The Transforming Power of the Nuns: Women, Religion, and Cultural Change in Ireland, 1750-1900

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Mary Peckham Magray argues that the Irish Catholic cultural revolution in the nineteenth century was effected not only by male elites, as previous scholarship has claimed, but also by the most overlooked and underestimated women in Ireland: the nuns. Once thought to be merely passive servants of the male clerical hierarchy, women's religious orders were in fact at the very center of the creation of a devout Catholic culture in Ireland. Often well-educated, articulate, and evangelical, nuns were much more social and ambitious than traditional stereotypical views have held. They used their wealth and their authority to effect changes in both the religious practices and daily activity of the larger Irish Catholic population, and by doing so, Magray argues, deserve a far larger place in the Irish historical record than they have previously been accorded.

Magray's innovative work challenges some of the most widely held assumptions of social history in nineteenth-century Ireland. It will be of interest to scholars and students of Irish history, religious history, women's studies, and sociology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this gem of a book, Mary Peckham Magray presents an impassioned, well-argued case for the role of Catholic women's orders in the Irish devotional revolution of the 19th century....Magray's book will appeal to students of Irish Catholicism, women's religious orders, and missionary movements in relation to colonialism."—Journal of Ritual Studies

"This book constitutes an outstanding intervention in the history of both Irish Catholicism and Irish women."—Kevin Whelan, Notre Dame University, Dublin Center

"A tour de force of social and cultural history. Mary Peckham Magray's The Transforming Power of the Nuns offers exciting new evidence for what scholars of Catholic women religious have come to realize—that nuns played a pivotal role in the devotional and educational revolutions of nineteenth-century Ireland. The reverberations of their impressive achievement were also felt wherever Irish people migrated after the Great Famine. Historians of women and religion in Ireland and the United States, as well as in England , Canada, and Australia, will now want to examine even further the lives and work of these influential Catholic women."—Suellen Hoy, University of Notre Dame.

"Mary Peckham Magray challenges much of the conventional wisdom about Irish female religious in the nineteenth century....This study contends that the cultural revolution in Catholic Ireland was spearheaded by the work of women religious who had been steadily ingratiating themselves into the everyday lives of the Catholic masses in Ireland in the late 18th century through their social welfare, health care, and educational activities. This study demonstrates that these women were social activists who vociferously and successfully resisted the efforts of the male hierarchy to take their independence from them."—Janet Nolan, Loyola University, Chicago

"We are grateful for the rich details Magray provides to amplify our knowledge....By carefully describing this 19th-century revolutionary phenomenon among Irish women religious, Magray provides an important challange."—Review for Religious

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195112993
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Lexile: 1620L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Peckham Magray is Assistant Professor of History at Wesleyan College.

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Table of Contents

1 Women Religious and the Devotional Revolution 3
2 Founding Women 14
3 Convents, Class, and Catholic Identity 32
4 Intimate Boundaries 46
5 Cultural Authority 74
6 Transforming Catholic Culture 87
7 Bishops, Priests, and Nuns 107
8 Conclusion 127
Appendix 131
Abbreviations 135
Notes 137
Bibliography 167
Index 179
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