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The Spirit's Tether Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics by Mary Ellen (Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Notre Dame) Konieczny

The Spirit's Tether Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics



The Spirit's Tether Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics by Mary Ellen (Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Notre Dame) Konieczny

Cultural conflicts about the family-including those surrounding women's social roles, the debate over abortion, and in more recent years, debates about stem cell research, same-sex marriage, and contraception-have intensified over the last few decades among Catholics, as well as among American citizens generally. In fact, these conflicts comprise much of the substance of the moral polarization that currently characterizes our public politics. Scholars have demonstrated the importance of the media in the endurance of these conflicts, as well as the important role played by elites, particularly religious elites. But less is known about how individuals in local settings and cultures-especially religious settings-experience and participate in them. Why are these conflicts so resonant among ordinary Americans, and Catholics in particular? By exploring how religion and family life are intertwined in local parish settings, this book strives to understand how and why Catholics are divided around these cultural conflicts about the family. It presents a close and detailed comparative ethnographic analysis of the families and local religious cultures in two Catholic parishes: religiously conservative Our Lady of the Assumption Church and theologically progressive St. Brigitta Church. Through an examination of the activities of parish life, together with the faith stories of parishioners, this book reveals how two congregational social processes-the practice of central ecclesial metaphors, and the construction of Catholic identities-matter for the ways in which parishioners work out the routines of marriage, childrearing, and work-family balance, as well as to the ways they connect these everyday challenges to the public politics of the family. The analysis further demonstrates that these institutional processes promote polarization among Catholics through practices that unintentionally fragment the Catholic tradition in local religious settings.


Mary Ellen Konieczny paints a powerful portrait of the moral divides over social justice, sex, motherhood, and marriage now separating liberal from conservative Catholics in America. This book deftly explains the social, religious and cultural roots of these moral divisions, which promise to grow more salient as conservative Catholics gain more power within the Catholic Church and liberal Catholics continue to identify with progressive social positions that put them at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. This is the best book I have read on the cultural conflicts now dividing contemporary Christianity in America. * W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia * The Spirit's Tether makes a unique contribution to sociology of religion by bridging analyses of church teachings and local congregational culture with the experiences, emotions, and identities of women and men who are the life of these parishes. * Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion * A very interesting ethnography... a fruitful basis for future exploration. Summing Up: Highly recommended. * CHOICE * Konieczny provides a level of detail about the religious practices and identities of these Catholics that is unmatched by many studies... Konieczny's book makes a significant contribution to the literature on family, work, and religion among religiously committed Americans. * Sociology of Religion * Anyone who has felt deeply estranged from fellow Catholics with whom he or she shares, in the end, so much in common stands to gain insight from this book into the dynamics that drives us apart. * American Catholic Studies *

About the Author

Mary Ellen Konieczny is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Faculty Fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. Her research interests revolve around the broad themes of religion and family life and religion in American democracy, and in how culture in local contexts intersect with discourse and politics in the public sphere.

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Book Info

Publication date

26th September 2013


Mary Ellen (Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Notre Dame) Konieczny

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Oxford University Press Inc


312 pages


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