Reese, Abbie. Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns – Review

Reese, Abbie. Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. 272 pages. $38.50 CND (Hardcover.)

Dedicated to God is a monograph which seeks to give voice to the normally cloistered women of the Poor Clare Colettine Order at the Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, Illinois. Weaved together from interviews conducted over nearly a decade of field-work, Reese constructs a detailed oral history of the lives these women lived before entering the order, the nuns they became once they took their vows, and the 14-acre world away from the world in which they collectively inhabit. Reese divides her monograph into three main parts, with each part containing two or more chapters which she labels with intriguing titles such as “The Claustrophobic Nun”, “Monastic Living in a Throwaway Culture” and “The Suffering Servants”. While her titles suggest that she may be linking individual stories to larger themes she uncovered during her investigation, they unfortunately often refer to small – and sometimes inconsequential – details, rather than larger themes in the collective or individual lives of these nuns. For example, “The Claustrophobic Nun” is not a chapter elaborating on the cramped, constricted microcosmic view of the convent, nor how it translates into a wider theme of transcending these boundaries through their devotion to God; rather, it simply refers to the fact that Sister Mary Nicolette is claustrophobic.

Separating her chapters are sections Reese labels “Called”. In each of these sections, she includes first-person narratives from the nuns, recounting the callings they received that caused them to join the order. Curiously, the majority of her primary chapters already contain similar stories about these nuns and how they came to enter into the order. The one apparent difference between the chapters and these sections is that instead of recounting their stories in the third person from her (the author’s) perspective, the flow switches into the first person and is told in the words of the nuns themselves. Rather than break up the flow of her larger narrative and the collective oral history of this order to give the reader a moment to reflect, these sub-chapters comes across as addendums. As such, it is truly commendable that she was able to build such a rapport with these nuns and maintain it for such a lengthy period of time. The mere accumulation of so much primary ethnographic material, this work is staggering.

By the end of the monograph, instead of leaving room for the reader to marvel at the ability of these women to live cloistered, silent lives, these women come across as fairly social, and normal, humans. Perhaps that is part of Reese’s mission, to smash whatever stereotypes one may have had walking in, to break the silence and prove to the world that these women are human with their own sets of desires, fears and quirks. Nevertheless, her conclusions cause this reviewer to wonder who exactly her intended audience was when she began composing this monograph. Is she directing this piece towards casual audiences or scholars? The casual reader will likely find a stirring read in these pages, but if scholars, not all fields will find the same cause for excitement in these pages. For the oral historian, this monograph adds a volume primary ethnographic material to the record. For scholars of religion, however, Dedicated to God offers very little theory or analysis for the academic reader to engage with, and Reese includes very little discussion of her method and means to which she was able to enter into this exclusive circle. As well, there is a conspicuous lack of footnotes and references to other scholarly works and her remark that she was able to gain the trust of these women by “demonstration [her] rigor” is cryptic at best. Perhaps a more in-depth examination of material culture, performances, collective story-telling and authorship without words would have been a welcome inclusion, but this monograph comes across as more of a recounting, a retelling or unveiling, than a formal academic investigation. Regardless, the first person interviews from her “Called” segments offer intriguing and insightful glances into the lives of these women who chose to become cloistered nuns and, even though at times they may not be the most talented storytellers, their words could surely be of some use to other scholars pursuing case studies or ethnographic work of their own. As such, one can’t help but feel that there is still quite a bit of unearthing to be done inside this “cultural time capsule”.

 

Sexed Religion – Call for Papers 2015-2016

Concordia’s Graduate Journal of Religion and Culture (JRC) is seeking articles and book reviews submissions for its 2015-2016 edition.

The edition is tentatively titled “Sexed Religion: Exploring Religious constructs of Gender and Sexuality” and we will be accepting a broad range of topics for consideration, both within and outside of the field of religion, that deal with sex and gender.

This is a peer reviewed journal, and offers up and coming scholars a great opportunity to get their original work published and out there in the field.

If interested, please review the CFP Guidelines or Submit your paper.

Catch you at AGIC – March 5th 2015

Drop by our booth Thursday March 5th 2015 at AGIC – Concordia University’s Annual Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference hosted by the Department of Religion.

The JRC booth will be easy to spot – just look for the booth of well dressed people next to the reception table. Seriously, we plan on being the best dressed people there.

We’ve got a bit of swag to give away, so if you love stickers and business cards (who doesn’t) come take a handful.

We will also be looking to recruit new editors and readers for our Spring 2016 edition – Sexed Religion.

The conference will be taking place from 8:00AM onward on the 7th Floor of the Hall Building.

Upcoming Publication: Then and Now

The upcoming 25th edition of the JRC “Then and Now” is in the final stages of preparation before publication. We are currently on track for a Spring 2015 release, both via the web and in print copy.

We will be aiming for a limited 1st run of 100 print copies. Complimentary copies will be provided to all authors and contributors, as well as Montreal University libraries.

Remaining copies will be available for purchase. Prices TBD.

If you are interested in reserving a copy, please contact our editorial team and let them know as soon as possible.

Call for Papers: Sexed Religion

Exploring Religious Constructs of Gender and Sexuality

Sexed Religion is our upcoming edition tentatively scheduled for Spring 2016. In this edition, we will be exploring bodies, the things they do and the language that defines them in the context of religion and culture.

We’re interested in research that breaks binaries, and isn’t afraid to put its hands in places where researchers normally wouldn’t.

We will be seeking submissions from all relevant fields (religion, theology, gender studies, anthropology, history, etc.). Papers can focus on any tradition, time period or particular issue surrounding gender and sexuality.

Some submission ideas we’re particularly interested in, include:

  • Case studies on saints and other figures
  • Intersections of Art, Religion and Gender
  • Changing perceptions of Gender and Sexuality
  • Comparative studies in Gender and sexuality
  • Alternate readings of familiar texts
  • Queer theory and its application
  • Desire, erotic longing and naughty divinities

Submission due date for completed papers is August 1st 2015. Please review our submission guidelines carefully before submitting.

How to Sign Up

If you are interested in this CFP, please submit your paper.

JRC New Website

The JRC is pleased to announce the launch of its new website JRC-CONCORDIA.CA.

This new site was built from the ground up using WORDPRESS in order to facilitate distribution, management and publication of our academic journal. We hope that you, our readers, will also find the new site a vast improvement over the clunkiness of the old one.

Please note the following:

1) We will continue to house our journal, along with its past online editions, at

http://artsciweb.concordia.ca/ojs/index.php/jrc/index/

However, we will slowly migrate our old editions onto this site for ease of use, as well as publishing our upcoming editions here at JRC-CONCORDIA.CA

2) We have made a number of changes to the way we handle and accept submissions. We have simplified the registration and submission process. Papers can now be submitted without long form registration. Simply head to our Submission Page and fill out the form and attach your submission.

3) Please be sure to sign up for our Mailing List to hear about all upcoming CFPs and other calls.