I am currently completing my dissertation, “The Life and Afterlife of Anna Katharina Emmerick: Re-imagining Catholicism in Modern Germany.”My project concerns the life and subsequent cult of veneration of Anna Katharina Emmerick (1774-1824), a Westphalian woman discovered to exhibit stigmata during the Napoleonic occupation and secularization of German Europe. Her wounds and ecstatic visions stirred controversy across Europe and the United States, becoming symbols manipulated in debates over the boundary between religion and superstition, natural and supernatural. Emmerick’s life thus provides an entrée into the state of German Catholicism at the moment of its transition from Enlightenment austerity to post-Revolutionary fervor. Her afterlife in the popular imagination, furthermore, can serve as a red thread through the labyrinth of German Catholic culture. From the bestselling publications of her Passion visions by Romantic poet Clemens Brentano, to the 21st-century reiteration of these visions in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, from the pious veneration of her grave by German villagers to her beatification by John Paul II, Emmerick has remained a public touchstone.
By examining the reactions sparked by Emmerick’s life, and following the twists and turns of her long afterlife, this project’s goal is to reveal how Catholics sustained and re-imagined their inherited faith traditions to meet the evolving challenges they faced as modern Germans; to determine who was able to participate in this process; and to track how this changed over time. Taking into account the interplay between the conditions that made possible modern “imagined communities” with the deep history of the Church’s ever-evolving tradition, it will explore how Catholics have continuously fashioned a usable past from their religious heritage to assert belonging and to address their present-day needs and desires. Following how Emmerick took on new forms and meanings in her long afterlife makes this re-imagination of Catholic tradition, rather than mere revival, its richness and its continued relevance, very clear.
You can find a chapter outline and brief description of my dissertation here.