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  • Approaches to Teaching Teresa of Ávila and the Spanish Mystics
  • Patricia Timmons (bio)
Alison Weber, ed. Approaches to Teaching Teresa of Ávila and the Spanish Mystics. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009. vii + 297 pp. $37.50 (cloth); $19.75 (paper).

This book is an excellent resource for teaching and thinking about the Spanish mystics. The volume is part of the MLA teaching series, and as such, it accords well with the series’ aims to inspire among instructors continuing discussion of their goals and methods for teaching literature to undergraduate students (viii). The information obtained from a broad survey of the “philosophies and approaches, thoughts and methods” of experienced teachers guides the content of each series volume (viii). In the Introduction to this volume, the editor, Alison Weber, summarizes and categorizes the state of mystics studies, based on the respondents’ reports. (The survey participants are listed on page 263.) These surveys reveal that the mystics are being taught not only in Spanish classes, but also in classes and departments such as world literature, Western civilization, autobiography, history of women, art history, and religious studies. The essays themselves explore the different themes that can be covered and the different topics of discussion that arise, depending on the angle of approach for the type of class.

The book is divided into two parts. In Part 1, Materials, which is “designed to help teachers select readings and use their preparation time efficiently,” Weber provides instructors with reading selections accessible to non-specialists such as editions and translations, electronic, visual and print reference resources, historical and critical studies, and philosophical and theological responses to the Spanish mystics (8). Amanda Powell provides a well-rounded survey of available translations of Teresa of Ávila’s works appropriate for a variety of classroom settings, and Emily Scida provides explanations that lead to a better understanding for modern readers of Teresa’s sixteenth-century Spanish. The main part of the book, Part 2, Approaches, contains four headings, “Historical Contexts,” “Theoretical Perspectives,” “Specific Course Contexts” and “Teaching Specific [End Page 130] Texts.” Some of the twenty-five essays in this part follow the volume’s title very closely, and develop in detail actual classroom lecture plans, activities, discussion questions and suggested student readings. Others address this criterion more abstractly, if at all, and focus more on a survey of scholarship and further reading. Given that the title of the book conditions reader expectations about content, in the view of the present reader, the first type of essay offers the most anticipated and original suggestions that can be implemented in the classroom directly. The other types of essays, however, are indispensable companions to anyone designing a course or unit on the Spanish mystics, and many of the articles will be excellent choices for assigned readings as well. Most of the authors are from the U.S., and include many well-recognized names in the field of scholarship on the Spanish mystics. Each of the essays in the book may be considered a strong contribution.

Elizabeth Rhodes opens Approaches with a sweeping and elegantly written essay that grounds the reader in the special confluence of historical circumstances of the late fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries that enabled the flowering of mystical expression in Spain’s Golden Age. Marta V. Vicente and María del Pilar Ryan also explore sociohistorical themes on the Spanish mystics and provide particularly insightful topics for discussions of these themes in history and women’s history courses. Essays by Bárbara Mujica and Helen H. Reed consider Teresa of Ávila and the question of gender in terms of Teresa as a writer, a reformer, and as a champion of women. Weber’s essay outlines a senior seminar on Spanish women writers that situates Teresa in the context of “women’s literary tradition and in the historical development of feminist consciousness” (12). Sherry Velasco, Linda Belau, and Barbara Simerka explore the application of critical theories to the works of Spanish women mystics as an effective means to increase student engagement with the texts, and Ralph Keen discusses the challenges of teaching the Spanish mystics in the context of a religious studies curriculum in a...


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