Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Marjorie Plummer (Director), Dr. Robert Dietle, Dr. Dorothean Browder

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Protestant nuns, Stiftsdamen, fulfilled a unique role in early modern Lutheran society. This papers focuses on the implied social roles and expected virtues of Protestant nuns [Stiftsdamen] in the works of male Lutheran pastors who supported Protestant theological positions that promoted marriage as the proper place for women, and yet who also praised unmarried female monastics in funeral sermons [Leichenpredigten]. Lutheran pastors wrote funeral sermons for both Stiftsdamen and married women, funeral sermons display similarities or differences between what virtues, characteristics, and displays of piety for women. A comparison will also be made between funeral sermons for Stiftsdamen and those written for Catholic nuns by Catholic clergy. Convent necrologies, written by Catholic abbesses will also be used to compare what virtues were expected of female religious. Also included is an examination of nuns’ writings about theology, their doctrinal reasons for remaining Catholic, leaving the cloister, and adapting their convent life to fit Lutheran teachings.

Damenstiften preserved access for women to positions of authority and self empowerment. These women were, however, different from earlier female religious communities and from Catholic nuns living in other Lutheran areas. Protestant Stiftsdamen had more contact with outside society than cloistered Catholic nuns due to the desire of Lutherans to incorporate these women into their communities. An analysis of the perception of Stiftsdamen by Lutheran pastors and the nuns' consciousness of their own position, duties, and piety is the cornerstone of this new research on gender and religion in early modern Germany. The perpetuation of Protestant convents into the seventeenth century is only briefly documented by historians who focus instead on the religious experience of women in Germany during and directly following the Reformation. Catholic examples of female piety will contribute to the understanding of female religious and their role in society at large. In conclusion, this research displays how Stiftsdamen were praised for the same virtues as early modern married Protestant women and Catholic nuns in funeral sermons, but were not specifically praised as female religious by male Lutheran pastors.


Cultural History | History of Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion