Falling away from the Church?
Negotiating religious selfhoods in post-1945 England
in Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England
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While recent commemorative histories mythologise fervent devotion to the faith as a distinctive attribute of the post-war migrant experience, Catholic observers at the time feared migrants were ‘falling away from the Church’. This chapter explores the changing place of religion in migrants’ lives in England and the complex agency of Catholic ideals in shaping religious selfhoods over the migration journey. Where contemporary observers feared the secularising effects of urban culture upon migrants, the chapter shows how continuity and change articulated simultaneously within the evolution of migrants’ religious identities. Regulatory religious ideals offered some migrants a model of virtuous and socially respectable settlement in which they could recognise aspects of their own fears, ambitions and aspirations, while other, often later migrants drew on a public critique of clerical power to narrate a story of renunciation and personal transformation. Irrespective, however, of whether individuals embraced or derogated their religious heritage, narratives of religious change always registered disavowal as an ambivalent process, involving the management of conflicting desires for autonomy from and conformity to deeply internalised religious prohibitions.

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