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.

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.

Catholic women religious in nineteenth-century England and Wales

Roman Catholic women's congregations are an enigma of nineteenth century social history. Over 10,000 women, establishing and managing significant Catholic educational, health care and social welfare institutions in England and Wales, have virtually disappeared from history. In nineteenth-century England, representations of women religious were ambiguous and contested from both within and without the convent. This book places women religious in the centre of nineteenth-century social history and reveals how religious activism shaped the identity of Catholic women religious. It is devoted to evolution of religious life and the early monastic life of the women. Catholic women were not pushed into becoming women religious. On the basis of their available options, they chose a path that best suited their personal, spiritual, economic and vocational needs. The postulancy and novitiate period formed a rite of passage that tested the vocation of each aspirant. The book explores the religious activism of women religious through their missionary identity and professional identity. The labour of these women was linked to their role as evangelisers. The book deals with the development of a congregation's corporate identity which brought together a disparate group of women under the banner of religious life. It looks specifically at class and ethnicity and the women who entered religious life, and identifies the source of authority for the congregation and the individual sister.

Abstract only
Selected Latin works in translation

John Wyclif (d. 1384) was among the leading schoolmen of fourteenth-century Europe. He was an outspoken controversialist and critic of the church, and, in his last days at Oxford, the author of the greatest heresy that England had known. This volume offers translations of a representative selection of his Latin writings on theology, the church and the Christian life. It offers a comprehensive view of the life of this charismatic but irascible medieval theologian, and of the development of the most prominent dissenting mind in pre-Reformation England. This collection will be of interest to undergraduate and graduate students of medieval history, historical theology and religious heresy, as well as scholars in the field.

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.

Abstract only

Victorian England’, master’s thesis, Birkbeck College, University of London, 2000. 9 The Tablet (23 February 1850), p. 123. 10 Philip Ingram, ‘Protestant Patriarchy and the Catholic Priesthood in Nineteenth Century England’, Journal of Social History, 24 (1991), 783–97 (p. 783). 11 Diana Peschier, Nineteenth-Century Anti-Catholic Discourses: The Case of Charlotte Brontë (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2005); Katherine DeMartini Barrus, ‘“Putting Her Hand to the Plough”: Nuns and Sisters in Nineteenth-Century England’ (doctoral thesis, University of Albany, State University of New

in Contested identities
Abstract only

Introduction In the 1860s, a reporter from the Limerick Reporter and Tipperary Vindicator described the scene at a local holy well, where ‘[a] few poor women were fervently repeating their prayers and “going their rounds” about the well’.1 Several decades later, a special correspondent for the London Times observed an interesting phenomenon when he travelled to Ireland. At a mass in 1886, he wrote, a local man ‘had counted about 100 women in his parish chapel, but not a single man except himself’.2 By the 1930s and 1940s, according to oral histories, Dublin

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

-war religion, the focus will be on the way religious devotion worked along gendered lines. While there is a growing body of work on Christian masculinities in the twentieth century, the notion of ‘pious femininity’ remains a central building block in dominant models of religious decline. 2 Callum Brown’s oral-history research has demonstrated that expectations and experiences surrounding religiosity differed

in The Pope and the pill
Abstract only

on the previous thirty years and assess this history with greater detachment. This study examines the changes in religious life for women religious in Britain from 1945 to 1990, identifying how community and individual lives were altered. Though the project considers both secular and Catholic events that occurred in the post-war world, it pivots on the Second Vatican Council, and considers pre- and post-Vatican II social, cultural and religious events and social movements as influencers in these changes. It frames the new ways of living religious life in two

in Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age
Abstract only

’. The main subject of this book is, therefore, not sex or Catholicism in isolation, but the relationship between the two. 7 It is about the way this relationship was experienced by ‘ordinary’ men and women on an everyday basis – how they negotiated spiritual and sexual demands at a moment when the two seemed to be at odds with each other. An original oral history project, in which Margaret was one of twenty-seven Catholics

in The Pope and the pill