She lived in Spain while researching and writing her dissertation, on the challenges that Teresa of Avila faced as a female teacher of spirituality during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. She later revised and expanded her dissertation, publishing it under the title Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity (Cornell University Press, 1996; paperback 1998).
While doing her dissertation research, she discovered stories of other female reformers less successful than Teresa—women tried by the Inquisition for alumbradismo (“false mysticism”). She recovered and translated one of those trials, giving readers access, for the first time, to the strategies of a visionary woman defending her vocation and experience of God. The Inquisition of Francisca (University of Chicago Press, 2005) received the 2006 annual award for “Best Translation” from the Society for the Research of Early Modern Women.
Her research and teaching on Teresa of Avila led her to write a second book on Teresa, this time focusing less on Teresa’s context and more on her inner life. Entering Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle: A Reader’s Companion explores the seven stages of growth leading to union with God and captures a wealth of insights about how to advance in the mystical life.
Dr. Ahlgren has been teaching the Christian mystical tradition to college-age students, graduate students, and adult learners for 24 years. She is an internationally-recognized scholar of the tradition, an experienced spiritual director, and engages a regular practice of contemplative prayer. A popular teacher, public speaker and writer, she also gives several retreats per year. She has recently been appointed Director of Xavier University’s new Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice.
Each year she takes students and adult learners on pilgrimage/study tour in the footsteps of Francis and Clare of Assisi.
Her pastoral commitments include retreat work and spiritual accompaniment of women seeking recovery after domestic violence and women actively in recovery from addiction.