Special Issue "Exploring the Future of Christian Monasticisms"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 June 2019).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Greg Peters
Website
Guest Editor
Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639, USA
Interests: monasticism; history of spirituality; spiritual theology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The institution of Christian monasticism (or, perhaps more accurately, Christian monasticisms) is, in many ways, well studied. In general, the broad outlines of its rich and variegated history are understood, its sociological underpinnings have been explored, and those Christian churches that have monastic communities can provide theological rationale(s) for their existence. What is often overlooked, and perhaps only rarely discussed by “monastic insiders” (particularly in light of the declining number of monks), is the future of monasticism, at least from a constructive theological standpoint. That is, Christian monastic history is understood, and the historical theological foundations are common knowledge, but what will the future of Christian monasticism look like? Will it continue along the already tried and true ways of historic monasticism? Or will it undergo a radical reformulation to connect integrally to its predecessor while looking like an institution adapted to the twenty-first century?

Perhaps a more “traditional” way of speaking about this would be to ask the following question: Will the historic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (or, for Benedictines, stability, obedience, and fidelity to the monastic way of life) continue to form the foundation of Christian monasticism? Will monks and nuns continue to take life-long vows? Will they continue to live as celibates? Though there has been much experimentation in monastic living over the past fifteen years (e.g., the so-called “New Monastic” or “secular monastic” communities), many of these experiments have been criticized for being not so much monasticism per se as experiments in communal living. Thus, the following question still needs to be answered: What will the future of monasticism qua monasticism look like in the future?

To that end, this Special Edition of Religions seeks contributions that will look at the history, sociology, and theology of monasticism in order to formulate constructive suggestions for the future of the institution. Contributions will explore the nature of Christian monasticism in all its facets with the purpose of ressourcement: recovering for the future what can be learned from the monastic past.

Prof. Dr. Greg Peters
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • monasticism
  • religious life
  • history of monasticism
  • sociology of monasticism
  • theology of monasticism

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Introduction to the Special Issue “Exploring the Future of Christian Monasticisms”
Religions 2019, 10(12), 643; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10120643 - 21 Nov 2019
Abstract
The origins of Christian monasticism are buried deep in the shadows of Christian history, but without doubt it came to full fruition during the fourth century and continued to grow nearly unabated for the next millennium and a half [...] Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Future of Catholic Monasteries on New Monastic Continents: The Case of Africa
Religions 2019, 10(9), 513; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090513 - 04 Sep 2019
Abstract
Catholic monasticism in Europe is often associated with a crisis of vocations, of credibility and sometimes the question of closing down. Looking at monasteries outside Europe, especially in Asia and Africa, we observe a dynamic of new foundations and young entrants into the [...] Read more.
Catholic monasticism in Europe is often associated with a crisis of vocations, of credibility and sometimes the question of closing down. Looking at monasteries outside Europe, especially in Asia and Africa, we observe a dynamic of new foundations and young entrants into the communities. What are the challenges for monasteries in Africa in future decades? To what extent does monasticism experience a gravitational shift from Europe to other continents in the next thirty years? This article seeks to explore the challenges of African monastic communities now and in the future. The first part gives some demographic data which shows the dynamism of African monastic communities. The second part deals with the adaption of monastic life in the local environment; for instance, concerning the liturgy but also the role of the development of monastic communities. In the last part, I discuss the challenges of African monasticism, which is becoming autonomous from its European founders and developing more and more indigenous foundations. This article is based on field inquiries conducted in monastic communities in five countries in Africa between 2013 and 2019. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Beguine Option: A Persistent Past and a Promising Future of Christian Monasticism
Religions 2019, 10(9), 491; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090491 - 21 Aug 2019
Abstract
Since Herbert Grundmann’s 1935 Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, interest in the Beguines has grown significantly. Yet we have struggled whether to call Beguines “religious” or not. My conviction is that the Beguines are one manifestation of an impulse found throughout [...] Read more.
Since Herbert Grundmann’s 1935 Religious Movements in the Middle Ages, interest in the Beguines has grown significantly. Yet we have struggled whether to call Beguines “religious” or not. My conviction is that the Beguines are one manifestation of an impulse found throughout Christian history to live a form of life that resembles Christian monasticism without founding institutions of religious life. It is this range of less institutional yet seriously committed forms of life that I am here calling the “Beguine Option.” In my essay, I will sketch this “Beguine Option” in its varied expressions through Christian history. Having presented something of the persistent past of the Beguine Option, I will then present an introduction to forms of life exhibited in many of the expressions of what some have called “new monasticism” today, highlighting the similarities between movements in the past and new monastic movements in the present. Finally, I will suggest that the Christian Church would do well to foster the development of such communities in the future as I believe these forms of life hold much promise for manifesting and advancing the kingdom of God in our midst in a postmodern world. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Monasticism, Monotheism, and Monogamy: Past and Present Expressions of the Undivided Life
Religions 2019, 10(8), 489; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10080489 - 20 Aug 2019
Abstract
Monasticism first appeared in Christian tradition in the late third and early fourth centuries as a way to practice true religion. Soon after, it also became a way of eschewing the Church’s embrace of political power and the divided loyalties which accompanied that [...] Read more.
