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CIS University Rediscovering the Spanish Inquisition guided by Dr. Jessica Fowler 1

Rediscovering the Spanish Inquisition guided by Dr. Jessica Fowler

The Department of Applied Humanities Research and GINA (Global, Imperial & National Affairs) at CIS University, seeking to expand academic research and extracurricular activities, invited Doctor Jessica Fowler to deliver a presentation about some of the less well-known aspects of the Spanish Inquisition. Dr. Jessica Fowler is an associate professor of history at the University of Montana Western, having obtained her doctorate at the University of California, Davis, and is the visiting associate professor of Women’s Studies in Religion Program (WSRP) at Harvard Divinity School (HDS).

The audience included various professors, alongside the students of the Dean’s List and Debate Club, who were guided by the professor in explorations of these historical processes that saw the persecution of a mysterious and obscure heretical group: “The Alumbrados”.

Under the title “Constructed Categories: How the Global Inquisition Converted Anxiety into Heresy”, Dr. Fowler analyzed the manner in which the Spanish Inquisition persecuted the heresy known as “alumbradism”, a supposed sect across two centuries and two oceans. 

However, beyond the Inquisition’s own documents which describe the persecution of these presumed “alumbrados”, there is no evidence that this group ever even realistically existed. Namely, many diverse suspects were accused, persecuted and castigated, especially poor women, pertaining to a heretical sect totally inexistent.

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Creating concepts and categories that become realities.

The presentation highlighted how the Spanish Inquisition, through its own personnel, procedures and paperwork, was able to create and spread the non-existent heresy of alumbradismo. The defendants, mostly charismatic lay women, though occasionally nuns as well, threatened the Catholic Church by assuming the authority of male clergy while at the same time developing cohorts of followers that often included priests and friars.

Tracing the process, from the creation of this heresy to its evolution and diffusion, demonstrates how this institution could transform its own anxieties and worries into tangible and prosecutable heretical realities, since the Inquisition alone was responsible for dictating the terms in which heretics were to be identified and judged.

This conference pointed out the way in which the procedures and protocols of the Spanish Inquisition created a state of “religious paranoia” in society, which gave rise to the detection and reporting of possible non-existent heresies such as the so-called “alumbradism.”

After the presentation, students and professors engaged in a passionate debate about the origin, relationships and consequences of one of the least well-known episodes in our history: the figure of the woman and the Inquisition.