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Enacting devotion

Performative religious reading in the Low Countries (ca. 1470-1550)
PhD ceremony:Ms A.J.K. (Joanka) van der Laan
When:August 26, 2020
Supervisors:prof. dr. B.A.M. (Bart) Ramakers, S. (Sabrina) Corbellini, Prof
Where:Academy building RUG
Enacting devotion

‘Use your imagination, visualise details, activate your emotions and employ your body.’ These ingredients are a regular part of the average self-help book, for example, they may advise to make use of affirmations in order to improve your life, as Hal Elrod does in his book Miracle Morning (first edition 2012). It is remarkable that the same kind of advice is central to a very different genre, that of late medieval devotional literature. The goal, however, is very different: these devotional works seek to actively involve the reader in the suffering and death of Christ on the cross. The reader is instructed to create a mental image of the narrative, helped by cues and images in the books, and is asked to take up the role of witness or even participant in the story. This ‘performative reading’ gives the reader the opportunity to identify with Christ and grow in his/her spiritual life.

This dissertation studies the variety of techniques in late medieval devotional books that help readers to engage in performative reading. The source material concerns mostly printed material produced in the Low Countries in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In this period, just before the Reformation, the laity, ‘common men and women’, increasingly took responsibility for their own spiritual lives. The introduction of the printing press made it possible that devotional books became available on a much broader scale. By buying these books and engaging in performative reading lay readers could take active part in a broader religious culture.