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The Quest for Knowledge: Religious Enquiry and Intellectual Discovery in the Works of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza



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Huo, Ran 


My doctoral research traces the intellectual development of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (1566-1614) by exploring her life and works within the framework of the concept of intellectuality. Rejecting the conventional paths for early modern women of either marriage or convent life, she decided to devote herself to the cause of the faith in an unconventional way and travelled from Catholic Spain to Protestant England where she undertook missionary work and founded her own independent female community.

Compared to existing scholarship which has shown a marked tendency towards biographism, my study represents a particular biographist reading by examining Carvajal from an unprecedented perspective based on the concept of intellectuality. This analysis will, on the one hand, explore the concept of intellectuality with the example of Carvajal and, on the other, shed new light on her life and oeuvre with the theory of intellectuality. Based on the idea that knowledge, autonomisation, isolation, and political involvement represent four consecutive steps in the development process of intellectuality, my thesis argues that each of the genres through which Carvajal expressed herself—autobiographical, poetic, and epistolary—not only marks various chapters of her life, but also and more importantly the different stages of her intellectual evolution.

In her autobiographical writings, Carvajal demonstrates her erudition and literary skills by representing an identity that is marked by plurality and diversity. She therefore set foot on the path to her autonomisation. Carvajal’s poetry, written in isolation in the attic of her uncle’s house, reflects an epistemological process from individual religiosity towards religious individuality which culminates in her intellectual revelation. This cognitive awakening was subsequently applied to society and manifested itself in her English mission. Far from pursuing a missionary life and the death of a martyr, Carvajal in fact strived to realise her goal of founding and leading a beaterio by provoking Spain’s protection through strategic acts of religious radicalisation, while rebelling against her submission to any authority. Her lifelong goal to found a female community could be understood as the embodiment of her desire for freedom and intellectuality.





Cacho, Rodrigo


Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, Intellectual, Intellectuality, Early modern, Women's writing, Early modern women, Early modern Spain, Early modern England, Women's education, Convent, Beaterio, Beata, Autobiography, Poetry, Letters, Knowledge, Religion, Martyrdom, Catholic Church


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge