How did early modern Europeans make sense of painful and uncanny bodily excretions? Rather than dismissing such afflictions as a nuisance to be eliminated by the ‘life sciences’, pre-modern patients had many options to make illness meaningful. Over the past decades historians have shown that bodily experience involved medical, natural-historical, scientific, and religious approaches. We can take this one step further: how did medical, philosophical and religious discourses interrelate in concepts of the body and its interactions with the outside world?
This project contributes to understanding early modern ideas of embodiment and its implications, by studying the omnipresent affliction of bladder, kidney and gall stones. Building on recent work aiming to restore ‘cultural coherence’ to bodily experience, I will chart how the perception of body stones shifted between living and lifeless matter; between intestinal physiology, celestial influences, and divine intervention.
I focus on the period 1525-1725, when both the study of nature and religious experience changed drastically; and on two confessionally divergent areas, the northern Low Countries and Italy, to appreciate the impact of religious diversity on bodily experience. In three subthemes (medical, natural historical, religious) I examine how the relative import of God, astral forces, lifeless nature and physiology was reappraised in early modern concepts of human embodiment.