Religious Studies ~ Performance Studies ~ French Studies

Frontispiece from Pierre Le Brun's Explication litérale, historique et dogmatique des prières et des cérémonies de la messe... ​(1716)

Research Projects

“Ceremonial Splendor: Religious Performance and Antitheatrical Sentiment in Early Modern France"

My current book project reconstructs interactions between priests and actors from 1630 to 1730 in the Parisian parish of Saint-Sulpice, where a seminary, a fair ground, and the Comédie-Française existed side by side. I use the way priests treated actors – to whom they began to refuse sacraments in the 1640s – as a starting point from which to examine how clergymen deployed funerary processions to construct parish space, learned to conduct ceremonies through role-playing and rehearsal, manipulated ceremonial objects, and crafted priestly personas. To do so, I analyze seminary documents like handbooks and house rules with an eye toward the moving bodies these texts sought to coordinate in their quest to teach priests how to “preach to the eyes” by generating ceremonial splendor, or éclat. Based on twelve months of archival research at the Archives de la Compagnie des Prêtres de Saint-Sulpice, the Archives nationales de France, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, among others, I argue that the harsh treatment priests began to use against actors during the second half of the 17th century reflected the secular clergy’s anxiety about their own professional transformation at a time when seminary formation was beginning to raise expectations about the skills required of priests at the altar and the pulpit. 

“Making Modest Bodies:

Sulpician Seminaries and Ceremonial Transmission between France and New France, 1657-1773”

My second project follows the priests of Saint-Sulpice to the Americas. This project examines the transmission of pedagogical and ceremonial practices between Sulpician seminaries in France and missions in New France in order to examine the making, meaning, and modification of “modesty” as a bodily experience, a mode of religious expression, and a strategy for encountering the unknown. The study takes 1657 as its start date – the year in which four priests from Paris’ Seminary of Saint-Sulpice established a mission in Montréal – and ends in 1773, when the Sulpicians welcomed the first Canadian priest into their society. Three questions guide the investigation. First, although seminary training associated modesty with humility and service, the Sulpicians in Montréal quickly found themselves in the position of landlords and masters on the island. To what degree, and how, did modesty prove politically useful? Second, modesty was crucial to liturgical practice. How did French priests use liturgical activities – masses, processions, baptisms, etc. – to establish ties with people in the New France? Third, how did priests in New France use a ceremonial framework in letters and journals to interpret their experience? In other words, how did colonial transformations in the performance of priesthood inflect literary practices in New France?