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  • Approaches to Teaching Teresa of Ávila and the Spanish Mystics by Alison Weber
  • Grace Sikorski (bio)
Weber, Alison. Approaches to Teaching Teresa of Ávila and the Spanish Mystics. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2009. 297 pp.

Approaches to Teaching Teresa of Ávila and the Spanish Mystics is a valuable addition to the Modern Language Association’s Approaches to Teaching World Literature series. This particular volume, edited by Alison Weber, a professor of Spanish at the University of Virginia, focuses on the Carmelite mystic, reformer, and theologian of the Counter Reformation, Teresa of Ávila (1515–82), as well as other mystics of the Spanish Golden Age. Instructors who teach these authors in undergraduate courses, especially those with subject matter devoted to world literature, Spanish history and culture, or women writers, will benefit from this excellent sourcebook.

For the feminist teacher, particularly, this book will serve as an invaluable resource should Ávila be used to illustrate early modern arguments in defense of women, radical alternatives to patriarchal constructions of gender roles, or the artistic, literary, and mystical creativity of women in history. It offers the historical, cultural, philosophical, and theoretical framework necessary for the understanding of Ávila’s proto-feminist refutation of patriarchal concepts of the feminine. The highly accessible and informative essays in this volume focused on Ávila’s treatment of gender and sexuality might be shared with students—undergraduate or graduate. The feminist teacher will find this volume indispensible should s/he choose to teach Ávila within the curriculum of women’s studies, gender and sexuality studies, philosophy, theology, history, or literary studies.

The introduction summarizes some key points about teaching the Spanish mystics raised by thirty-two instructors in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom who were surveyed by MLA in 2004. It briefly explores issues associated with teaching pre-modern Spanish mystics across the disciplines and at various levels of the undergraduate curriculum, studying gender dynamics and questions of power and oppression, surmounting linguistic hurdles, and addressing students’ lack of cultural, historical, and theological context. It offers some thoughts on a range of classroom activities and modes of evaluation, including oral presentations, creative writing, Internet research, and the use of films, paintings, and sculptures to enrich the students’ learning experience. Although the results of the MLA survey may seem somewhat dated in 2013, this introduction’s reflection on the survey’s results establishes the pedagogical concerns of instructors who have chosen to teach the Spanish mystics in their courses, which provide exigency for this specific sourcebook, and it is unlikely that these concerns have changed substantively since then.

The volume is divided into two main sections. “Part One: Materials” describes various editions of the primary texts (anthologies in Spanish, editions in Spanish, bilingual editions and translations) and suggests valuable resources for instructors (reference works, historical and literary studies, religious and theological studies) as well as further aids to teaching (music, Internet resources, illustrated books, films). Also in this section, Amanda Powell discusses the available translations of Teresa of Ávila and the best ways to determine which translation will meet the instructor’s and the students’ [End Page 73] needs. And closing the first section, Emily E. Scida describes how the sixteenth-century Spanish of Teresa of Ávila differs linguistically from modern Spanish. Part 1 will assist the instructor in selecting and preparing teaching and learning materials best suited to her or his undergraduate course and in helping students understand and appreciate the language art of the original manuscripts as well as the English translations. (One might mention here that the twenty-five-page works cited list at the back of this book also provides anyone preparing to teach the Spanish mystics a ready bibliographic tool with which to locate relevant primary and secondary sources.)

“Part Two: Approaches” contains twenty-five individual articles written by professors and instructors from colleges and universities around the United States, and so the approaches to teaching Spanish mystics that they suggest are most relevant to undergraduate students in that specific cultural and educational context. Part 2 is subdivided into sections titled “Historical Perspectives,” “Theoretical Perspectives,” “Specific Course Contexts,” and “Teaching Specific Texts.” This arrangement of content...


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