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Sex, Catholicism and women in post-war England
Author: David Geiringer

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.

Carmen Mangion

significance of capitalism, consumption and individualism, stability, family and comfort had their place in Britain’s ideal of modernity. 19 And, of course, ambiguity and uncertainty were also the hallmarks of modernity. 20 It is something of a truism to claim that the transition to modernity was also a transition to secularisation. But scholars are challenging this dominant perspective. Charles Taylor has refuted the ‘subtraction model’ of modernity, instead explaining modernity as ‘a movement from one constellation of background understanding to another’. 21 The authors

in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
Abstract only
David Geiringer

Catholic women animates a new set of questions about religion, sex and power. Scholars have already moved beyond asking questions which assume that sex and religion were diametrically opposed in the post-war decades. Historians of religion have been roundly warned against falling back on the lingering assumptions of a once totemic ‘secularisation’ theory. Conversely, historians of sexuality have been

in The Pope and the pill
Abstract only
Carmen Mangion

Vatican II , which situates Europe’s liberal Catholicism within the long 1960s. 61 These works address the politicisation and radicalisation of Catholics, particular Catholic laity and clergy, but hardly acknowledge the efforts of male and female religious. 62 In addition, this ‘Europe’ often does not include Britain. A ‘secular age’ is often discussed as a by-product of the radical 1960s, and secularisation dominates the histories of religion of post-war Britain. 63 In his interpretation of Rowntree and Lavers’s study, historian Alan D. Gilbert finds a continuity

in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
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Carmen Mangion

shifted from the formal to the relational, though not without personal and generational tensions. As the nun entered the world and the world entered the cloister, the sacred world of the convent and monastery became more in sync with the modern world and women religious, as religious in a secularising world in their turn sacralised modernity. The emphasis on social justice and liberation theology of the 1970s (along with declining numbers) encouraged new ministries and altered old ministries, often through experimentation by individual sisters. Becoming a woman was not

in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
Abstract only
David Geiringer

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
David Geiringer

centrality of gender to discussions about and within contemporary Catholicism. 3 Unlike Brown’s ‘secularising’ sample, the interview participants for this project all identified as Catholic believers in one way or another. Of course, this ‘Catholic’ identity meant different things to different interviewees. There will be no attempt to judge the ‘legitimacy’ of the interviewees’ claims to Catholicism; their

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

processes. Harry Cocks has called for the history of modernity as a simple story of secularisation to be reshaped in light of such examples, with his own work showing how early scientific efforts to understand the psychology of sex were informed by religious impetuses. 52 By the 1960s, this dialogue often saw the Church positioned as the counterpoint to secular sexual expertise, but there were also points

in The Pope and the pill
David Geiringer

transformatory social and cultural setting of the 1960s, but would contend that it was inescapably bound up with the rejection of religious commitment – it is a life story reserved for secularising, ‘modern’ individuals. The interviewees’ testimonies represented a clear and often-expressed refutation of Brown’s indictment. 10 At the heart of all but five interviews was a story of emancipatory personal change. The

in The Pope and the pill
Cara Delay

-world circumstances as well as an embracing of the feminine divine. Indeed, across late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe, Marian apparitions expressed cultural upheaval and opposition to change. In twentieth-century Ireland, apparitions of the Virgin were a form of resistance in that they served to oppose secularisation.32 Similarly, anthropologist Edith Turner claims that older Irish women’s consistent fidelity to the Knock shrine serves as a statement of their stubborn commitment to their faith in a rapidly modernising and secularising world.33 Women not only

in Irish women and the creation of modern Catholicism, 1850–1950