The Other Sister: New Research on Non-Cloistered Religious Women

Our working group aims to restore the history of medieval and early modern non-cloistered religious women, whose voices are conspicuously absent from the historical record. We will do this through a series of workshops designed to share research and explore new collaborative links. Our plan is that this working group will eventually lead to the publication of a Companion volume on these women, primarily but not exclusively in Europe, their communal dynamics, and the contributions they made to their societies. Traditional historiography has accepted the cloistered nun as the archetypal expression of feminine religious devotion. In so doing, it has relegated the numerous women who lived as religious in the world to the margins of historical society. A closer look at sources reveals that from the beginning of Christianity, these women who were known as house ascetics, beguines, penitents, secular canonesses, seroras, bizzoche, and pinzochere (among other names) held a vital and vibrant role in their societies. Scholarly exploration of the significance and multiple roles of these non-cloistered religious women only began seriously in the last two decades. Much of this, however, is far from systematic and had a narrow geographical and chronological focus. Our working group will bring together scholars working on this topic, with the aim of collaborative research on the history of these women.



Faculty, University of Toronto

  • Mairi Cowan, UTM Historical Studies
  • Adam Cohen, A&S Art History
  • Siobhan Nelson, Bloomburg Faculty of Nursing
  • Liz Smythe, OISE (Emerita)

Faculty, outside University of Toronto

  • Greti Dinkova Bruun, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies
  • Jim Ginther, Toronto School of Theology
  • Ann Hutchison, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies

Graduate Students, University of Toronto

  • Rachel Al-Rubai, Study of Religion
  • Martha Culshaw, Medieval Studies
  • Emma Gabe, Medieval Studies
  • Meghan Lascault, History
  • Laura Moncion, Medieval Studies

Graduate Students outside University of Toronto

  • Susan McElcheran, Toronto School of Theology