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historical setting, but a composite part of a ‘liberationist’ climate. Investigating Catholic women’s sexual experience Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, the meaning and function of sex had been considered to be trans-historical, prescribed by the strictures of natural law. That the Church’s definition of sexuality could be shaped by human intervention represented a

in The Pope and the pill

Irish Women and the Creation of Modern Catholicism is the only book-length study of lay Catholic women in modern Irish history. Focusing on the pivotal century from 1850 to 1950, it analyses the roles that middle-class, working-class, and rural poor lay women played in the evolution of Irish Catholicism and thus the creation of modern Irish identities. This project demonstrates that in an age of Church growth and renewal stretching from the aftermath of the Great Famine through the early years of the Irish Republic, lay women were essential to all aspects of Catholic devotional life, including both home-based religion and public Catholic rituals. It also reveals that women, by rejecting, negotiating, and reworking Church dictates, complicated Church and clerical authority. Irish Women and the Creation of Modern Catholicism re-evaluates the relationship between the institutional Church, the clergy, and women, positioning lay Catholic women as central actors in the making of modern Ireland. It also contests views that the increasing power of the Catholic Church caused a uniform decline in Irish women’s status after the Great Famine of the 1840s, revealing that middle-class, working-class, and rural poor lay women fought with their priests, dominated household religion, and led parish rituals, thus proving integral to the development of a modern Irish Catholic ethos and culture.

Sex, Catholicism and women in post-war England

On 25 July 1968, Pope Paul VI shook the world. His encyclical letter Humanae Vitae rejected widespread calls to permit use of the contraceptive pill and deemed artificial contraception ‘intrinsically evil’. The Catholic Church is now commonly identified as the antagonist in a story of sixties sexual revolution – a stubborn stone resisting the stream of sex-positive modernity. There has been little consideration of how Catholic women themselves experienced this period of cultural upheaval. This book is about the sexual and religious lives of Catholic women in post-war England. It uses original oral history material to uncover the way Catholic women negotiated spiritual and sexual demands at a moment when the two increasingly seemed at odds with one another. The book also examines the public pronouncements and secretive internal documents of the central Catholic Church, offering a ground-breaking new explanation of the Pope’s decision to prohibit the pill. The materials gathered here provide a fresh perspective on the idea that ‘sex killed God’, reframing dominant approaches to the histories of sex, religion and modernity. The memories of Catholic women help us understand why religious belief does not structure the lives of most English men and women today in the way it did at the close of the Second World War, why sex holds a place of such significance in our modern culture, and crucially, how these two developments related to one another. The book will be essential reading for not only scholars of sexuality, religion, gender and oral history, but anyone interested in post-war social change.

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postulant and a novice created the basis of the identity of women religious. It was a paradoxical identity, and in this chapter its meaning will be explored in various contexts. Postulants Fervent religious devotion, zeal for philanthropic activity and attraction to religious life were important precursors to successful active vocations. However, the existence of these attributes did not assure a woman entry into a congregation. The Roman Catholic Church listed various criteria for those entering religious life, the foremost being that they must lead ‘irrépréhensible

in Contested identities
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Post-war modernity and religious vocations

women combined being wives and mothers with waged employment. In the years before Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique (1963), the future looked brighter for women who married. 18 The post-war Catholic ‘fortress church’ was changing too. Fuelled (again) by immigration, the Catholic Church appeared ascendant as mass attendance rose, requiring the building of new schools and churches. This was particularly striking alongside a public discourse of secularisation, with Protestants battling declining church turnout. 19 Catholic self-confidence, fuelled by its growing

in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
Britain, 1945–90

Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age examines the changes in religious life for women religious in Britain from 1945 to 1990 identifying how community and individual lives were altered. This work is grounded in three core premises: women religious were influenced by and participated in the wider social movements of the long 1960s; women’s religious institutes were transnational entities and part of a larger global happening; and the struggles of renewal were linked to competing and contradictory ideas of collective, institutional identities. The work pivots on the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), but considers pre and post Vatican II social, cultural and religious events and social movements of the 1960s as influencers in these changes. It interrogates ‘lived experience’ by examining the day-to-day lives of women religious. Though rooted in the experiences of women religious in Britain, the book probes the relationships and interconnectivities between women religious within and across national divides as they move from institutions embedded in uniformity to the acceptance of cultural plurality. It also engages with the histories of the social movements of the long 1960s. For too long, religion has been relegated to its own silo, unlinked to the ‘radical sixties’ and depicted as ultimately obstructionist to its social movements. To contest this, female religious life is examined as a microcosm of change in the Catholic Church pointing to the ‘new thinking and freer lifestyles’ that allowed for the questioning of institutional cultures.

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’s working-class mothers prayed with their rosary beads ‘in church, home, on the street, in shops or queues, almost anywhere’.3 These accounts illustrate that lay Irish women came to represent faith and nation in the modern age. They testify to the central positions that lay women held in the religious worlds of nineteenth and twentieth-century Ireland even as they document both changes and continuities in how women practiced their faith from the post-famine decades to 1950. In the immediate aftermath of the Great Famine, the Irish Catholic Church remained institutionally

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950
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cleaving between personal Catholic religiosities and the processes of the body represented a significant contraction in the ethical territory occupied by Catholic beliefs. The Catholic Church made its bed in the 1960s – of those who continue to lie in this bed, few chose to have sex in it. Certain historians have been eager to dismiss any conclusions that faintly hint at the ‘secularisation thesis’, but

in The Pope and the pill
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6 7 Edward R. Norman, The English Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 2. Robert J. Klaus, The Pope, the Protestants, and the Irish: Papal Aggression and Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Nineteenth Century England (London: Garland Publishing, 1987), p. 228. On 29 September 1850, Pope Pius IX reestablished the English Catholic hierarchy, a canonical form of church government which included a hierarchy of bishops who had episcopal authority over clergy and laity. Frank H. Wallis, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid

in Contested identities
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priests.6 3 4 5 6 Anthony Fahey, ‘Female Asceticism in the Catholic Church: A Case-Study of Nuns in Ireland in the Nineteenth Century’, doctoral thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982, p. 154. Salvation was a prominent theme in many religious denominations during the nineteenth century; Salvationists, evangelicals and nonconformists all saw their efforts towards salvation as an important component of their spirituality. Robert J. Klaus, The Pope, the Protestants, and the Irish: Papal Aggression and AntiCatholicism in Mid-Nineteenth Century England

in Contested identities