I am the Assistant Professor of Religion and Society at the Franciscan School of Theology. I am also a Research Fellow at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Especially drawn to young adult ministry, I am a member of the Alliance for Campus Ministry, an advisory group to the USCCB’s Secretariat on Catholic Education. My previous appointments include Research Fellow at the Center for Church Management at Villanova University as well as the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. My writings on American Catholic life appear in both Catholic and academic publications, including Catholic Activism Today: Individual Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice (NYU Press 2020), as well as my edited collection, Young Adult American Catholics: Explaining Vocation in Their Own Words (Paulist Press 2018).
My review of Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II (OUP 2019) just came out in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Stephen Bullivant’s book is an excellent study of the ways wider Catholic social worlds in the United States and Britain changed over the 1900s. By demonstrating the various ways Catholics’ social ties and identity weakened, Bullivant paints a far richer picture of Catholic disaffiliation over the last generations than more reductionist schemas have proposed. It is relevant to several audiences, as I note in my review:
This book would prove useful to multiple audiences. Most obviously, it would appeal to historians, sociologists, and pastoral theologians of Catholicism. It also provides contributions to theories of disaffiliation as well as that of community and social networks. Insofar as religious disaffiliation is not unique to Catholicism, this book likewise provides insights for those who study exiting in other denominations or even in institutions more broadly. The book could likewise be very illuminating to Catholic leaders seeking to foster a greater sense of Catholic imagination in their parish or diocese.
I just got word that I was awarded a fellowship from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. The title of my project is “Integrating Teaching and Research to Foster Student Engagement: A Case in Ethics and Sociology.” I will be using the academic year to focus on bringing insights from social theory and ethics together for the Fundamental Moral Theology course I teach each Spring. I’m very excited to be revamping this core course! Thank you, Wabash, for all the support you offer faculty!
I’m very happy to share this article on the similarities and differences between professional campus ministers and missionaries (if you are unfamiliar with these terms, they are defined below). This is based on the data gathered from the 2019 national study of Catholic campus ministers, co-funded by the USCCB and the Religious Research Association. Our research team–Dr. Linda Kawentel, Dr. Brian Starks, and I–got to talk in-depth with 45 campus ministers across the country and my co-author, Dr. Kawentel, and I found some really interesting insights there for literature on framing. Thank you to Linda, the funders, Dr. Omar McRoberts (who gave feedback to an earlier draft of the paper), and the 45 ministers for all the work they do with young adults. Here is the abstract:
Scholars have explained many of the differences within the American Catholic population in terms of political division or polarization. Although Catholics are becoming increasingly politically bifurcated, to focus only on the political misses the specifically religious differences that also distinguish Catholics from one another. There have been substantial changes in the staffing of Catholic campus ministry in the last 20 years. To better understand these shifts and their implications for ministry, the Catholic bishops commissioned a survey of Catholic campus ministers in the United States. The survey answered some questions but raised others. A qualitative study that more deeply explored these questions was recommended. Using three “windows”—vocation, prayer and spirituality, and mission—this article explores the overlap and differences in frames of Catholicity among two types of Catholic campus ministers. Forty-five campus ministers from three geographic regions of the country were interviewed. Ten of these forty-five interviewees are “missionaries,” meaning they are recent college graduates who have obtained a several-week training from their missionary organization and are contracted to serve as a campus missionary for two years. Thirty-one of these are “professional ministers,” meaning they have a graduate degree in ministry and intend to have a long-term career in this field. Missionaries’ understandings of vocation, prayer and spirituality, and mission reveal that missionary-formed campus ministers operate out of a frame that emphasizes an individualist Catholicism. The professional ministers employ a frame that amplifies the communal aspects of Catholicism. These findings contribute theoretically to ideas in the framing literature, specifically in the fields of politics, emotions and identity. The way these frames might have an impact on ministry offerings and student formation are also discussed.
As I posted previously, I was on the research team for a national study of American abortion attitudes, along with Dr. Tricia Bruce (PI), Dr. Kendra Hutchens, Bridget Ritz, and Dr. Patricia Tevington. Funded my the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, the final report, How Americans Understand Abortion, authored by Bruce, has just been released. The report offers a thoughtful analysis of over 200 interviewees’ thoughts on the topic and helps us understand the ways people make moral sense of their personal and social worlds. To offer you a sneak peek, below are the seven major findings:
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.
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.