- Religious Institutes and Catholic Culture in 19th- and 20th-Century Europe ed. by Urs Altermatt, Jan De Maeyer, and Franziska Metzger
The title of this volume of eleven contributions by eleven authors is exact and informative, once the meaning of “Religious Institutes” becomes clear. The term refers to congregations and orders of religious sisters, brothers, and priests. Most of the essays, all in English, treat the intellectual or broader cultural influence of these religious institutions in their different settings. They treat cases in Belgium and Switzerland, the home countries of the editors, as well as France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. In their framing pieces, Altermatt and Metzger suggest that historians and sociologists of Catholicism have not yet uncovered the broader significance and implications of these foundations for the shape and nature of modern European Catholicism. Left unspoken is the relevance to comparative church history of North America.
The individual essays will be of interest not only to specialists in the national history of the countries treated and to connoisseurs of specific congregations but also to scholars of such fields as journals of opinion, education (especially convent schools), and retreats for forming a working-class elite. The volume is part of a larger undertaking housed principally in the KADOC series. Volume 2 of the series set the stage: Religious Institutes in Western Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Historiography, Research and Legal Position, edited by Jan de Maeyer, Sofie Leplae, and Jochim Schmiedl (2004). Students of religious history and cultural studies will find a wealth of careful scholarship and bibliography offered in these publications (cf. http://www.kadoc.kuleuven.be/relins/eu). Volume 11 in the series, The Economics of Providence, edited by Maarten Van Dijck, Jan de Maeyer, Jeffrey Tyssens, and Jimmy Koppen (2013), takes up a quite different angle: how these “institutes” financed themselves, as political economies changed.
Another focus of analysis is something quite new to this reviewer. Two articles in the collection deal with children’s literature “as lieu of the construction and [End Page 826] promulgation of Catholic identities, focusing on narratives and narrative modes as well as on the social historical questions of how and where, during the 19th and 20th centuries, this literature was produced” (p. 9). This work follows up on volume 3 of the same KADOC series: Religion, Children’s Literature and Modernity in Western Europe 1750–2000, edited by Jan De Maeyer (2005).
Based on the results achieved thus far, the participants in the “Relins” endeavor see their project also as promising in view of a more adequate understanding of religious developments in the second half of the twentieth century. One generalization that the individual studies as well as the framing essays by the editors sustain is that the religious congregations underwent the intense paradigm shift (some would say breakdown) that European Catholicism experienced in the same period. Again, another volume of the KADOC series (no. 6, 2010) offers corroboration: The Transformation of the Christian Churches in Western Europe 1945–2000, edited by Leo Kenis, Jaak Billiet, and Patrick Pasture. Academic libraries should acquire this series of important explorations for the use of students and researchers.