Introduction
in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
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This chapter sketches out the rationale for this research, identifying methodologies, sources and the key historiographies that the work is embedded in. It critiques the primary sources, including original material from public and private archives such as correspondence, instructions, questionnaires and reports. Documents do not tell us everything we need to know about the past, though they often identify events, official decision-making and institutional ideologies. Oral testimonies provided another layer of interpretation and allowed for a focus on subjectivities, the meanings, emotions and attitudes so central to the construction of self. The ‘turn to self’ which legitimated (in some circles) the engagement with life stories (particularly autobiography and oral history) in academic studies has been influential to scholars working on cohorts marginalised or missing from documentary sources. This research is grounded in a particular British context and contextualises the changing dimensions of women’s religious life within the historiographies of post-war Britain, Catholicism in Britain and the Second Vatican Council, exploring how religious bodies engaged in modernisation and reinvigorated (or not) their global presence.