Sacred vows and social actions

Date of Completion

January 1999


Religion, History of|Anthropology, Cultural|History, Church




This study analyzes the basic monastic contradictions that exist between sacred vows and social actions among cloistered Catholic nuns. These contradictions result from directed change by the Church in its search to find better ways to supervise the activities of religious women. What the Church determines as a better way for nuns to live together in the cloister is often paradoxical to what the nuns believe to be in their best interest. This dissertation examines the catalysts for monastic deviance that stem from deep-rooted issues of authority and gender that exist in the Catholic Church. How and why this issue became a point of contention in an institution where women accept the external control of the Church as a condition for membership is a focal point of this study. ^ Identifying the fundamental contradictions that exist between the convent and the Church is essential to understand the social problems existing in conventual communities. Because of these contradictions, social dynamics found in both fixed and flexible membership organizations are represented in conventual communities. Tönnies, Coser, Plotnicov and others provide the principles of our knowledge of fixed and flexible membership groups. However, their studies do not investigate the gray areas where the two social categories temporarily blur or suggest a tenuous assimilation. This dissertation uses the convent serves as a model to examine this nebulous realm where a community vacillates between the opposed membership groups. This tenuous union generates a tension generated that has an impact on social action in the convent and in its relationship to the Church. This study also suggests that this tension is healthy for a functional monastic community. Finally, this investigation of female monasticism shows that the existence of the contradictions resulting from Church directives, primarily the reforms of the Council of Trent (1563), might provide the optimal structure for nuns to enact the conventual life. ^