1st Edition

Fraternal Relations in Monasteries The Laboratory of Love

By Mikaela Sundberg Copyright 2023
    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    174 Pages
    by Routledge

    This is a book about the tensions between Christian ideals of love and the concrete realities of everyday monastic life. Based on a study of Cistercian monasteries in France, it develops a novel conceptualization of fraternal relations and addresses how monks and nuns strive to accomplish such relationships within their communities. By focusing on the main interaction contexts of monasteries as a form of voluntary total institution, the book shows how attempts to generate collective solidarity, relate to other members as equals and avoid preferential relations conflict with practices of everyday life. Although fraternal ideals are similar for monks and nuns, the analysis reveals significant gender differences regarding the legitimacy of different forms of interaction and relationships as well as how to control them. The book appeals to readers with an interest in total institutions, sociology of religion, sociology of friendship, sociology of intimacy and also to scholars with an interest in theology of love and practical theology.

    Chapter 1. Pursuing ideals of love in a voluntary total institution

    Chapter 2. Studying social relations in a total institution

    Chapter 3. Entering and staying in monastic life

    Chapter 4. Ideals of love in fraternal life

    Chapter 5. Collective solidarity and ritual stratification: The role of singing during the Liturgy of the Hours

    Chapter 6. Stratified work in the context of equality ideals: Ascetic responsibilization and power failures

    Chapter 7. Different conditions for friendship and conversation among monks and nuns

    Chapter 8. Surveillance and sanctions through performative regulation

    Chapter 9. Conclusion


    Mikaela Sundberg is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University. She is the author of A Sociology of the Total Organization: Atomistic Unity in the French Foreign Legion (Routledge) alongside articles about social relations in monastic life, numerical simulations and the organization of scientific practices.

    'How do monks and nuns realise the fraternal ideals of "brotherly love" in their everyday monastic life? This is the question that animates Mikaela Sundberg’s study of the social organization of Cistercian monasteries in France. Taking the monastery as an example of a voluntary total institution, Sundberg qualifies and refines Goffman’s influential concept, drawing on rich interview and observational data that tellingly reveal the centrality of what she calls "ascetic responsibilization", a notion capturing how nuns and monks must shape their thoughts, feelings and conduct in approved directions. Monasteries are thus seen as "laboratories" for the cultivation of specific forms of love. Sundberg traces the tensions and conflicts that arise around work, singing and reading, friendship and other everyday activities, offering a fresh and compelling perspective on contemporary monastic life' - Greg Smith, University of Salford, UK.


    'In the "total institution" of the monastery, where the commitment of each monk or nun to the following of Christ is supposed to be expressed in perfect obedience to the authority of the abbot or abbess, is there a place for the spontaneous dynamics of interpersonal relations, a space for the expression of individual autonomies, a legitimacy recognized for the right of each person to personal intimacy, a possible opening to collective deliberation and discussion? Mikaela Sundberg's beautiful investigation, conducted in close proximity to male and female Cistercian communities in France, brings to light the variety and complexity of the relational games that are played under the "sacred canopy" of the Rule. It does not only enrich the sociology of monasticism: it opens perspectives of great interest to the reflection on the logics of Christian communalization.' - Danièle Hervieu-Léger, CéSOr, Centre d'etudes en sciences sociales du religieux, at EHESS.