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New Book Examines the Literary-Devotional Tradition of Women’s Visionary Texts in Medieval Religious Culture

From the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, women across northern Europe began committing their visionary conversations with Christ to the written word. Translating Christ in this way required multiple transformations: divine speech into human language, aural event into textual artifact, visionary experience into linguistic record, and individual encounter into communal repetition. In Translating Christ in the Middle Ages: Gender, Authorship, and the Visionary Text, Barbara Zimbalist, associate professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso, shows how women’s visionary texts form an underexamined literary tradition within medieval religious culture. Zimbalist demonstrates how, within this tradition, female visionaries developed new forms of authorship, reading, and devotion. Through these transformations, the female visionary authorized herself and her text, and performed a rhetorical imitatio Christi that offered models of interpretive practice and spoken devotion to her readers.

This literary-historical tradition has not yet been fully recognized on its own terms. By exploring its development in hagiography, visionary texts, and devotional literature, Zimbalist shows how this literary mode came to be not only possible but widespread and influential. She argues that women’s visionary translation reconfigured traditional hierarchies and positions of spiritual power for female authors and readers in ways that reverberated throughout late-medieval literary and religious cultures. 

Comparing texts in Latin, Dutch, French, and English, Translating Christ in the Middle Ages explores how women’s visionary translation of Christ’s speech initiated larger transformations of gendered authorship and religious authority within medieval culture.

Over the last several decades, the field of medieval women’s spirituality has received increasing amounts of scholarly attention. Translating Christ finds its place through both a unique methodology and original thesis. As the first to study women’s visionary texts in these four languages, the book reveals the multilingual, transhistorical nature of women’s textual communities established by visionary authorship. 
Translating Christ in the Middle Ages is available in hardcover, paperback, and digital editions from the University of Notre Dame Press.

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