The medieval church understood open scandal as an evil greater than secret sin. Cultural historian Dyan Elliott explains how this perspective arose and ultimately established itself in both the confessional practices of clergymen and the disciplinary actions taken against them. The very gravity of sexual sins seemed to argue for their suppression, a tacit policy that took its toll on children — the most vulnerable members of Latin Christendom.
Dyan Elliott is Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University. She is also a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America. She studies the history of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, with a focus on the intersections and interactions of gender, spirituality, and sexuality.
Elliott is the author of several books, including Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock and The Bride of Christ Goes to Hell: Metaphor and Embodiment in the Lives of Pious Women, 200-1500. Her book Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages won the 2006 Otto Gründler Book Prize for outstanding contribution to the field of medieval studies. Her book Fallen Bodies examines a diverse set of issues related to the medieval clergy's fears of pollution, sexuality, and demonology, and how the relation between those fears helped lead to increasing conflation of the female and the demonic. Her article "Dress as Mediator between Inner and Outer Self" was awarded the Hilda Neatby Prize for best article on the history of women published in a Canadian journal.
Elliott's current research examines the concept of scandal, including sexual scandal and its practical and ideological consequences for church history. She received her PhD from the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto. She has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, the Institude for Advanced Study, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Liguria Study Center.