Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Millie Gimmel

Committee Members

Nuria Cruz-Cámara, Gregory Kaplan, Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud


My dissertation discusses the inversion of power dynamics between nuns and the Catholic Church during the Early Modern period in Spain and in the New World. I study how Santa Teresa de Ávila, Catalina de Erauso, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz use traditional modes of male thought and action regarding feminine weakness in order to realize their own agendas and participate in arenas generally forbidden to women. In analyzing how these women reinforce the weaknesses and strengths of the gender binary through written confession, I am able to trace their appropriation of power and authoritative voice in spaces traditionally associated with men. Longevity in the space of power depended greatly on the ability and desire to perpetuate the reputation of female as the daughter of Eve and reinforce the system of male dominance. Despite the fact that the texts in this study span almost two centuries, the nuns exemplify some of the salient social issues in Early Modern Spain: the impact of the Council of Trent, the reaction to heterodox female practices, and the relationships between the colonies and the metropolis. Santa Teresa appropriated the male space through a hyperbolic adherence to monastic norms. Through her compliance, the saint was able to adopt an instructive role with her confessors. In contrast, Sor Juana rejects the typical conventual role and avoids appropriate gender norms through the study of humane texts. Her unwillingness to comply with her confessors’ wishes regarding a return to tradition even further solidifies her role as a threat to the Church. Catalina de Erauso completely abandons her femininity and acquires authority by preserving notions of male superiority. In becoming a male, she is able to perform masculinity and refuse the inherited weaknesses of Eve. Ultimately, these women used their texts as written confessions in an attempt to prove their orthodoxy and conceal their transgressions.

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