Sensory Experience in Medieval Devotion: Sound and Vision, Invisibility and Silence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Inwardness and interiority are concepts that have a multifaceted currency within many areas of medieval studies. These fields include, but are not limited to, historical studies, theology and religious studies, literary studies, and art history. Studies on inwardness, interiority, and selfhood intersect with an interest in what has often been called “popular religion” and in devotional behavior, both clerical and lay, to produce an engagement, across many fields, with inward or private aspects of religious belief and practice. “Popular religion” has sometimes been presented as generally distinct or separate from (sometimes almost opposed to) official, ecclesiastical, or institutional ritual, and, as such, it is associated with other concepts like “private devotion” and even “interior piety.” Unhelpful binary oppositions are implied by qualifying terms like “private” and “popular,” because those qualifiers invoke the unsaid “public” or “official” or “outward.” More recently, terms like “vernacular theology” and Frömmigkeitstheologie (theology of piety) have been preferred for their attempt to break down the “high-low” implications of terms like “popular religion” and “private devotion.” Though these terms themselves are not without potential problems or implications, the consonance or dissonance between individual religiosity and official or corporate expressions of religious belief can, and should, be examined in a more subtle manner than has often been the case. Medieval religious devotion was not a universally or solely private activity that was in some way opposite to the public, structured religiosity of the church's liturgy. It has been increasingly acknowledged in recent years that liturgy and devotion should not be opposed in this way, as private versus public, free and expressionist versus structured and defined. That having been said, it is nevertheless the case that the kind of piety that we are accustomed to call “devotional,” or contemplative, or meditative, presupposes and requires a certain inwardness and self-awareness, even if such activity is carried out in the company of others, or even during liturgical services.
Translated title of the contributionInner Senses and Outer Senses: Sound and Image
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-43
Number of pages44
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Medieval Studies


  • religion devotion sound silence art invisibility


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