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Between the third and sixteenth centuries, penance (the acts or gestures performed to atone for transgression, usually with an interest in the salvation of the penitent’s soul) was a crucial mode of participation in both society and the cosmos. Penance was incorporated into political and legal negotiations, it erupted in improvisational social dramas, it was subject to experimentation and innovation, and it saturated western culture with images of contrition, suffering, and reconciliation. During the late antique, medieval, and early modern periods, rituals for the correction of human errors became both sophisticated and popular. Creativity in penitential expression reflects the range and complexity of social and spiritual situations in which penance was vital. Using hitherto unconsidered source materials, the contributors chart new views on how in western culture, human conduct was modulated and directed in patterns shaped by the fearsome yet embraced practices of penance. Contributors are R. Emmet McLaughlin, Rob Meens, Kevin Uhalde, Claudia Rapp, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Abigail Firey, Karen Wagner, Joseph Goering, H. Ansgar Kelly, Torstein Jørgensen, Wietse de Boer, Ronald K. Rittgers, Gretchen Starr-LeBeau, and Jodi Bilinkoff.