Sara Ritchey is an Associate Professor of History and Affiliated Faculty in Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville, where she teaches courses on the history of Christianity, the history of medicine, gender relations in medieval Europe, historical research methods, and European historiography. She has published widely on issues of religion, gender, and the body in public and academic venues such as The New York Times, Religion Dispatches Magazine, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and elsewhere.
Her research interrogates medieval intellectual categories in order to reveal how individuals sorted, valued, and regulated their world. At the same time, she is also interested in how such medieval constructions as "nature," "body," and "medicine" continue to resonate in contemporary statements of value and social regulation.
Her first book, Holy Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval Christianity (Cornell University Press, 2014), reimagines the development and defining concepts of Christian theology from the perspective of women’s communities. Holy Matter locates in the spiritual imagination of enclosed religious women a fresh articulation of the permeability of the material and immaterial in late medieval theology and religious practice. Using art, theology, liturgy, prayer, poetry, and agricultural projects, the book uncovers a critical shift in the way that late medieval Christians approached the natural world, a transition from drawing on floral and arboreal imagery in order to perceive, describe, and experience divinity, to using the material world itself as a site of divine access.
She is currently finalizing a second monograph entitled Communities of Care: Women, Healing, and Prayer in the Late Medieval Lowlands, which explores how Cistercian nuns and communities of laywomen known as "beguines" used an astonishing array of healing practices to provide for the daily health care needs of the sick and indigent in the cities and towns of the Low Countries and northern France. The research for this project, conducted in archives throughout Belgium and France and in manuscript libraries across northern Europe, has been supported by fellowships and grants from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH), the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Renaissance Society of America (RSA), the Huntington Library and British Academy, and the American Philosophical Society.