Today marks the official release of my first authored book, Catholic Activism Today: Individual Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice (NYU 2020). It is a book about the various forces that have shaped Catholic civic engagement today into “discipleship groups,” and the assets and liabilities of these small groups in producing social change. These discipleship groups are very personalist and are characterized by five distinctive features: transformation, Christ-centeredness, community, outreach, and compassion. It is a good read for sociologists of religion or social change, theologians who are concerned with Catholicism and public life or social ethics, as well as the “typical” American who wants to know what faith might have to do with civic life. I’ll share the back cover blurbs here:
“With empathic sensitivity to the twists and turns in individuals’ lives and their spiritual journeys, Maureen Day illuminates the centrality of Catholic faith and purposeful community in cultivating impactful civic engagement notwithstanding the structural forces that foster economic and social inequality. Using thoughtful interview and observation data, her gentle, yet rigorous, narrative persuades us that individuals’ everyday decisions and actions have a ripple effect in the crafting of a better, more morally authoritative, society.” ~Michele Dillon, Dean, College of Liberal Arts, University of New Hampshire
“Masterfully captures the contemporary relocation of Catholic activism from institution-building to personal transformation. Catholic Activism Today offers vital lessons for modern religious practice, the public role of Catholicism, and the dilemmas of individualism for enacting justice.” ~Tricia C. Bruce, author of Parish and Place: Making Room for Diversity in the American Catholic Church
“The hope among the leadership at JustFaith Ministries is that the caring and activism learned therein will ’ripple outward’ amid the everyday lives of its participants. Interestingly, it is just this sort of rippling that is so abundantly evident in Maureen Day’s thoughtful and engaging study. Flowing from her analysis of this discipleship-style organization come ever-widening insights regarding contemporary American Catholicism, the strategies and dilemmas associated with grassroots activism, and, undulating still further, the prospects of living meaningful, generative lives at a time when possibilities for doing so seem to be constricting. I hope this important book will find a readership proportionate to the impressively broad scope of its concerns.” ~Jerome P. Baggett, author of Sense of the Faithful: How American Catholics Live Their Faith
This has been the season of book reviews! Closing out this season America has just published my review of an excellent book that examines the recent history of American Catholic activism. Sharon Erickson Nepstad continues to “do it again,” with books that bring readers insights on religion and activism. Catholic Social Activism: Progressive Movements in the United States (NYU 2019) brings the readers into the changes and efforts made by the laity and hierarchy on issues of gender, the environment, the Central American peace movement and more. The whole book examines the interplay between the laity and hierarchy on each of these topics; sometimes they work together, sometimes their efforts are more parallel and at times they are at loggerheads. Nepstad closes the book by connecting these efforts to broader ideas on understanding Catholic social change. The book is one of those that is great for classroom or a parish book group, and I note the multiple-audience appeal in my review:
The rigor and breadth of Nepstad’s research and analysis makes this an excellent book for academic courses. Yet the page-turning readability also makes it valuable for everyday Catholics who look to deepen their understanding of Catholic social teaching and how our church has enacted it.
The Wabash Center Journal on Teaching has just published my review of the edited collection Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities: Exploring Institutional Pathways in Context (Brill 2018). Appropriately spearheaded by a global team (Hans de Wit, Andrés Bernasconi, Visnja Car, Fiona Hunter, Michael James, and Daniela Véliz), this book uses case studies to examine the ways various institutions in Catholic higher ed have navigated questions and challenges surrounding identity and internationalization. It is a book that would provide insights on Catholic identity for a number of institutions, as I note in my review:
Identity and Internationalization in Catholic Universities is indispensable not only for those in leadership in Catholic higher education, but also for those leading Catholic schools, hospitals, nonprofits, networks, Bishops conferences, and other organizations that seek to make a distinctly Catholic impact in an increasingly global and pluralist world.
Social Forces has just published my review of Beyond Betrayal: The Priest Sex Abuse Crisis, The Voice of the Faithful, and the Process of Collective Identity (University of Chicago Press 2019). This book, written by Drs. Patricia Ewick and the late Marc W. Steinberg, explores a single Voice of the Faithful affiliate for ten years. For those unfamiliar, Voice of the Faithful is a group that began following the discovery of clerical sexual abuse of minors and its subsequent coverup. Ewick and Steinberg’s long-haul study allows us to see the ways the group does identity work as they encounter victories and setbacks in their work for justice and healing. Beyond the content itself, the book is a wonderful contribution to the literature on theories of narrative; I’m especially appreciative of this as this in an understudied field within sociology. To share a piece of my review:
Beyond Betrayal is a masterfully written book that dives deeply into the minds of individual activists to see the ways they make sense not only of their activism, but also their very selves. This book is sure to invite new questions on meaning and the role of narratives in social life. It is a must-read for scholars in the areas of social movements, identity, emotion, small groups, or framing and would be very useful for those who lead small groups trying to foment social change.
My Featured Review Essay of The Twenty-something Soul (OUP 2019) just came out in Sociology of Religion. Authors Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley do an excellent job of providing the reader with a clear understanding of the social and religious characteristics of today’s Mainline Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical and unaffiliated twenty-somethings. The book uses both survey data and interviews to look at religious and nonreligious twenty-somethings’ commitments and challenges, providing many insights. It is a great book for both scholars and ministers, as I close my review by writing:
[T]hrough its clear presentation of the findings and insightful analysis, this is a timely book that answers questions in both the public and academic minds. The Twentysomething Soul is an exciting new addition to the sociological literature on religion and young adults and is a must-read for those working in campus or young adult ministry.
I just wanted to offer my services during this time. I, like many other speakers, had several events canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 precautions. Initially I saw this as the only feasible option. However, now that universities, dioceses and other institutions are closing down for unspecified lengths of time and my homestate of California has issued a “shelter in place” order, I think we need to get creative. I’m happy to help keep ideas going–even amid our isolation–through online meetings and presentations. Let me know if this could be a helpful option for your organization at this time.
For those of you who teach courses on Catholicism, religion and public life, social change, small groups or other topics, your job just got easier. The instructor’s guide for Catholic Activism Today is now published on the NYU website, filled with chapter summaries, discussion questions and lesson plans. Hopefully it makes your adoption of this book all the more seamless. The book will be out in June 2020.
Many thanks to the researchers at Georgetown University’s CARA for covering my paper on Latinx Catholic parish stewardship in The CARA Report. Based on interviews with pastors and Hispanic Catholics, this study fills an important gap in the literature on Latinx Catholic giving: We have established that Hispanic Catholics give less than other ethnic and racial groups, but we don’t know why. And if we don’t know why, parishes and dioceses are unable to respond. This paper uncovers the why and concludes by suggesting better practices. The full paper was accepted by American Catholic Studies and I’ll be sure to post it here once it is published. Thanks to CARA’s coverage, a few dioceses and Catholic organizations have reached out to me for the paper and we’re working on getting that accessible soon!
Thank you, CARA, for helping sociologists of Catholicism get our work into the hands of those who can put it to good use! Also, thank you to Villanova University’s Center for Church Management for funding this project!
It was great fun opening the latest season of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association’s podcast with Dr. Mike St. Pierre. Aside from learning about my childhood fascination with human behavior <wink>, you’ll get a great summary of some of the major items covered in my recent qualitative study of Catholic campus ministers (so if you can’t squeeze in the read, download and enjoy it on your commute!).