Julian of Norwich intervened in the clerical discourses surrounding the discernment of spirits (Latin discretio spirituum), a method for observing differences between divine and diabolical causes of visionary experience. During the late Middle Ages in Europe, churchmen used methods of discernment in some prominent trials to examine female visionaries for sanctity or heresy. In these instances, discernment offers a medieval analogue to what critics such as Rita Felski, following Paul Ricoeur, have termed paranoid reading practices or the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” premised on demystifying the illusory nature of signs, as opposed to reparative reading practices or the “hermeneutics of trust,” which calls for restoring their meaning. In a climate when discretio spirituum came to prominence, Julian responded to the suspicious techniques developed to interpret women's visions and bodies by incorporating an innovative guide for discernment in A Revelation of Love that prioritizes trust over suspicion. Julian's trusting form of discernment offers a way to recuperate one of the most stigmatized aspects of femininity: woman's perceived susceptibility to diabolical influence. A Revelation of Love shows how apparently diabolical signs can indicate God's divine presence.
Trusting Women's Visions: The Discernment of Spirits in Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love
Anna Kelner; Trusting Women's Visions: The Discernment of Spirits in Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2021; 51 (2): 193–214. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-8929045
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