CAHSA promotes interdisciplinary and international dialogue in French and English among researchers working on the intersection between spirituality and affect by organizing conferences, panels, and other forms of scholarly discourse and exchanges. We prioritize the term “spirituel” over “spiritualité” in order to problematize the interplay between the individual and collective dimensions of religious experience and its expression. In French scholarship, the term “spiritualité” tends to refer to specific schools of thought and practice, such as the French School of Spirituality, with an emphasis on conformity to or deviation from these schools. By contrast, we see the term “spirituel” as a way to evoke both the particularity of the individual’s experience and its construction in relation to larger socio-cultural phenomena including not only doctrinal, institutional, and theological systems but also factors such as gender, age, and kinship; social, intellectual, and artistic networks; and habits, customs, and traditions.
We trace the history and anthropology of the spirituel through the study of texts and objects that enable us to analyze the religious practices, identities, senses, structures of feeling, and forms of interiority of a given period, group, or individual. Methodologically, we draw on a range of disciplines, including history, art history, sociology, anthropology, ethnography, literature, rhetoric, linguistics, performance studies, and other related fields.
Our interest in the imbricated nature of individual and collective experience makes affect theory and its emphasis on embodied experience a particularly pertinent resource for our group’s work. By referencing affect in our name, we aim to highlight a set of interlocking areas of inquiry which we consider central to an investigation of the spirituel. These include the roles played by emotions, bodies and bodily sensations, material culture, and performance in religious practice and discourse, and in spiritual experience.
CAHSA began as a group focused on early modern France and its colonies and we remain committed to fostering research on Ancien Régime religion and spirituality. As we grow, we aim to expand our membership to include researchers working on other historical periods and regions.
Born from a reading group focused on the great texts of Catholicism’s mystical and spiritual traditions and established as a non-profit entity in 2013, CAHSA’s six founding members show particular strengths in the history and anthropology of Catholicism.
We welcome researchers interested in other traditions.
Inspired by our engagement with the city of Montréal and the province of Québec, our current endeavors are devoted to the spiritual as it emerged through exchanges between France and New France.