Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Educating the Faithful: Religion, Schooling, and Society in Nineteenth-Century France

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Educating the Faithful: Religion, Schooling, and Society in Nineteenth-Century France

Article excerpt

Educating the Faithful: Religion, Schooling, and Society in Nineteenth-Century France. By Sarah A. Curtis. (De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 2000. Pp. xii, 255. $38.00.)

The current historiography of nineteenth-century French education, Sarah Curtis informs us, includes more myth than reality. In her study of congregational schools in the diocese (it should be archdiocese) of Lyon from 1801 to 1905, Curtis claims to correct the mythology by showing that congregational schools were dynamic agents of social, cultural, and religious change that helped spawn a modernized France.

Curtis' book is divided into two parts, the first of which explains how and why a congregational school system worked. She argues that congregational education largely succeeded because of three factors: personnel was plentiful, they taught for next to nothing, and the schools themselves derived much of their funding from affluent Catholics instead of a fiscally beleaguered state. The author also describes Catholic pedagogy in this part, showing that perhaps the most valuable congregational contribution was instilling the mental discipline and physical control so necessary in a modern society.

The second part discusses "Catholic schooling on the defensive," meaning the struggles of congregational schools during the Third Republic. Curtis explains that congregations often met the new challenges that republican politicians imposed upon them, above all the requirement that instructors possess a brevet de capacite. However, she also contends that the laws forced Catholic schooling to become more centralized, thus shifting power over them away from congregations and toward the church hierarchy and prominent lay people. The author adds that while many members of teaching congregations left the country or the orders themselves after passage of the associations laws in 1901 and 1904, many other religious discarded their habits, continued their teaching in Catholic schools, and lived out their vows clandestinely. …

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