Hayley R. Bowman

  • Fellowship year:2021-2022
  • University: University of Michigan
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
  • Dissertation Title: Ineffable Knowing: Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda in the Early Modern Spanish World
  • “Ineffable Knowing” examines early modern Spanish understandings of the world and colonial imagination through a singular figure, Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda (1602-1665). Sor María was born and lived all sixty-three years of her life in Ágreda, a village in northeastern Spain. She first rose to prominence in the 1630s in the wake of circulating reports of her ability to “bilocate,” or be in two places simultaneously. Investigations by her order and the Holy Office of the Inquisition revealed several claims, not least that Sor María made over 500 “visits” to preach to the Jumanos, a group of indigenous peoples in northernmost New Spain, in what is now New Mexico and west Texas. Although she remains principally known for these bilocations, they rested within a broader set of mystical experiences across Sor María’s lifetime. I am interested in a wider and more complex picture, in her creation of authority, and in her contemporary and enduring significance.

    My project considers Sor María’s bilocations alongside her many other physical, visual, and aural experiences as invaluable points of entry into a widening world of Spanish colonization and evangelization. By examining the transoceanic Spanish empire through Sor María de Jesús, I challenge the bounds of such powerful and gendered categories as “theologian,” “royal advisor,” “missionary,” and “explorer.” I contend that Sor María’s life and legacy reveal women’s participation in the spiritual heights and churning politics of religion and in the ongoing production of knowledge about the world and larger cosmos in these early modern times. Sor María’s adherence to and transcendence of both the physical boundaries of the convent and Atlantic Ocean and of the ideological boundaries of gender and early modern theology frame my analysis. I then contribute the
    first sustained inquiry into the abbess’s mystical discourse, her narrations of interior process and mystical experience, placing them within the context not only of her predecessors in the peninsular Spanish kingdoms and western Europe but also key contemporaries in Spanish America. I demonstrate how Sor María’s experiences and her ability to describe them for others combined to craft her authority, legitimizing a vantage that enabled her to transcend enclosure and, as a woman and mystical-intellectual force, to command traditionally masculine spaces.