Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Christine Cooper-Rompato


Christine Cooper-Rompato


Adena Rivera-Dundas


Jessica Rivera-Mueller


In the Carmelite nun St. Teresa of Ávila’s (1515-1582) autobiography, The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself (1588), the author repeatedly asserts her unworthiness. Contemporary scholarship has explored the function of Teresa’s rhetoric of humility in this text. Scholars from the 1990s have largely argued that Teresa’s humility is a carefully crafted, defensive method to meet the demands of the patriarchal culture in which she wrote. Twenty-first-century scholars take a (slightly) different approach. To them, Teresa’s humility is not solely rhetorical; they suggest that Teresa’s humility is also a consequence and tool of her spiritual journey. In this thesis, I review scholarship published in the last 35 years that addresses the function of humility in Teresa’s autobiography. I begin with Alison Weber, Carole Slade, and Gillian Ahlgren from the 1990s. These scholars focus on the cultural period in which Teresa wrote to suggest that it was the primary influence on her rhetoric of humility. In the early twenty-first century, Elena Carrera opens the door to a spiritual understanding of Teresa’s humility, showing how her self-deprecation represents more than a persona adopted for survival—it is also her manifestation of humility and an example of this religious virtue to her readers. Within the last 10 years, Lisa Fullam, Noelia Bueno-Gómez, and A. F. Davis Abdallah argue that, though Teresa may use a rhetoric of humility to dispose her audience to receive her text, her humility is also a consequence of her spiritual path and empowers her to fulfill the mission she believes God has given her. The trajectory of the scholarship is significant because it gradually reconsiders Teresa’s voice, suggesting that her humility was more than a consequence of her rhetorical situation. No longer merely defensive, humility has a powerful function in her autobiography: Teresa demonstrates humility’s importance to spiritual development and its ability to give one courage to persist on one’s spiritual path, setting aside personal interests to serve God.