Contested Bodies

The religious lives of corpses

Tine Van Osselaer, Angela Berlis, Leonardo Rossi, Kristof Smeyers & Andrea Pezzini

Maria Marguerite des Anges

This project  researches human remains that were instilled with religious meaning within European Catholicisms of the modern era (c.1750-1950), a period when debates about dead bodies were complicated with medical breakthroughs and changing rates and understandings of mortality. The focus is on bodies that ‘behaved’ out of the ordinary after death and whose physical state could itself be deemed miraculous by some. Particular emphasis is on the remains of men and women religious since the enthusiasm and the criticism they inspired, generated a corpus of visual, material and textual sources that has not yet received much attention. The project approaches the afterlife of the body as a ‘religious object’, grounded in its materiality while transcending the ‘material world’, in order to examine 1) the mentalities and practices that instil the dead body with religious significance, and  2) broader historical shifts in the ways in which religious communities dealt with the dead body (including issues of belonging and ownership). The long term and comparative perspective will allow us to show how 1) the meaning of the ‘religious’ body varied according to the historical and geographical contexts, and the divergent contexts within and between religious orders, 2) the strategies used to imbue the corpse with religious meaning changed because of the interdependent nature of the category ‘religious’ and changing views on the body within different streams of Catholicism.

  • This project has received funding from: FWO/SNF
  • Principal Investigators: Tine Van Osselaer, Angela Berlis
  • Post-doctoral researchers: Leonardo Rossi and Kristof Smeyers
  • Doctoral researcher: Andrea Pezzini
  • Location: Ruusbroec Institute, University of Antwerp (Belgium); Universität Bern (Switzerland)
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