I would like to invite you to the virtual launch of Catholic Activism Today: Individual Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice (NYU Press 2020). The launch is sponsored by the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at the University of San Diego and will be held over Zoom on Tuesday, October 6th, at 2pm Pacific Time. You can get more information, including how to register, on this flyer.
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’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:
- Americans don’t talk much about abortion.
- Survey statistics oversimplify Americans’ abortion attitudes.
- Position labels are imprecise substitutes for actual views toward abortion.
- Abortion talk concerns as much what happens before and after as it does abortion itself.
- Americans ponder a “good life” as much as they do “life.”
- Abortion is not merely political to everyday Americans, but intimately personal.
- Americans don’t “want” abortion.
Read the full report to learn more!
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
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.
As promised in the last post, you can now read the final version of the national qualitative study of Catholic campus ministers. This study emerged from conversations around the 2017 survey (that report can be found here); we had lots of questions come up at the Notre Dame symposium. Thanks to the research team (I took the role of PI, Dr. Linda Kawentel is co-author and co-PI, and Dr. Brian Starks was also on the team) and the 45 campus ministers we interviewed, we were able to discern some answers as well as suggest some better practices. Our deep thanks to these ministers as well as the USCCB and the Religious Research Association for providing the funding that made this work possible.
The University of San Diego graciously invited me to contribute to their annual Advent Calendar and Reflection Series. It has been a personal joy to enter into these reflections for the liturgical season. I will paste my Fourth Sunday reflection below:
For those in the northern hemisphere, yesterday marked the darkest day of the year. And today we enter the fourth Sunday of Advent, when our wreath shines at its brightest.
Light changes things. It allows us to see things we were not able to previously, giving us a fuller picture of our reality.
Looking briefly at our previous Sunday readings, in the first week, we are exhorted to realize the immediacy of Christ’s coming. In the second Sunday, we hear themes of repentance, right relationship and social justice. Last Sunday focused on signs, reversal, and the restoration of what is broken. These are big.
Today’s Gospel presents a bit of a contrast. For nothing is too small for God.
Instead of great social reforms, healing miracles and anticipations of signs, we have a humbler situation. Joseph – like all of us – trying to do the right thing in a complicated situation.
And with – like all of us – incomplete information.
Based upon what he knew, the good, right and merciful thing to do was to quietly divorce Mary. But that evening, under the darkness of night, Joseph’s world was illuminated. In a beautiful contrast to other Sundays’ miraculous healings and great signs, Joseph’s reality did not change. The world he woke up to was exactly the same as the one he went to bed with. Instead, he saw the fullness of his situation, changing the way he understood reality and his place in it.
Which invites us to contemplate in these last days of Advent: What of God’s love, glory and goodness am I failing to see? Where does God already dwell in my world? I am the last to tell you that God is not in the shiny ribbons, family traditions and favorite recipes you might be scrambling to ready. In fact, in the generosity, kindness, love and belonging you’re extending, I know God is there. Let’s take the time to see God’s active presence in all things so that we, like Joseph, might understand our reality in a whole new way.
I offer three main insights. The first is on “being,” that both Franciscans and young adults are characterized by “expressive authenticity that seeks belonging.” The second is on “doing,” specifically that both of these groups realize the importance of storytelling as a meaning-making activity. Finally, the heart of young adult ministry should not be guided by a commitment to minister “to” or even “with,” but to joyfully encounter.
You can read more on this here.
Excited to give you a sneak peek of my forthcoming book, Catholic Activism Today: Individual Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice. This book, like all books, is the fruit of many years of research, analysis and writing. and provides the reader with a clear sense of what animates Catholic civic engagement today.
In brief, I argue that American Catholic engagement was previously done through Catholic groups or organizations typically organized at the parish level. Today, Catholics who seek to be civically engaged as Catholics do so through what I call “discipleship groups,” in which they are gathered for spiritual formation and then engage a wide variety of issues as individuals. There are five core values that animate discipleship groups: transformation, Christ-centeredness, community, outreach, and compassion. You can learn more about it on the NYU website.
Hope you find it a fun read in June 2020!