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Therapeutic Reading in Later Medieval England
Soul-Health explores the connection between reading and healing. The act of reading engages deeply with our emotions and psychology, and this book broadens our understanding of that process by the surprising revelation that feeling bad has been understood as the best thing for mental and spiritual health. The mental and emotional impact of reading expanded in the Middle Ages into a therapeutic tool for improving the health of the soul - a state called salus animae - and focusing on later Medieval England, the present study explores a core set of religious texts that identify themselves as treatments for the soul. These same texts, however, evoke powerfully negative emotions. Soul-Health investigates each of these emotions, offering an analysis of how fear, penance, compassion and longing could work to promote the health of the soul, demonstrating how interest in mental and spiritual health far pre-dates the modern period, and is more complex and balanced than simply trying to achieve joy.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"In this important re-orientation of the 'affective turn, ' Daniel McCann argues that there is always a dynamic interconnectedness between emotional and psychological states, and that those states are labile and complex. Emotional progression and movement are the essence of 'soule-hele' in the Middle English texts he analyses. He generates persuasive and powerful close readings through the application of a subtle conceptual model blending medieval cognitive theory and medical theory and praxis. McCann shows that medical terms in religious writing are not gestural metaphors but are part of a literal repertoire of spiritual healing, offering a genuine 'medicine of words.' "
--Vincent Gillespie, Oxford University "Daniel McCann's intense and provocative book offers strong re-readings of the wealth of Middle English contemplative writings that describe the processes of spiritual self-care using the language of medicine and shows language to be fundamental to their understanding of the work they set out to do for, and in, their readers. Soul-Health is a major contribution to the study both of late-medieval religious literature and of the sometimes dangerous role played by the passions, negative as well as positive, in late-medieval devotion."--Nicholas Watson, Harvard University "This important volume, which explores the concept of therapeutic reading in late medieval English religious culture, demonstrates a deep knowledge of medieval theories about affect, combined with acute sensitivity to the specific ways in which religious writings produce feeling in their recipients."
--Denis Renevey, Professor of Medieval English Language and Literature, University of Lausanne "The health of the soul preoccupied medieval Christians and their use of medical terms, for it was no metaphor. Daniel McCann shows how pious reading could be therapeutic for the soul, because of the deep emotions it evoked. His book is a major contribution to both medical humanities and medieval literary studies."
--Peregrine Horden, Professor of Medieval History, University of London