church adopt a more positive stance towards contraception and abortion. New scholarly attention is also paid to the role of missionaries in colonial health care, albeit with a stronger focus on Protestant missions than on the Catholic Church, which historically took much longer to become involved in missionary medicine. We aim to bring together these new approaches through the concepts of 'prescribed' and 'lived' religion. Whereas the study of prescribed religion mainly considers propositions and normative reflections by religious experts such as priests, theologians and moralists (top-down), the primary focus of lived religion is on beliefs and practices of all members of the Church, including for instance doctors and missionaries (bottom-up). By combining both approaches and charting the interactions between them, this WOG will shed light on religion as a complex phenomenon, interpreting religious doctrines and the ways in which they are understood as the outcome of negotiations, whether by experts or 'ordinary' congregants. It will do so by focusing on two specific research themes: medical ethics and reproductive medicine. Working group on medical ethics This working group will analyze the ways in which, since the late 19th century, theologians, moralists, physicians, missionaries and other actors involved in Catholic health care institutions and centers of training negotiated their own moral understandings of medical care and treatment. How did doctors and clergymen interact in establishing a Catholic position on matters such as the social role of the Catholic physician, medical abortion, post-mortem caesareans, the physical integrity of the corpse, forms of contraception such as the rhythm method, sterilization, the rise of psychoanalysis, experimentation on human subjects orthe use of human embryonic stem cells for research and therapeutics? How did Catholic moralists and physicians deal with clashes between pontifical rules and the law (e.g. when abortion and euthanasia were legalized)? Working group on reproductive medicine When it comes to reproduction and family planning, the Catholic Church is commonly casted as 'a center of opposition to all the great movements aiming towards greater freedom for ordinary human beings'. The Church's emphasis on the inseparability of sex and reproduction, most famously described in Humanae Vitae, has been put forward as one of the main reasons for secularization since the 1960s. Discussed from a top-down perspective, religion was largely reduced to prescriptions and proscriptions limiting the agency of faithful physicians and patients. In this working group we aim to correct this stereotypical view through a bottom-up approach, in which the primary focus is on the ways in which individuals (both patients and physicians) dealt with medical interpretations of, and interventions in, reproduction in a broad sense. Special attention will be paid to the post-war period, when debates on reproduction became particularly tense and when differences between Western and Eastern Europe became more explicit.

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Patients and Passions. Catholic Views on Pain in Nineteenth-Century Austria. 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Patients and passions. Catholic views on pain in nineteenth-century Austria The still rather young history of pain is more and more critical about the finalist historiography postulating an increasing secularization and medicalisation of pain in the modern era. In the nineteenth century, so the narrative goes, pain lost its status as a 'gift' of God, turned into something that needed to be avoided and became more and more controlled thanks to medical progress as e.g. the invention of anaesthetics. Against such a backdrop numerous religious practices of nineteenth-century Catholicism appear like anachronistic remnants of medieval, pain-idealising traditions and cults like Christ's Passion, at odds with secular and medical perspectives. However, the starting point of our project is that this narrative of contrast does not adequately capture the history of Catholic views on pain. Whilst there was a relatively small elite group that did indeed cultivate this idealization of passion, other Catholic initiatives, like charity organisations, hospitals and religious orders focusing on health care, engaged in activities that aimed to relieve the suffering of others. In our project we will address settings and cases where both the positive and the negative view on pain existed at the same time. We will study this coexistence and interaction by focusing on different groups of people in what the contemporaries called 'holy' Tyrol: we will focus on stigmatics, the personification of the revitalisation of Catholicism and discussed as exceptional medical cases, and on the patients of local physicians, of the mental hospital in Hall that opened in 1830 and on those of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, a female religious order active in health care. We will examine what Catholics saw as emotional and/or physical pain, how they interpreted pain and whether or not these interpretations were influenced by new medical findings, and how they responded to pain – with practices of pain relief, meditation (on the passion) or even the cultivation of pain. In this way the sharp differentiation between religious and medical views in the nineteenth century can be reviewed and the history of Catholic pain will regain some of its complexity. Finally, by historicising of pain and the reactions to (other people's) suffering we can address questions about compassion and sympathy, present-day questions about whose suffering we are able to see and with whom we can sympathize.

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The political weight of carrying Christ's wounds. Stigmatics in Europe, c.1800-1950. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

Rather than analyzing medical and theological expert discourses and single cases, this project focuses on the popular response to stigmatics in Europe in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth century and studies their 'cluster moments', reception radius and impact. This project draws attention to the politico-religious context in which stigmatics were reported and the political meaning some of them were given. We believe that by analyzing the commotion they stirred and the enthusiasm they triggered, we can learn something about the relationship between the Church and political authorities and about laymen's perception of the place of religion in worldly affairs. We thereby perceive stigmatics as 'cult figures' – celebrities and (semi-) saints – who could develop into charismatic leaders and function as symbolic figures especially at moments of political and religious uncertainties and tensions. We will study stigmatics from various perspectives and address them as (religious) commodities, source of commotion and referred to in identity constructions. We will thereby adopt a trans-national and international perspective since celebrities and saints could be consumed differently in various countries and saints-to-be could attract also foreign devotees. By analysing three response levels (the laymen, the Church and the political authorities) we will better our understanding of the dialectical relationship between official and 'popular' religion, the relation between European Catholicisms and public authorities in different national and historical contexts.

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Project website

History of spirituality, devotion and mysticism. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

This project studies the promotion and devotion of the hundreds of stigmatics reported in five European countries during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The majority of the work on these women (and a few men) who carried Christ's wounds, has focused primarily on the medical debates and religious treatises and examined the stigmatics in isolation. Such an approach leaves us with little to no information about the popular response to the stigmatics and it does not allow us to say anything about the exceptionality or unicity of a case. Instead, this project focuses on the popular perception of stigmatics and the media through which people ventilated their thoughts. This will enable us to see how 'religion as practised' and 'religion as prescribed' interacted.

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Between saints and celebrities. The devotion and promotion of stigmatics in Europe, c.1800-1950 (STIGMATICS). 01/04/2015 - 31/03/2019

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand EU. UA provides EU research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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