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For some time now, the “canon” of Spanish mysticism has been expanding. No longer is our picture of this special brand of early modern devotional practice limited to a handful of venerable orthodox saints. Instead, we have come to recognize a wide range of “marginal” figures who we realize also qualify as practitioners of mysticism, broadly defined. Paradoxically, by taking a more inclusive approach to studying mysticism in its “marginal” manifestations, we are in effect bringing mysticism in all its complex iterations back toward its rightful place at the center of early modern Spanish culture—which was, after all, a society with a state-sponsored religion. The reasons for this revolution in the study of mysticism specifically (which reflects a more general change in our approach to early modern religious studies) are manifold. In Spain in particular, new documents have become available in the decades since the opening up of Spanish archives to scholars in the freer and more transparent post-Franco era. Previously unexplored Inquisitorial procesos have proven to be an especially rich source. But in addition to reflecting better access to more documents, this sea change in the way we do scholarship shows a greater willingness on the part of academics to consider evidence that may not always fit neatly into traditional paradigms. Nowhere is this new tolerance more important than in the area of mysticism, where intensely personal religious experiences are shared with or imparted to the mystic’s contemporaries, superiors, disciples, and/or posterity—sometimes deliberately, sometimes by historical accident. Mystical experience, it seems, is as varied as human experience.
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Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation