Video: Tangled Souls, Hidden Voices: Women and Dissident Networks in the Late Middle Ages

November 5, 2021
Delfi I. Nieto-Isabel
Delfi I. Nieto-Isabel

As part of the 2021-22 WSRP Lecture Series, Delfi I. Nieto-Isabel (University of Barcelona), Visiting Lecturer on Women’s Studies and Religion and Society, gave the lecture, "Tangled Souls, Hidden Voices: Women and Dissident Networks in the Late Middle Ages."



SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.

SPEAKER 2: Tangled Souls, Hidden Voices-- Women and Dissident Networks in the Late Middle Ages, October 7, 2021.

ANN D. BRAUDE: Good afternoon, and a very warm welcome to our Zoom audience for our first lecture of the season from the Women's Studies and Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School. Welcome, all. It's really wonderful to have our research associates on campus this semester, which we haven't had for quite some time, but still to be able to join with all of you remotely for this afternoon's lecture from Dr. Delfi Nieto-Isabel.

Delfi has come to us from Spain, where she is an Associate Researcher at the Institute for Research on Medieval Culture at the University of Barcelona. And we were so fortunate. There was a lot of competition to get her this year. We were competing with the Marie Curie Fellowship, which is the most prestigious fellowship awarded by the European Commission for Research in the Humanities. But they agreed to defer a year so that Delfi could begin her important research here with us.

Just a few housekeeping details before I mention the research that she will be speaking about today, just a few other words about Delfi's research before I give her the mic-- Delfi has been doing research applying social network analysis to the study of medieval Christianity for more than 10 years, beginning in 2013. And I just want to make a shout-out to our dean, David Hempton, who is currently at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland delivering the Gifford Lectures using the application of social network analysis to the study of Christianity. He started that a little later than Delfi, but I commend his lectures to you. It's really an important new approach to this field that I know you will all want to avail yourselves of.

Delfi has recently, very recently, co-authored a volume on Christianity and digital humanities. It was just published about a week ago. But it does connect with the lecture that she will be delivering today. And if any of you have questions about it or getting access to that volume, she'll be happy to respond to those queries. Let me pass you in the virtual microphone.

DELFI I. NIETO-ISABEL: Thank you. Can you hear me? I'm as ready as I'll ever be, so let's do this. It's really good to see some of you, some familiar faces there. Thank you, Ann, for that introduction. I've just co-authored a chapter in the volume, I should say, but thank you for that.

And thank you all for being here, especially those of you who are joining us from overseas. I'm well aware that this is a bit late in the day for you. So I'll try to make this as painless as possible. So with anything else on the matter to say, let's move on to share screen thing. Second-- that was a spoiler alert.

OK, so I wanted to start by saying that it took me a while to decide on which part of my research to base this whole talk. And finally, I decided that probably the best thing I could do was to share with you what has been sort of the guiding premise in the work I'm conducting here at the Women's Studies in Religion Program and what will also be a major question in the project that we are undertaking next year at Queen Mary in London.

And that is that the role, the contribution, of women to dissident religious movements in the Middle Ages has been underestimated both quantitatively and qualitatively, basically because of the fact that we base it we do research based on sources that are fundamentally biased and that bias is especially damaging to women. So this is sort of the point I'm going to try to make over the following minutes, and I'm really looking forward to a Q&A to see whether I've managed to do just that.

So I'll start by-- well, with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors. It says, "Fear is a strange soil. Mainly, it grows obedience like corn, which grows in straight lines to make weeding easier. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground."

So I guess I work on those potatoes of defiance, and particularly on the people who planted them and the people who were trying to weed them out. Actually, at some point I think I even considered naming my project Potatoes of Defiance, but it was like a bit too much. So I settled for Networks of Defiance, which has the added merit of combining the two pillars of my whole research. That is, on the one hand, networks, which I'll be discussing extensively during the talk, and on the other defiance.

So why defiance? Why not a more commonly use words such as heresy? So I think-- and I'd like to discuss this later-- that heresy is a notion that has become a bit stale, basically because it's a deceptively clear-cut concept, insofar as it is a crime to find in canon law, as straying away from dogma and doing so very publicly.

So the fact that dogma is included in that definition means that heresy is inevitably linked to its twin notion of orthodoxy and also deceptively clear-cut. And together they form this sort of very unhelpful binary, which could lead someone to believe that every religious expression has to fit either in one category or in the other. But as we know, and many in the audience, the faces I recognize know very well, it is not true that the very rich variety of religious expressions in the medieval period fits either. Many of them didn't, simply didn't, or changed their [INAUDIBLE] overnight.

So that's why I think that from the late '90s, especially in non-English-speaking scholarship, we found this tendency to shift towards more nuanced terms, such as the dissidents or dissent, religious dissent. And that's a tendency that has also reached the English-speaking world. And that's why this defiance sort of-- I thought was a good idea to use it as an umbrella term that could encompass all these notions.

Plus, defiance also adds another nuance. And that is the nuance of disobedience, which is necessary for defiance. And since disobedience was a big thing in the definition of heresy from the second half of the 13th century and into the 15th, roughly, it sort of worked.

The thing is that, whatever word we choose to describe this context, most of us who work in this field need to rely, at one time or another, sometimes mainly-- although not only, but mainly-- in inquisitorial sources. So when I say inquisitorial sources, I'm talking about sources that resulted that were created as a result of the inquisitorial process conducted by inquisitors.

And I'm being so careful about these terms, because when we talk about the Middle Ages, we need to recall that when we say "inquisition," we are not referring to Inquisition with capital I as this sort of very well-organized hierarchical institution, but rather we are talking about the inquisitio-- that is, the method of judicial inquiry, which is exactly what inquisitio means-- conducted by men that were called inquisitores. That's inquisitors.

So the sources you see on screen, which are the sources I'm basically using right now for this project are late-- well, early 14th century sources. But the inquisitors by then had behind them almost a century-long tradition of how to effectively fight heresy using this method of inquisitio. Even the inquisitors, the early inquisitors that were appointed from the 1230s onwards, and when were bringing into the table this sort of new effective method, this inquisitio-- and there's loads of literature on how the inquisitio appears, and then it's used against heresy. I won't go into that.

But even these early inquisitors were also inheriting something else. They were inheriting centuries-long tradition, a two-and-a-half-century-long tradition, if you will, of how to fight heresy, in the sense of what heresy meant. I'm talking about bishops. I'm talking about, then, Cistercian monks fighting heresy from the late 10th to the early 11th, in rough terms.

So basically, in those old times, the heresy thing always falls over the same pattern or at least that's what they saw. A man would come into town. The man would usually be illiterate. That meant he knew Latin. And he had received some sort of clerical training. And he came into town basically spouting all sorts of heretical errors.

Of course, the mass that is the population, both men and women, gullible, immediately followed along this wolf in sheep's clothing, which was one of the biblical phrases that appeared over the period in this kind of sources. And then these people were led astray from the fold, for the Christian, from the proper Christian fold. So for this ecclesiastical authorities, the solution was pretty clear you just needed to cut off the serpent's head-- and I'm done with the animal metaphors for a while.

And once these men that the heresiarchs-- that is, the master of heretics, the occult-- were removed from the equation, then the population was free to be back to being good Christians. That was sort of the thing. So there is, if there ever was one, a leadership narrative.

And apart from the problem that it basically thinks or posits that this whole community of laypeople had no agency whatsoever, and they simply followed along-- apart from that, the thing is that it's not only a model of or a narrative of leadership. It is a male leadership narrative, because these men that were singled out, that needed to be removed from the fold and that were sort of the guilty part that were responsible for leading everybody astray were always, with very, very few exceptions-- and I can think of one, and I'll talk about her a bit later-- but basically, men.

So this is something that early inquisitors inherited and combined with their new method of the inquisitio. So how does this leadership and narrative affect the process and the sources the process generated? Well, the thing is that to understand that it is very useful to understand how the process worked but also to compare it. And that was sort of the central point in this chapter and mentioned at the beginning. It is useful to compare the whole inquisitorial process to a modern method of sociological inquiry that is called snowball sampling.

Why this one? Well, the snowball sampling is useful and currently because it's helpful to uncover what is known as hidden populations-- that is, people who don't want to be found out, people who, for different reasons, are unregistered or have a clandestine component, or are difficult to identify. So that's exactly the definition of these dissident networks I'm talking about, for starters.

But there are also other points in common-- precisely how the whole thing works. So I prepared this very little picture. I hope you enjoyed that, because basically we have our-- I'm not saying, of course, that inquisitors were social scientists, not at all. I'm just saying that it's useful to make the comparison, because it can shed some light on the limitations on the whole process.

So we have this Inquisitor this little Dominican here. And he would address the whole thing by interrogating people. He would find some people and would ask them about the matter of heresy. What do you know about heresy? Who do that belongs to this group of heretics? What kind of connection do you have to them?

And so these people being interrogated would start saying names. And then the process will basically go on so that, in the end, some people were mentioned several times. Some people were mentioned just the once. But the thing is the idea is that, starting with very few individuals, the inquisitor could then reach the whole dissident network. So far, so good, because I'm not talking about gender bias here. So that should have worked.

But how is it that this thing introduced a gender bias? Well, and to prove that, if you indulge me, I'm going to conduct a very simple experiment that I hope you will help me conduct. So I'm going to ask all of you a very simple question, and I would really appreciate it if you could answer that question using the Chat tool. You just need to answer with the first thing that comes to mind once you see the question. I'll give you, like, a minute to write down your answers.

So the question is as follows. Name your favorite fiction author-- no constraints whatsoever, so whatever comes to mind. OK, we're seeing a few here-- David Adler, Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Laurie Kane, Jasper Fforde, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie-- sorry, Rahina, I'm probably pronouncing that poorly-- Banana Yoshimoto, Richard Russo. OK.

OK, so now that we've done that, let's go to the second part of the experiment. And I'm going to pose another question to you. And this time along, it will be a poll. So you'll see up here on your screen a sort of poll window, and you just have to answer that question. Please choose one of the options, even if you don't like any of them. [LAUGHS] But please do that for me to sort of prove my whole point.

So this is the question. Among the following fiction authors, who is your favorite? So I'm going to launch the poll. So I'm going to share the results with you. So now to continue with the experiment, let us imagine that something awful happens, a massive disaster. And everything is lost of our society. And 100 years from now, the only thing remaining are the reports for these two questions.

And let us imagine that two historians find these reports. So historians one finds the first one, and so the report says, my favorite fiction author is. And then historian one sees a variety of people, a variety of gender, a variety of race, a variety of origins, a variety of languages.

But then historian two is very unlucky and just has this report. My favorite fiction authors are-- without the question, mind you-- my favorite fictions are Dan Brown, Neil Gailman, Philip K. Dick, Noah Gordon, Stephen King. So the conclusion that historians two would reach, and rightly so, on the basis of their sources would be that the favorite fiction authors in the early 21st century were all born in the 20th century, were all men, were all white, and were all English-speaking authors.

Of course, those conclusions would be awfully wrong. But historian number two wouldn't know, because historian number two hasn't seen the question, hasn't seen that there was a prompt in the question-- only the results. So I'm guessing by now you all see where I'm going with this. Closing the poll.

The thing is that the inquisitorial bias was introduced because, in this inquisitorial, there's no sampling. The key issue was, how were the questions formulated? And the questions weren't always open-ended questions. On the contrary, many names were introduced by the Inquisitors themselves into the question list. The Inquisitors were following these male leadership narrative that I was talking about a minute ago.

So that meant that, some people slowly became, what I'd like to call, heresy markers. Knowing them actually-- immediately, sorry, made you suspicious of heresy. And talking to them, eating with them, traveling with them, were questions that were actually introduced as such in the question list posed by Inquisitors during interrogation. So of course, when we read the records, we find lots more of names related to these heresy markers than to other people.

But on top of that, those heresy markers, as I said, with a very special exception, were always men. That means that, Inquisitors were not expecting female leadership among dissident movements. And therefore, did not ask for female leadership in their lists of questions.

So is there anything we can do about this? Or in other words, is there any other way to see whether what I'm saying is actually accurate? Well my answer to that, of course, is that it is. And that is what I like to call, the relational approach. That is, the approach that uses social networks.

A social network is a very simple thing. It's based mostly on two components. Those are actors or nodes, and edges or relations. An actor can be anything you want it to be, from books to buildings to countries to anything else. But since I'm working on religious networks, of course, for me the actors are people.

And the relations established between them. These relations can be, again, anything you can think of, from friendship, simple acquaintanceship to hate even, but also, giving money, giving shelter, and sharing ideas. That's also a relation.

So the third component in social network analysis, in historical network analysis, in particular, are centrality measures. What are centrality measures? And I've simply used here four. I won't talk about them all. I just wanted them to be on screen.

Centrality measures are exactly what they say, are a measure of how central you are in your network. Why different measures? Because it can be central to your network in very different ways.

So I'm basically going to focus on the first two, degree and eigenvector centrality, because I think that will be more useful to prove, or to make my point. The first one, degree centrality, means simply, to how many people are you connected, in any which way? For example, if this is an acquaintanceship network, how many people are you acquainted with among the audience? OK.

In inquisitorial records that would mean, how many people did you mention in your deposition? Or how many people mentioned you in their own deposition when questioned by the Inquisitor? So in a way, this degree centrality is the easiest approach to the whole network thing.

But it's also very much like a more conventional approach to the sources. You would read the record. And you'd start identifying people and saying, OK, this man here is mentioned 20 times. That probably means that he was very important to his network.

And look, this woman here was just mentioned twice. It means that probably she wasn't that important. That's the whole thing behind the degree centrality.

Remember the eigenvector centrality? I will talk about that later. We'll find out the word, simply. So what happens with the degree centrality? And what can it tell us about the whole point I'm trying to make?

Well one of the things that we also do when we start studying historical networks, is to try and compare them with what social scientists have told us for decades that standard human networks should look like. In the sense that, if I reconstruct this kind of network from my sources, and when compared to what a usual standard social network among humans should look like, I have similar things. That means that, it makes sense to make a comparison.

I mean, that is probably something there. But what happens if the network and reconstructing is very unlike what a normal standard human network should look like? Then it means I have a problem. I need to look at my data because something's happening here.

So I'm simplifying things very much, but I'm really hoping you're following what I'm saying. So I'm studying in particular three groups. Three religious movements that were contemporary, that shared the time and space they are developed in the early 14th century. And they were brought before Inquisitors in the early 14th century, convicted also in the early 14th century in the region of Languedoc.

So the first one, the late Cathars, that was the largest network I work with. I'm talking about 800 individuals with about 8,000 connections between them. And that's the one I'm going to use to make this particular point.

So let's look at what is called the degree distribution. So please don't be afraid because I'm going to use a bit of math. But it will be harmless. I promise.

So this is what is called a degree distribution. What is it showing? Basically it's telling us that, most of the people, here is the number of actors, have very few connections, maybe one other person, two people, three people. But then there are a few that have an enormous number of connections.

What does this mean? It means, and what I was saying, that probably these people here-- see here for example. This individual, just one, has 369 mentions in the records. That probably means that these individuals here, with this huge number of connections, were used at some point as heresy markers. Their names were prompted by the Inquisitor during the questions, where most of the community was here.

The blue line here is just to show you what standard human network should look like. It peaks quickly. And then it is, what we call in maths, heavy-tailed. It means that it's decaying exponentially.

Anyway, the distribution of late Cathars, basically, approximates quite reasonably what a standard social network, human social network, would look like. So another property of this kind of network is that, if we separate part of the sample, the whole structure should hold. So let's separate the sample. Let's look at men on the one hand and women on the other.

So first, the men. If we look at this, we have basically the same distribution. So it's still happening.

It's peaking rapidly. And then it's decaying exponentially. So everything seems to work.

What happens when we look at women? And when we look at women, I mean, it's pretty obvious that something's happening. We don't have the same distribution. We have a very huge gap here, where we should have a lot more data.

So this is something else that backs the hypothesis that women were underrepresented in these records. And we cannot reconstruct a network where women are represented as they should be if this was a standard human network. So what can we do? I mean, can we solve this in any way?

Of course, social network analysis is not magic. It cannot help us fill this void. If women were underrepresented, we cannot make up those women. But what it can help us with, is using different measures of centrality to see what kind of roles women were adopting in these networks, and where we can expect to find women that have remained unseen, these hidden voices, I was talking about in the title.

So now I'll move to another group. These were way less numerous. We're talking about 200 individuals, more or less, and 1,100 connections.

So these were the beguines of Languedoc that also shared the space and time with late Cathars that were fairly new. Actually, we could say, simplifying things again, that the beguines became heretics overnight. They were very new heresy, unlike others.

So I'm going to talk about a woman in particular, who doesn't seem to be very special in the whole thing, but that can show us what I was trying to point out. So what we know of Ermessenda comes from her own deposition. Nobody else mentions her.

She was a woman who lived in this town here, in Ginhac. And she was a widow, who had been married to Johan Castanher, from the neighboring town of Lodeve. Please note that, I'm using my native Catalan pronunciation for the names. That's why I've written them down, too, so they wouldn't get lost in translation, or pronunciation, should I say?

Probably by 1305 Ermessenda was already a widow. And she took a vow of chastity, which was a common practice among her group-- which I haven't said, but they were really linked to radical Franciscanism in this early 14th century.

So the next thing we know about her is that, before 1318, she went to Narbonne to celebrate the major feast for this community, which was a celebration of the anniversary of the death of, who would be their sort of spiritual master and uncanonized saint, the famous Franciscan theologian Peter John Olivi. We know this was before 1318 because the tomb was destroyed in 1318. And therefore, the feast was not celebrated there anymore. It was celebrated in other places.

So there she probably met Raimon de Johan, who was a Franciscan, who would later be considered an apostate Franciscan, and persecuted by the Inquisitors, too. Later, after 1318, we find her in an indulgence that was being preached. And there, we know that she knew one of the four Franciscans that were burned at the stake in 1318, which was sort of a very seminal moment for the movement. It was like a turning point.

So later on, before 1325, we find her in Montpellier, in what I'd like to call the Boneta household. This was a house that was shared by three sisters and their companion, Alaraxis, in a sort of spiritual community. This woman here, Na Prous Boneta, was just the woman I was mentioning as an exception. And I've been talking to people around here, over the past two weeks, about her.

She was a woman who claimed that she was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. So she was a very special case. Anyway, Ermessenda was there, so she knew the whole household. And later on we find her in her sentence in Carcassonne in 1328, where we discover that she probably was the one who denounced her friend, Sibilla Cazelle, another widow from Ginhac. So this is sort of the story of Ermessenda.

And if we continue, we can trace, we can map what is called as her ego network. That means, the connections, the people connected directly to Ermessenda. And we get these very simple networks.

So green for men, red for women. So this was sort of the network of the people directly connected to Ermessenda, and the connections between them. So now let's look at the case of another man, who had a similar degree centrality. That means, someone who was also modestly connected as Ermessenda. This is a very modest ego network.

So let's see what happens with a man that had sort of the same situation. So the man is called Peire Tort. And as we understand that, we can reconstruct part of his history. We know that he was from Montreal, and his father was called Mateu.

And later on, also before 1318, we find him in Narbonne, doing exactly the same thing as Ermessenda, where he met Peire d'Honors and Peire Arrufat, two other men that were also related to the network. After that we find him in Béziers, 1320, 1321, where he attended a general sermon where many co-religionists, many members of this network, were burned. That was also a common practice among the beguines of Languedoc.

They attended each other's executions-- well, no, not each other because you know-- they attended executions. And that was a community-binding event for them because they witnessed the martyrdom of their friends and companions. So after that we find him West, trying to avoid inquisitorial persecution in the villages of Belpech and Gintegabelle, where he met all these people, and where Guilhem Ros ended up denouncing him. He was captured.

And finally, his sentence to life imprisonment was pronounced in Pamiers in 1322. So when we look at his ego network, we have, basically, the same as in the case of Ermessenda, a relatively modest ego network, again, men and women. What happens when we compare the two of them?

So just to make it more visually appealing. Here we have it. So these networks are very much alike. So they're degree centralities-- that means, how many people mentioned, how many people were directly connected to them-- are basically the same. Then, what is the whole point of this thing?

The whole point of this thing is that we use another centrality measure. And that was the eigenvector centrality, I was telling you before. Please, remember this.

So this eigenvector centrality, what does it do? It's not, how many people are you connected to? It's, how well connected are the people you are connected to?

To put it simply, if you are connected to 100 people that, those people are kept to themselves and don't have many other connections, your eigenvector will be lower than if you were connected to three people, but those three people were extremely well-connected, like, celebrity-like connected. That's what I mean.

Why your eigenvector is higher? What does it mean that your eigenvector is higher? It means that you can influence the network much more than if your eigenvector was lower, because, although you have fewer connections, those are very important connections that can spread wherever you have to say or wherever you have to give, much more rapidly than if you had lots of connections, but with people that were themselves not very well-connected.

I'm hoping I'm making myself clear. The thing is that, Ermessenda, when we take into account her eigenvector centrality, ranks very, very high. Why? Because two of her connections, Raimon de Johan, the Franciscan I was telling you about-- and Na Prous Boneta, the woman who claimed to be the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, were themselves extremely central in the whole network.

And that meant that, hypothetically, anything that Ermessenda would have wanted to share with the whole network, would be easily spread. And the opposite is also true.

She would receive news and things, that were circulating through the network-- and I'm using things with quotation marks because anything you can think of can be considered something that circulates through the network-- she would potentially, receive it way sooner than Peire Tort, who, when we take into account his eigenvector centrality, ranks very, very low.

So these two people, who were basically, equally connected, ranked very differently when we take into account the eigenvector centrality. But the thing is that, that happens with most women. Most women, even those who have degree centrality, a moderate to modest degree centrality, when we look at eigenvector centralities, women go way up, men go way down.

So women were less mentioned in the rigors. But they were very well-connected. They were connected to people that was, in one way or another, central to the network. That's one of the things that network analysis can help us see.

And to conclude this whole presentation, I'll just bring up another, the third group I've been working with. And that is the [INAUDIBLE] that were also convicted in these same inquisitorial processes. And I'm bringing this up to show you something else that we can do with these networks, but also, to answer questions that sometimes people pose, as well.

We can only use social networks if we have very, very large numbers. For example, the 700 Cathars I was talking about, the 200, almost 300 beguines I was talking about. What happens when we have very few people, a very small network? Can we use social network analysis then?

Well the thing is that, the numbers you will get, the quantitative analysis, will be much less accurate. But that doesn't mean that the whole methodology cannot help us look towards important gaps, or things that we need to explore further, or things that are maybe not so much as we thought they were. And that's what I want to prove with this very, very brief case.

We have this hub of old legends-- two men, two women. This is a very, very simplified graph. Please, indulge me. It was just that this was the very end of the talk, and I thought they'll be super tired of hearing me talk and seeing graphs. Let's put this very simply.

So this graph we see, again, men in green, women in red. And the relative size of the dots, depends on how important these people were, how central, how influential in the conventional terms. So these four people are the only old legends interrogated in the Fournier register, one of the sources I showed you before.

And when we look at the interrogations and the register in a conventional way, we should say, it seems that Raimon de Costa was super important because he was a priest in the movement. Jean Fustier was also important, although he was a layman. Hugueta was Jean's wife. And Agnes has been Raimon's wet nurse when he was a kid.

But the important one is Raimon. And the women are basically, secondary actors in the whole thing. What happens when we look at it from the relational approach?

For starters, let's look at all the people involved in the whole thing. So we get a moderate size network of about 60 people or so. Again, men in green, women in red.

And the sizes have changed considerably, because then we realize that Hugueta was very well-connected. And there were lots of people that knew her. And she knew a lot of people.

So for starters, there's this change in size. Then, many of the men here, I have to say, we're not laymen. They were the priestly elite of the movement. The equivalent to a [INAUDIBLE].

So what is the operation that we can make here? I was just saying that, the centrality measures do not apply as well here, because the network is too small. But there's something else we can do with this data. We can do what is called, node filtering, which means basically, removing one actor and seeing what happens to the network.

Of course, when we remove an actor, anybody that's only connected to that actor, also goes away. So let's do this. Let's remove Raimon de Costa, who was supposedly the most important person in this hub. So when we remove him, the resulting network is this one, which is basically, the same network as the other one, just smaller, as we could have expected. It's the same components but smaller.

So what happens if we remove Hugueta, instead of Raimon? If we remove her, the network has changed completely. Why?

Most women have disappeared, for starters. But not only that, there's a piece of information I haven't given you, but most of these are priests. So the problem when we remove Hugueta, is that, we are removing most women. And we are removing the leity.

So in other words, if there's no Hugueta, the movement is basically priests. Priests will then turn priests. I mean, it'll be equivalent to [INAUDIBLE] priests.

So what can we say about Hugueta? Hugueta was very well-connected. But what was her role in the whole thing? She was not only supporting the network, in terms of food and shelter, which is something that has been usually attributed to the female roles in the city networks, she was a broker.

She was a broker that was facilitating access to the priestly elite. She was convincing people of [INAUDIBLE] doctrines and also bringing them to receive sacraments administered by the [INAUDIBLE] elite. So that's also some of the things that network analysis can help us do and can help us see about women that we wouldn't be able to see with a more conventional approach.

So finally, I would be remiss if I didn't end with a caveat. I suppose it is tempting if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. That is to say, am I saying that networks are the solution to everything, that we can solve everything in religious history just using networks and recovering all these hidden voices? No, I'm not saying that.

I'm saying that, to the conventional, traditional approach that is absolutely vital to its criticism, is still the cornerstone and should be of historical research. We should add other methods that help us identify where we need to make more questions. That's what I'm saying. Now to end, I'm going to paraphrase our fellow resident of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Christian Greer.

Just last week, he said, the job of the historian of religion is not to fill in the gaps but to explain them. I'm going to rephrase that. I hope that's OK. The job of the historian of medieval religion is not to fill in the gaps but to find them in the first place, and to understand the context that resulted in those gaps.

So I hope them make sense. And I'm so looking forward to working on. Thank you very much for your attention.

ANN D BRAUDE: Thank you so much, Delfi. And let's give her a round of applause. The amount of work that has gone into this, is absolutely awesome--


--in the literal sense. I am going to ask a question while you all are thinking about what you would like to ask Delfi and putting your questions into the chat, so that I can read them or call on you. But Delfi, it's so challenging to speak to an audience like this, which includes people who can tell you the difference between a Waldensian and a Cathar and a beguine very easily, and people who may be hearing these terms for the first time.


ANN D BRAUDE: So I wonder if, for both groups, you would be willing to say something for us about how we will understand the textual scholarship differently after this additional method has been added? What difference is it going to make in our interpretation of medieval Christianity and medieval heresies?

DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: Well to put it simply, and that was sort of the whole idea that-- actually, I have to say. This was not what I was expecting from the results of my dissertation, to be honest. My idea was to, basically, study how these different groups organize themselves, what were these structural features, and could we say something different from a new heresy than from an old heresy.

And even in the case of [INAUDIBLE], these particular [INAUDIBLE] had migrated from Burgundy. So there was also the component of the origin there. So that was my goal. And then I started seeing weird things, like, what's happening with women? Shouldn't there be more women here? Why are they not?

And then of course, here it's the training and the background that helps. I have to say, I'm a physicist, I'm sorry. We all have a past. And we tend to look for patterns. And maths sometimes, they're useful for real life, even for history.

And so I decided to look at it from that perspective. Can we do some quantitative study with this and see what's happening? And what I saw was, basically, confirming what I had thought could be the problem.

And I also looked at the fact-- I was talking about heresy markers. And we can also see-- and that's also something that I dealt with in my dissertation but what I'm trying to do even more now-- that some of these people are not heresy markers from the beginning. They appear at some point, for some different reasons. And that's also something that bugs up the whole conclusion.

So to answer your question, to put it shortly, which I never did. But the thing is that, what we can see is that-- I'm not saying-- for example, in the last case I showed, I'm not saying that Raimon de Costa was not important. He was. But Hugueta was, too. That's what I'm trying to say.

It's not that what we've learned so far, was wrong, not at all. I couldn't have done what I've done without what has been done so far. But we can do more. That's what I'm saying.

And especially, that's important for the study of women in religion, because the victims, so to speak, of these biases I'm talking about, the main group to be damaged and to be distorted, in a way, have been women. And not only because they-- not about the numbers. It's not about the numbers. It's about their roles, their leadership roles.

I'm talking about, how is it possible in a context where, allegedly, women were not supposed to be leaders, that we found someone as Na Prous Boneta-- and I'm looking at Lisa Burnham who's here. And I know we share this fascination with Prous. She's the only person called a heresiarch, a master of heretics, in the trials against almost 200 people.

So how is it possible if women were not leaders? If their contribution was not intellectual or doctrinal whatsoever? What's more, these were supposed to be illiterate women.

That means, they didn't have Latin. They didn't read or write Latin, most of them. But still, how is it possible that they were so vital in the spread of religious dissent?

That's sort of the question that's leading the whole project that I'll be conducting next year. So that's it, basically. I don't think that we need to contest everything we've learned. We just need to add to it, to build on it. It's sort of the point I was trying to make.

ANN D BRAUDE: Great. Well I have lots more questions. But while people are putting their questions in the chat, I'm going to read a question from your sister colleague in the WSRP, Zat, who's here today.

And she asks, "A lot of your work contends with uncertainty, especially in tracing these elusive nodes. How do you mitigate the tension between both certainty and uncertainty in archival work in your own research?"

DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: That's actually a very good question. You've put your finger on that.

I think that, this is a question that any historian, medieval historian in the room could answer because, despite my background as a physicist, and I say despite, in the end, I have to deal with the same sources, with unfragmented-- sorry, with fragmented information, that you have to pick up very slowly, very painstakingly, to build up a whole narrative. And that's exactly what I'm doing.

But any other medievalist in the room, and I would dare to say any other historian in the room, pre-modern historian, has exactly the same problem. So it's a great question for all of us. But I would like to say-- and I know that this is not what Zat was saying-- but sometimes, we, people who work on historical network analysis, are asked this question by other fellow medievalist saying, hey, but you don't know the whole network.

Well my aim was never to reconstruct the whole thing. It was only to shed light on what we know. And to be more specific about what Zat was asking, let us say that, next year someone finds a cache of documents with all the laws deposition of the communities of beguines that have never been found until now.

Would that mean that, Ermessenda would have less potential to influence her network? No, it wouldn't. It would just mean that we have more information about the rest of the network.

But that would not mean that what we already know is not correct. And that's the only way to deal with that uncertainty because, in the end-- I haven't gone into this because as Ann said, this is a very mixed audience and I mean, I could be talking about this for ages. But inquisitorial records in themselves have lots of issues, not only regarding women but in general.

For starters, they are a totally unbalanced dynamic of power. I mean, it's not the same as a sociologist asking someone if they like avocados. I mean, this is about someone in a very hostile environment, removed from their social framework and facing people who speak in another language, with a result on which depends everything, including your life.

