Divine Love in a World History Perspective: Contributions of Medieval Female Saint
By Mary Jane Maxwell
Paper given at World History Association Annual Conference, San Diego (2010)
Introduction: Scholars have noted that similar notions of Divine Love have existed among the mystical traditions within Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. And by Divine Love I am referring to the means in which someone, usually the mystic, uses love as a way of experiencing and uniting with God. Now central to the development of Divine Love, also known as love-mysticism, were the poetic contributions of the female saints in each of these religions. Yet to date a comparative study does not exist. Why? I suspect that many scholars would agree with noted religious studies expert Carol Lee Flinders who wanted to write just such a book, but stated that, “my own scholarly training was in the literature of medieval Europe…I don’t know Hindi and the cultural divide is so considerable that I could not do” justice to such an endeavor. Isn’t it great to be a world historian and to be liberated from the shackles of narrow national specialization! These global studies are vitally important not only to our understanding of the cross-cultural transmission of ideas and beliefs, but also as a means to better understand individual traditions as well. Such daunting comparisons must be tackled despite the linguistic barriers; here we must rely on the translations provided by specialized linguists – just as we rely on the numbers calculated by economists, demographers, or geologists in our own research. And we, as world historians, are just the right kind of trained specialists to take on such a challenge.