The Nun as Called by God: Psychological Implications in a Sample of Nuns in Australia/New Zealand

By Megan P. Brock.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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In its documents, the Catholic Church constructs the identity of the Nun in terms of her being called by God, emphasising that she is to be a prophetic witness to the Church and to the world. Although the Church’s Second Vatican Council in the mid 1960s brought about changes in the material practices of their lives, Nuns are still positioned by the Church as called by God to sacrifice their lives, their sexual desires/fulfillment, and their economic independence for the benefit of the Church. Subject to patriarchal institutional authority, they are represented as called to devote themselves totally and single-mindedly to God and the Church’s work. In this paper, the notion of being called by God is contextualised in the lives of a sample of Nuns in Australia/New Zealand, and interpreted from a psychological perspective. It draws on a qualitative research study which applies feminist and Foucauldian discourse analysis to Church documents relating to Nuns’ lives, exploring data from interviews with 43 Nuns, examining ways in which they take up and resist the notion of being called by God. There are psychological consequences for Nuns positioning themselves as either compliant with or resistant to this notion, particularly in the context of diminishing numbers and ageing both in Orders and the Church, of lack of visibility, and of perceived lack of credibility in Church and society. While challenges encountered in responding to God’s call are described by the Church as intrinsic to their lives of self-sacrifice, individual Nuns give accounts of negotiating significant health and well-being issues such as isolation, depression and loss of meaning in their experience of being women called by God.

Keywords: Catholic Nuns, Patriarchy, Identity, Resistance, Prophetic

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 3, 2012, pp.87-96. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 292.154KB).

Dr. Megan P. Brock

Psychologist, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Dr. Megan Brock has been a practising Psychologist for over 20 years and has taught in the School of Psychology at the University of Western Sydney. She is also a member of a Congregation of Religious Sisters founded in Australia. She has worked extensively with religious women and men both clinically and in consultancy work. This paper draws on her PhD research titled: “Force of Habit: the construction and negotiation of subjectivity in Catholic Nuns.” Papers on this research have been presented at international conferences in the UK, the USA, France, New Zealand and Australia, Canada, and at the 2007 Australian Psychological Society Conference.