Brian Heffernan
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Convents, sisters and power
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Chapter 1 sets the stage for the analysis of discourses of spirituality and identity in the subsequent chapters. It does this, under ‘convents’, by providing an event-based historical overview of Carmelite history, particularly of the foundations of Carmelite convents in the Netherlands from early modern times to the 1950s, and of the complicated process of merging and closing convents from the 1970s onwards as the population of sisters declined. This section gives readers a sense of the geographical spread and chronological waxing and waning of the Carmelite presence in the Netherlands. It also discusses the motives for foundations, including the culture wars as they occurred in Germany and France, and the church politics involved in the order’s slow retreat, from 1970 to 2020. Under ‘sisters’, it looks at the composition of the population itself, with particular regard to nationality and social background, recruitment strategies, vocation narratives and internal stratification between choir nuns, lay sisters and extern sisters. Finally, under ‘power’, it addresses power relations within convents and between the communities, external authorities and other parties. Gender roles are discussed, as well as the models that were proposed to justify or contest power relations. This chapter gives readers all the context they need to understand the rest of the book.

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Modern Carmelite nuns and contemplative identities

Shaping spirituality in the Netherlands


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