Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2021

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



My research explores lay understandings of holiness and sanctity in Palermo and Naples in the period 1563-1734, with particular attention to the entanglements of religion, gender, and culture. To get at contested notions of holiness, I study putative saints, persons who in their lifetimes gained a reputation for holiness but were never formally canonized. I include both false saints (persons tried by the Inquisition for pretending to be saints) and stalled saints (those for whom a canonization process was opened but never concluded). I show how sanctity engaged local communities as well as the Church hierarchy and bring to light the diversity of opinions that lay people had about personal holiness, ideas that mapped only imperfectly onto those promoted by the ecclesiastical hierarchy.This project explores several critical aspects of sanctity that in turn illuminate the religious landscape of the Italian South. Gender is a strong through line of my work. Within a context that was inherently suspicious and disadvantageous to women, I aim to understand the multitude of ways gender inflected religious practice, and how one’s gender and the gender of one’s followers influenced the claims, abilities, and actions of a putative saint. My main intervention into the field of sanctity centers on discipleship. With approved, canonized saints, the relationship inherently only flows one direction- disciple to saint, who, by definition, is deceased. With putative saints, we have the ability to study the saint-discipleship in a diachronic way and see how and why it shifts. This approach also allows us to explore the agency and reactions of both parties- the devotee and the holy person- to better understand how people navigated through the complex system of the sacred.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Daniel Bornstein

Committee Members

Flora Cassen, Lu Ann Homza, Hillel Kieval, Christine Johnson,