Bilinkoff, Jodi 1955–
Bilinkoff, Jodi 1955–
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant in instruction, 1979-80; University of North Carolina at Greensboro, instructor, 1982-83, assistant professor, 1983-89, associate professor, 1989-2005; professor, 2005—. Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, visiting lecturer, 1985-86.
Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute fellow, Radcliffe College, 1989-90; American Postdoctoral Research Leave fellow, American Association of University Women, 1999-2000; Mellon fellow, National Humanities Center, 1999-2000.
(Editor and contributor, with Allan Greer, and author of introduction) Colonial Saints: Discovering the Holy in the Americas, 1500-1800, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
Related Lives: Confessors and Their Female Penitents, 1450-1750, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2005.
Contributor to books, including Crossing Boundaries: Attending to Early Modern Women, edited by Jane Donawerth and Adele Seeff, University of Delaware Press, 2000; contributor to periodicals, including Renaissance Quarterly.
Jodi Bilinkoff is a historian whose interests include religion, gender, life writing, and constructions of authority in early modern Europe. She is also interested in masculine identity, including male clerical identity. In her 1989 book The Avila of Saint Teresa: Religious Reform in a Sixteenth-Century City, the author examines religious reform in Avila, Spain, primarily within the context of the life of Teresa of Avila, an egalitarian monastic reformer in the 1500s. A contributor to the Virginia Quarterly Review called The Avila of Saint Teresa "balanced and well-researched."
Focusing on the religious and social problems of Avila in that era, Bilinkoff recounts Teresa's founding of convents with no endowments, where inhabitants devoted their lives to prayer. By refusing endowments, St. Teresa hoped to bring reform to the Carmelite order. The author examines this effort at reform and provides an overall look at religious change in Avila during what the author calls the city's "golden age." Writing in her book, the author claims that Saint Teresa "represents the last effort to establish an independent religious style in early modern Avila." Of the period after Saint Teresa's death, the author writes: "With priorities now placed on decorum, conformity, and deference to authority in religious as well as political affairs, spirituality, public ritual, and monastic foundation increasingly fell into set and predictable patterns. In the seventeenth century, Avila's religious life, like its economic situation, entered a prolonged period of stagnation."
Colonial Saints: Discovering the Holy in the Americas, 1500-1800, edited by Bilinkoff and Allan Greer, stems from a University of Toronto conference in 2000. The book presents a series of fourteen essays that examine the conversion of New World natives to Christianity, or the conversion of the colonized. In their essays, the contributors examine issues such as the relationship between slavery and spirituality. They also explore how the religious beliefs of New World American natives were incorporated into Christianity. For example, in some places the native concepts of the spirit of love were altered to become the Virgin Mary. Overall, the contributors show that there was a dynamic exchange of spiritual beliefs that involved Rome and the seat of the Holy Catholic Church, the courts of Spain and France, and local beliefs and agendas. The geographical areas covered by contributors include Mexico, Quebec and Ontario in Canada, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, and the Bay Colony in the United States.
"Every chapter of this book is a pearl, the working of persistent, intelligent interpretation upon the fine grain of historical data," wrote Christopher Vecsey in his review of Colonial Saints for Church History. "Some articles emphasize the importation and adaptation of European saints to the colonized lands; others focus upon new models of holiness practiced and recognized by colonizers and colonized alike." Writing in the Renaissance Quarterly, Alison Frazier noted: "Readers will … be intrigued by the range of approaches to Catholicism which, since the explanatory category is ‘saints,’ reasonably dominates the collection. Almost every article reflects in some way the inter-ethnic negotiations—violent, duplicitous, polemical, diplomatic, neglectful, charitable, compassionate—that marked the implantation of European religious forms."
Related Lives: Confessors and Their Female Penitents, 1450-1750 looks at the different types of interpersonal relationships that arose between female penitents and their confessors during the early modern era in Catholic Europe and in Europe's colonies at that time. "Close associations and strategic alliances between male clergy and pious women were not new to the early-modern period," the author writes in Related Lives. "Indeed, some have suggested that this particular male-female dynamic was a salient feature of western Christianity right from its beginnings." However, the author notes that this dynamic intensified: "By the last two centuries of the Middle Ages … clerics increasingly dedicated themselves to the spiritual direction of devout individuals, especially women. As they encountered women they deemed especially virtuous, they recorded their lives, promoting them as models for all Christians."
