Friday, August 8, 2008

Reading for inspiration, 2

If it had been a while since I'd read Rosenwein, it has been even longer since I read Lester Little's Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy. I seem to recall reading it for my exams in 1999. Although I hadn't read it since then, its argument has definitely stayed with me and had a formative role on my thinking about late medieval religion. His basic narrative of the rise of the mendicant orders is definitely something I've internalized. 

In tracing the development of anxieties about money and new forms of urban religious culture, Little's work here bridges the chronological gap between Rosenwein's 11th-century monastery and my 14th-century monasteries.  In Little's discussion of religous culture, however, he deals in turn with: 1) traditional Benedictine monasteries, notably Cluny; 2) reformed monastic orders such as the Cistercians and Premonstratensians; and 3) the mendicant orders (Dominicans and Franciscans). Each group gets their turn, and then ceases to be discussed further.

The communities I'm dealing with in this paper, however, are Benedictine communities that have survived, and even flourished, despite the arrival of Dominicans and Franciscans in droves. The fact that lay people in an urban environment still supported old-fahioned Benedictine nuns at the same time as they supported mendicant orders, and the poor generally, is one of the themes I'm attempting to deal with in this paper. I'm looking at nuts-and-bolts sorts of issues, looking at everyday acts of support for various causes, which Little's work of synthesis doesn't really address. 

I would note, also, that Religious Poverty doesn't deal very much with women. There is some discussion of the beguines and of St. Clare as a follower of St. Francis. Women belonging to Benedictine, Cistercian, etc. communities don't really appear here. I think the traditional assumption was that women's communities of such orders operated much like men's communities of the same orders, although more recent work in the field tends to argue that women's houses filled different social and spiritual roles than men's houses.

None of these remarks should be considered major criticism of Lester Little; I respect very much what this book does, even though it doesn't answer all my questions. Which is good, after all, because if the questions were already answered I'd have nothing to write.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

So, from Rosenwein, to Little... you do understand that this means that you next have to blog about McNamara, right? I don't think we've ever talked about this book together, and I'm interested to hear your impressions.

clio's disciple said...

You mean Sisters in Arms? That wasn't next on my list, but I can add it to the stack. I reserve the right to read it selectively, however, since it covers 2,000 years, give or take a bit.