In the 1960s, a number of Catholic women religious in the United States abandoned traditional apostolic works to experiment with new and often unprecedented forms of service among non-Catholics. Amy Koehlinger explores the phenomenon of the “new nun” through close examination of one of its most visible forms—the experience of white sisters working in African-American communities. In a complex network of programs and activities Koehlinger describes as the “racial apostolate,” sisters taught at African-American colleges in the South, held racial sensitivity sessions in integrating neighborhoods, and created programs for children of color in public housing projects.
Engaging with issues of race and justice allowed the sisters to see themselves, their vocation, and the Church in dramatically different terms. In this book, Koehlinger captures the confusion and frustration, as well as the exuberance and delight, they experienced in their new Christian mission. Their increasing autonomy and frequent critiques of institutional misogyny shaped reforms within their institute and sharpened a post-Vatican II crisis of authority.
From the Selma march to Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project, Amy Koehlinger illuminates the transformative nature of the nexus of race, religion, and gender in American society.
Her research focuses on the culture of American Catholicism, historical intersections of religion and social reform in the United States, and the construction of gender within American religious traditions. Her first book The New Nuns: Racial Justice and Religious Reform in the 1960s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007) documents the involvement of Catholic women religious in racial justice programs during the civil rights era, exploring how activism in this “racial apostolate” transformed sisters’ ideas about gender and power and influenced the reforms they implemented in their own religious congregations in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. The New Nuns won the 2009 Eric Hoffer Prize in the category of Culture and was a finalist for the Hoffer Grand Prize.
Dr. Koehlinger is currently working on three projects. Her next monograph, Rosaries and Rope Burns: Boxing and Manhood in American Catholicism, 1890-1970 (for Princeton University Press) explores the historical significance of the sport of boxing among American Catholics, particularly boxing’s relationship with religious ideas about the redemptive value of physical suffering and blood, and the sport’s effect on performances of manhood among particular racial and ethnic groups of Catholics. Dr. Koehlinger also is writing From Charity to Justice, a history of the apostolate of Franciscans in the U.S. for the Academy of American Franciscan History, and she is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of American Catholicism.