Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age

Britain, 1945–90

Author: Carmen Mangion

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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‘Catholic Nuns and Sisters in a Secular Age, Britain 1945-90 adopts an innovative approach to the exploration of the lived experience of Catholic women religious in this period. Their experience is considered as part of a movement, organised for social change. This is related to other social movements of the time. A significant contribution to British social and cultural history, it adds a gendered and religious perspective to the understanding of social movements which emerged in the mid-twentieth century. […] The result is a landmark publication. ’
History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland
July 2020

‘‘Mangion’s impressive volume seeks to dispel the notion that religious communities were separate from, and out of touch with, the wider world…. Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age is a most welcome addition to the existing historiography which will undoubtedly inspire and encourage further research.’’
Grace Heaton
Reviews in History
August 2020

‘Mangion skilfully deploys the stories of individual women religious to map the institutional changes taking place around them… [She] brings the women to life, revealing their hopes and fears, their humanity, how the ordinary can become extraordinary… An accessible book that achieves its aims and should have a wide appeal.’’
Dianne Kirby
Socialist History

‘‘A significant contribution to British social and cultural history, it adds a gendered and religious perspective to the understanding of social movements which emerged in the mid-twentieth century… The result is a landmark publication.’’
Maria Patricia Williams
History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland
June 2020

‘‘An inspiration in its originality and rigour, and a pleasure to read, Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age is a major and progressive contribution to academic work on modern women religious.’’
Flora Derounian
British Catholic History
October 2020

‘‘Mangion’s book is a fascinating addition to the literature, and can be highly recommended to everyone interested in twentieth-century British women’s history, the British sixties and postwar western Christianity.’’
Sam Brewitt-Taylor
Women’s History Review
November 2020

‘‘Mangion’s book is a major contribution to the under-researched history of lived religion and will quickly be recognised as a landmark study for all historians of twentieth-century Catholicism.’’
Naomi Rich
Twentieth Century British History
November 2020

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