"Bilinkoff's book is the best kind, one that leaves you asking for more when you turn that last page," wrote Patricia Ranft in the Catholic Historical Review. "It is a book that leaves you with more questions than it answers—and that is what keeps historical investigation alive."
Using narratives from throughout Europe, Spanish America, and French Canada, the author discusses issues of gender and social values embedded in the texts describing these virtuous women and explores how the clerics' own identities were often interconnected with their relationships to these various women. She also presents evidence that, contrary to popular conceptions and some historical accounts, the clergy did not abuse these women, turning them into "fearful, passive succubae," explained Journal of Ecclesiastical History contributor Anne Jacobson Schutte. Rather, according to the author, the clergy and the women enjoyed a mutually collaborative relationship, with the women often playing a dominant role in that relationship.
Noting that Related Lives "is a well-written and engaging examination of cases of profound spiritual friendship and collaboration," Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt wrote in the Renaissance Quarterly that the author's "study illuminates the rich and compelling nature of the dynamic between male confessors and their female penitents, thereby adding tremendous dimension to our understanding of Catholic devotion in this period." Carole Slade, writing in Christianity and Literature, commented: "In this excellent book, meticulously documented, with a clear line of argument articulated in energetic, readable prose, Bilinkoff not only contributes important new data to the history of early modern religious practices but also enlarges the range of literature in the period. She also paves the way for more literary analyses of these texts."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bilinkoff, Jodi, Related Lives: Confessors and Their Female Penitents, 1450-1750, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 2005.
Bilinkoff, Jodi, The Avila of Saint Teresa: Religious Reform in a Sixteenth-Century City, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1989.
America, March 3, 1990, Patrick H. Samway, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 213.
Martz, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 1559; October, 2004, Thomas Cohen, review of Colonial Saints: Discovering the Holy in the Americas, 1500-1800, p. 1194; October, 2006, Nancy Bradley Warren, "Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Collaborators," includes review of Related Lives, p. 1242.
Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, July, 2006, Victoria H. Cummins, review of Colonial Saints, p. 187.
Catholic Historical Review, October, 1990, Mary Elizabeth Perry, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 854; January, 2007, Patricia Ranft, review of Related Lives, p. 166; April, 2007, Santa Arias, review of Colonial Saints, p. 461.
Christianity and Literature, spring, 2007, Carole Slade, review of Related Lives, p. 516.
Church History, September, 2005, Christopher Vecsey, review of Colonial Saints, p. 637; June, 2007, Charmarie J. Blaisdell, review of Related Lives, p. 415.
Commonweal, June 15, 1990, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 395.
Gender and History, April, 2007, Allyson Poska, review of Related Lives, pp. 194-196.
Journal of Ecclesiastical History, October, 2006, Anne Jacobson Schutte, review of Related Lives, p. 762.
Journal of Modern History, June, 1993, James Amelang, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa and other works, p. 357.
Journal of Religion, January, 1992, Gillian T.W. Ahlgren, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 106.
Journal of Urban History, May, 1993, John Frederick Schwaller, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 104.
Renaissance Quarterly, spring, 1993, Helen Nader, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 174; summer, 2004, Alison Frazier, review of Colonial Saints, p. 657; fall, 2006, Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt, review of Related Lives, p. 929.
Sixteenth Century Journal, summer, 1991, Francesco C. Cesareo, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 364; summer, 1991, Eugene A. Maio, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 374; summer, 2004, Alejandra Rengifo, review of Colonial Saints, pp. 609-610; fall, 2007, William A. Christian, Jr., review of Related Lives, pp. 813-815.
Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, January, 1992, Elizabeth Teresa Howe, review of The Avila of Saint Teresa, p. 112.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1990, "Notes on Current Books, Autumn, 1990," includes review of The Avila of Saint Teresa.
Women: A Cultural Review, April, 2006, Anne Hartman, review of Related Lives, p. 135.
Women's Studies, March, 2007, Beth Wernekie, review of Related Lives, p. 129.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro History Department Web site,http://www.uncg.edu/his/ (July 15, 2008), faculty profile of author.