The Politics of Spirituality: A Study of a Renewal Process in an English Diocese

The Politics of Spirituality: A Study of a Renewal Process in an English Diocese

The Politics of Spirituality: A Study of a Renewal Process in an English Diocese

The Politics of Spirituality: A Study of a Renewal Process in an English Diocese


This book provides the first in-depth case study of "Renew," a pastoral program of religious revitalization originated in the United States in 1976 and now widely adopted throughout the Roman Catholic world. Initiated from the top down in a hierarchically-structured church, it can be seen as an example of clerical attempts to stimulate and control lay spirituality in a controlled manner. The authors look at the history of organizations within the Roman Catholic Church and the effects of modernity on religious practice. The work will be of special interest to sociologists and students of the sociology of religion, as well as students of theology and religious studies.


You will learn the truth and the truth will make you free (John 8: 32)

In the summer of 1988 a group of social scientists in the Surrey University Religious Research Group decided to undertake an investigation of the renew programme which was due to commence in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Downlands in the coming October. renew was an American programme for parish renewal and Downlands was the first diocese in England to adopt it. As social scientists we felt a certain obligation to study this major pastoral innovation on our own patch. the three of us who pursued this study for nearly six years have all been involved, in one way or another, in the religious life and activities of this diocese. But nobody asked us to undertake the study and, apart from a small grant from an anonymous donor (to whom we extend our grateful thanks), which facilitated some interviewing in the course of our research, our study was unfunded and without sponsorship. It has been a piece of opportunistic research undertaken because, as social scientists, we believe that it is our responsibility to investigate major social processes in the society in which we live, work, and worship.

Without substantial resources we were inevitably limited in the range and types of research we could undertake. We were not, for example, in a position to set up a large survey programme. What we could do was undertake a considerable amount of participant observation in our own parishes and at deanery and diocesan events. This inevitably led us to concentrate on the processes which had led to the decision to adopt renew in the first place, describe the 2½-year 'process', report on the experiences of a wide range of Catholics in the diocese, and offer an account of the whole exercise of organizational renewal and revitalization.

What started out as a study of a specific pastoral innovation, however, led us in time to see our research as one example of a much wider range of attempts to revitalize religion, not only in the contemporary world, but also historically. Thus, the final outcome of our study was an attempt to conceptualize initiatives to promote different types of spiritualities. Two dimensions, in particular, emerged as having crucial importance. First, we began to see that who controls . . .

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