So for starters, that needs to make us think about the whole dynamic of the interrogation. But we could say, can we ever overcome the fact that we are getting to these hidden voices through the voices of their persecutors? And that's the question.

But I like to think we can somehow. Maybe not everything, of course, never everything, but there are hints at what these people really felt, even through Latin, even through the multiple translations of the whole record suffered before it ended up in our hands. Still, there are some things that are unequivocally their own. And that's sort of the magic of what we do, trying to find out what it is that was their own.

So I don't know if I've answered that. But it's a very delicate dance.

ANN D BRAUDE: We suddenly have a raft of questions. And we just have about another five minutes. So I'm actually going to pick a question from Clare Taylor, who asks, "Aren't medieval clergy supposed to be women haters rather than indifferent women? Wouldn't they have had a tendency to play up the bad influence of women and they being led by an indifference to women's role, on the part of the male dissidents they identified?"

And this makes me think of probably one of the few documents of the Inquisition that's read by American historians, which is, the Malleus Maleficarum, which makes this case that women are prone to heresy.

DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: Well both things are true. So as Claire perfectly knows, of course, women were thought to be to find heresy more appealing. Women were dangerous because they talk a lot. They keep talking about things.

Plus, they are super gullible. They believe anything. So they hear these horrible, heretical errors, and they repeat them all around. But, are they the-- how do you call it? The mastermind behind the whole thing? Never.

That's sort of the point. And I've also worked on this because I have an article in the making, about gendered strategies in front of the Inquisitors. So the result is that, Inquisitors actually rented women some degree of agency but just in this sense, never intellectually.

And actually in the records, we find women saying, no, I believe this because women are so gullible. We believe anything. And the question is, did they or was this a strategy, like playing dumb?

I mean, we've done that. I know I have. [LAUGHS] Wouldn't you, in front of the Inquisitor?

So it's not like this bias against women. Inquisitors thought women were more likely to spread heresy, but again, never as instigators themselves, never as the mastermind. Always as followers that basically, like parrots, repeated what they heard and believed. We could talk way more about this, Claire, you know it. But let's leave it there.

ANN D BRAUDE: Well we have a whole group of fascinating questions here that we aren't going to have time to go into. I'm going to ask Tracy to put into the chat our schedule of further lectures for this semester. I hope to see many of you at some of the project report coming from our--

DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: If I may? I'm just seeing a question by Sean, I think it's Sean Field, that I would like to answer, if I can, because it's really something I haven't had the chance to say in my presentation. It's just a minute, I promise.

ANN D BRAUDE: I was absolutely going to give you the last word, Delfi.


ANN D BRAUDE: Any final thoughts that you have? The floor is yours.

DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: He makes a really good point. He says, "As you said, Prous Benita would be a rare example of a woman in heretical group who was obviously important. So that's network theory. Tell us something by showing that she was important in previously unknown ways."

Yes, because when you look at the ego network-- Hi, Sean. When you look at the ego network of Na Prous when compared to other ego networks of people who are in similar positions within her movement-- I'm talking about [INAUDIBLE] and all his gang-- actually, there were just as well-connected as her but the network is different.

And Na Prous network could be compared to networks that, I think, would be more consistent with a sort of charismatic thing. The networks where these very important men in the movement were central, were networks based on the survival of the movement, on circulating news, on circulating through and circulating books, that sort of thing. But Na Prous' network was a different structure that we can say-- and we can talk more about this at some other point.

We can see it's a different structure. It's a charismatic structure. Someone that attracts people because, people that already know each other, but either way, they go to her because of her charisma, is a completely different structure from the point of view of social networks. So yes, absolutely.

Anyway, it's fascinating.

ANN D BRAUDE: Well thank you so much for that last comment. And also for the suggestion that we play dumb in front of the Inquisitors. I know--

DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: Well I've done so in front of the police. Oh, this is being recorded.


DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: You know, fines. Oh, I didn't realize there was-- yeah.

ANN D BRAUDE: I think the Inquisition is over. I'm hoping that's the case. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, for this fascinating presentation. And thank you so much to Delphi for sharing this really stimulating research, and for getting us rolling with a great conversation for the semester.

DELFI I NIETO-ISABEL: Thank you all for coming, really. Thank you all.

ANN D BRAUDE: Fond farewell to all the friends out there and a big hand to Delfi.

SPEAKER 2: Sponsor, Women's Studies in Religion Program.

SPEAKER 1: Copyright 2021. The President and Fellows of Harvard College.