Monasticism first appeared in Christian tradition in the late third and early fourth centuries as a way to practice true religion. Soon after, it also became a way of eschewing the Church’s embrace of political power and the divided loyalties which accompanied that union. Contemporary expressions of monasticism in the Protestant tradition (often identified as new monasticism) have interpreted the mono (singularity) not as celibacy or living in a cloistered community, but as abandoning cultural promiscuity in order to live out a monogamous spirituality. Though each monastic community has its own distinct characteristics and context, one can identify two common markers which unite both contemporary expressions of monasticism and historical monastic communities: (1) monotheism or a singular devotion to God which is separate from political, societal, and economic ambitions, and (2) monogamy or a commitment to a particular community, neighborhood, and mission. This article explores ancient and contemporary expressions of monasticism by examining their guiding documents and looking for evidence of monotheism and monogamous spirituality. By giving fresh articulation to the mono in monasticism, we are better able to identify the heart of the undivided (monastic) life and discern its presence in reimagined forms. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Beyond Gender: Reflections on a Contemporary Case of Double Monastery in Orthodox Monasticism—St. John the Baptist Monastery of Essex in England
Religions 2019, 10(8), 453; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10080453 - 26 Jul 2019
Abstract
This paper focuses on the contemporary controversy in the Orthodox Church regarding the non-existence of the monasteries, where monks and nuns cohabit (so-called “double-monasteries”), which were prohibited by the Byzantine legislation and the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea 787). The article attempts to demonstrate [...] Read more.
This paper focuses on the contemporary controversy in the Orthodox Church regarding the non-existence of the monasteries, where monks and nuns cohabit (so-called “double-monasteries”), which were prohibited by the Byzantine legislation and the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea 787). The article attempts to demonstrate that, in spite of the centuries-old prohibition, the Orthodox Monastery of St. John the Baptist is an exceptional contemporary case of such cohabitation: monks and nuns live under the roof of the same monastery, sharing common places and certain activities. Furthermore, the paper envisions a possible accommodation in the monastic vision and practice regarding gender cohabitation in Orthodox monasticism. The research employs the historical-critical method, which is based on literary, archeological, and documentary sources, as well as interviews. Full article
Open AccessArticle
The ‘Greening’ of Christian Monasticism and the Future of Monastic Landscapes in North America
Religions 2019, 10(7), 432; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070432 - 16 Jul 2019
Abstract
Christian monasticism has an ancient land-based foundation. The desert fathers and later reform movements appealed to the land for sustenance, spiritual metaphor, and as a marker of authentic monastic identity. Contemporary Roman Catholic monastics with this history in mind, have actively engaged environmental [...] Read more.
Christian monasticism has an ancient land-based foundation. The desert fathers and later reform movements appealed to the land for sustenance, spiritual metaphor, and as a marker of authentic monastic identity. Contemporary Roman Catholic monastics with this history in mind, have actively engaged environmental discourse in ways that draw from their respective monastic lineages, a process sociologist Stephen Ellingson calls ‘bridging’. Though this study is of limited scope, this bridging between monastic lineages and environmental discourse could cautiously be identified with the broader phenomenon of the ‘greening’ of Christianity. Looking to the future, while the footprint of North American monastic communities is quite small, and their numbers are slowly declining, a variety of conservation-minded management schemes implemented since the 1990s by some communities suggests that the impact will remain for many decades to come. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Living toto corde: Monastic Vows and the Knowledge of God
Religions 2019, 10(7), 424; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070424 - 11 Jul 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Monastic vows have been a source of religious controversy at least since the Reformation. Today, new monastic movements recover many elements of the tradition (e.g., community life and prayer, material solidarity and poverty), but vows—understood as a lifelong or binding commitment to obedience, [...] Read more.
