Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Rise and Decline of Catholic Religious Orders: A Social Movement Perspective

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Rise and Decline of Catholic Religious Orders: A Social Movement Perspective

Article excerpt

The Rise and Decline of Catholic Religious Orders: A Social Movement Perspective. By Patricia Wittberg, S.C. (Albany: The State University of New York Press. 1994. Pp. xii, 423. $19.95 paperback.)

Wittberg's is a thought-provoking analysis, from a sociological perspective, of cycles of growth and decline experienced over time by religious congregations in the Roman Catholic tradition. The author rightly points out parallels between religious congregations in the Church and expressions of communal living in other religious traditions such as the Shakers which have tended to monopolize the attention of sociologists in the past. There is a compelling urgency for sociologists to redirect their research toward Roman Catholic congregations-"the largest and most widespread representation of the communal religious lifestyle ever to exist in the United States or elsewhere"-at a time when declining membership threatens the extinction of this way of life.

Assisted by her training both as a religious (Sister of Charity) and as a sociologist,Wittberg fits religious community phenomena into sociological theory in a credible and highly readable fashion, viewing congregations as intentional communities or normative organizations; their growth cycles as social movements; factors and motivations supporting growth as resource mobilization; their dominant spirituality or ideology as frame alignment; their members, religious virtuosi; and their decline as resource deprivation and frame disalignment. …

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