Lux Sterritt, Laurence (Laurence Lux-Sterritt)

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Lux Sterritt, Laurence (Laurence Lux-Sterritt)


Education: Lancaster University, England, Ph.D.


Office—Laboratoire d'Études et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone (Dema), Université de Provence, Centre d'Aix, 29, avenue Robert Schuman, 13621 Aix-en-Provence, Cedex, France. E-mail—[email protected]


Historian, educator, and writer. Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France, faculty member.


Redefining Female Religious Life: French Ursulines and English Ladies in Seventeenth-Century Catholicism, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Recusant History, French History, Journal of the History of Religions, and Journal of Modern and Contemporary History.


Laurence Lux Sterritt is a historian whose primary interests include the culture and history of modern England; religious history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; comparative analysis of Catholicism against the reform in France and England; and women and reform. In her first book, Redefining Female Religious Life: French Ursulines and English Ladies in Seventeenth-Century Catholicism, Lux Sterritt focuses on female piety and the reasons why early-modern women founded new congregations with active vocations as opposed to the standard, Church-supported convent life. Rejecting this as too restrictive or too privileged a path towards spiritual perfection, the founders of these communities began teaching women, and became actively involved in the Catholic reformation. Elizabeth Rapley noted in the Catholic Historical Review that modern research in women's history and religious women such as Mary Ward and Teresa of Avila, "opened new horizons for religious women [and] proved that feminism could take root, even within the convent."

Writing in the book's introduction, the author notes that "women [in the sixteenth century] who wished to be recognized as religious had no other option but to become enclosed nuns: this was the only forum for them in the Church. Those willing to embrace vocations which differed from this model would not be received to the bosom of the clerical ranks but were to remain secular; enclosure was a condition sine qua non to religious status for female communities." The author goes on to write that two centuries later "contempt" for monasticism "and the cloister was represented as vacuum, a prison condemning its inmates to life of unfulfilled promises and maddening isolation."

In her book, the author provides a comparative analysis of two congregations, the French Ursulines and the English Ladies. In seventeenth-century France and England, these two congregations became the embodiment of women's efforts to become actively involved in the Catholic Reformation. The author analyzes female religious life at the time, particularly the relationship between cloistered tradition and apostolic vocations, such as teaching. She points out that the virtual explosion of religious women pursuing apostolic vocations represented the rejection of a cloistered life.

Angela Merici founded the Ursulines in Brescia, Italy, in 1535. The order grew with houses that trained residents, borders, and day students. Mary Ward founded the English Ladies in Spanish Netherlands, and the order spread across the continent with the goal of educating women. Eventually, both orders found themselves battling church leaders as their vocational interests came to counter Church teachings and doctrines. Eventually, the Ursulines became cloistered and the English Ladies was broken up by order of the Pope. In addition, Mary Ward, who refused to succumb to the Church's orders, and was vocal in her opposition, was condemned as a heretic and even imprisoned for several years.

"These women saw the worthlessness of the cloister and opted for a different choice," the author writes in the introduction, "one in which they put their lives to better use, one in which, far from fleeing the world, they embraced and served it. In the enlightened consciousness, action became valued as empowering and liberating, whereas a life of religious contemplation was peremptorily reduced to enforced subjection and constraint."

Although Church History contributor Merry Wiesner-Hanks did not concur with the author's scolding tone to those historians who would find too much feministic ideology in the two orders' philosophies, goals, and activities, Wiesner-Hanks went on to write that Redefining Female Religious Life "is otherwise a solid comparative study of two fascinating and important groups." In her review in the Catholic Historical Review, Rapley agreed with the author's denial of a radical feminist view of these nuns activities, noting: "Despite their pioneering work, … they were not rebels defying the established order." Rapley went on to note: "Different people prod the Church forward; some of them are her most loyal members."



Lux Sterritt, Laurence, Redefining Female Religious Life: French Ursulines and English Ladies in Seventeenth-Century Catholicism, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 2005.


Catholic Historical Review, April, 2007, Elizabeth Rapley, review of Redefining Female Religious Life, p. 418.

Church History, September, 2006, Merry Wiesner-Hanks, review of Redefining Female Religious Life, p. 669.

English Historical Review, December, 2007, Tara Alberts, review of Redefining Female Religious Life, p. 1409.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2006, review of Redefining Female Religious Life.


Ashgate Publishing Group Web site, (May 25, 2008), overview of Redefining Female Religious Life.

Université de Provence, (May 25, 2008), biography of author.