Sarah Dunant's recent novel Sacred Hearts will be the point of departure for this course, as it depicts sixteenth-century convent life with insight, imagination, and a sophisticated command of the historical literature. It introduces themes such as mysticism and self-starvation, arranged marriages or forced claustration for daughters of the elite, and the harsh convent reform measures of the Council of Trent (1545-63) -- but also, on the positive side, the cultural production of nuns such as theatrical and musical performances. In addition, we will investigate topics such as "contagious" demonic possessions; forms of sensual, embodied spirituality and their visual and literary expressions; the racial politics surrounding the foundation of the first convent in colonial Cuzco in 1551; and the cult of the Virgin Mary and other female saints. Fieldtrip to local Benedictine convent of Regina Laudis. Writing assignments: mix of historical analysis and creative writing.