Monastic vows have been a source of religious controversy at least since the Reformation. Today, new monastic movements recover many elements of the tradition (e.g., community life and prayer, material solidarity and poverty), but vows—understood as a lifelong or binding commitment to obedience, stability and conversion to the monastic way of life—do not appear to capture much enthusiasm. Even the Benedictine tradition in the Catholic Church appears, at least in certain regions, to struggle to attract young men and women to give themselves away through vows. In this context, I ask whether vows should belong to the “future of Christian monasticisms”. I will look at Anselm of Canterbury for inspiration regarding their meaning. For him, monastic vows enact the “total” gift of self or the “total” belonging to God. I will suggest, following Anselm, that such vows enable an existential commitment that is in a unique way morally and intellectually enlivening, and that such vows should remain an element in any future monasticism wanting to stand in continuity with the “Christian monasticism” of the past. During my conclusion, I acknowledge that our imagination regarding the concrete forms the total gift could take may develop. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Rediscovering Monasticism through Art
Religions 2019, 10(7), 423; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070423 - 10 Jul 2019
Abstract
Looking at modern monasticism and its role in society one can see how traditional monastic concepts or values find their new forms. On the other hand, art and artists willingly, though not always consciously, use or refer to some monastic themes. In this [...] Read more.
Looking at modern monasticism and its role in society one can see how traditional monastic concepts or values find their new forms. On the other hand, art and artists willingly, though not always consciously, use or refer to some monastic themes. In this paper, on the base of texts of some authors open to the dialogue between monasticism and art, a reading of monasticism in the key of art is proposed, exclusively in reference to the Christian monasticism. Given its present cultural and social context, the thesis of this paper is that through the rediscovering of monasticism through art, one can and should refresh and save it in a more and more secularized society, what may be also a perspective of a new role of monasticism in the modern world. Full article
Open AccessArticle
New Monasticism: An Answer to the Contemporary Challenges of Catholic Monasticism?
Religions 2019, 10(7), 411; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070411 - 28 Jun 2019
Abstract
New Monasticism has been interpreted by its protagonists as an answer to the challenges of the future of Christian monasticism. New Monastic Communities can be defined as groups of people (at least some of whom have taken religious vows) living together permanently and [...] Read more.
New Monasticism has been interpreted by its protagonists as an answer to the challenges of the future of Christian monasticism. New Monastic Communities can be defined as groups of people (at least some of whom have taken religious vows) living together permanently and possessing two main characteristics: (1) born in the wake of Vatican Council II, they are renewing monastic life by emphasising the most innovative and disruptive aspects they can find in the Council’s theology; and (2) they do not belong to pre-existing orders or congregations—although they freely adapt their Rules of Life. New Monastic Communities developed and multiplied in the decades during which, in Western European countries and North America, there was a significant drop in the number of priests, brothers and sisters. Based on our empirical research in a new monastic community—the Fraternity of Jerusalem (a foundation in Poland)—we addressed the following: Why are New Monastic Communities thriving? Are they really counteracting the decline of monasticism? What characteristics distinguish them from traditional communities? We will show how they renew monastic life by emphasising and radicalising the most innovative and disruptive theological aspects identified in Vatican Council II. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Forming “Mediators and Instruments of Grace”: The Emerging Role of Monastics in Teaching Contemplative Ambiguity and Practice to the Laity
Religions 2019, 10(7), 405; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070405 - 27 Jun 2019
Abstract
Drawing from long-term ethnographic research with a global network of contemplative Christians, this paper discusses an emerging teaching role for North American monasteries as the numbers of avowed religious decline. Since the Trappist community of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, first developed [...] Read more.
Drawing from long-term ethnographic research with a global network of contemplative Christians, this paper discusses an emerging teaching role for North American monasteries as the numbers of avowed religious decline. Since the Trappist community of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, first developed the Christian meditation technique called Centering Prayer in the 1970s, monks and nuns have increasingly become teachers, models, and stabilizers of non-monastic practitioners who attempt to transform their ways of being and thinking towards monastic-inspired sensibilities. Their guidance includes the use of face-to-face, literary, and virtual means to teach methods of contemplative intersubjectivity and a commitment to lives based on service, hospitality, and humility, as well as on study and formalized rites. The paper focuses on non-monastics’ strong attraction to monastic teachings on ambiguity as a source of creativity and wonder in uncertain times, as practiced through a combination of cataphatic and apophatic ritual, including Centering Prayer. The number of monastic postulants continues to falter, yet a much larger, “non-gathered” community of non-monastic oblates and neo-monastic contemplatives has grown increasingly reliant on monastics to help provide alternatives. The rising interdependence of monastics and non-monastics may become the basis of a transformation of Christian monasticism and a new concept of religious community. Full article
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