Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age

Britain, 1945-90

By Carmen M. Mangion

Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5606-8
  • Pages: 344
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £26.00
  • Published Date: April 2021
  • BIC Category: Humanities / British & Irish history, Humanities / History of religion, History, Modern History, Religion, History of religion, HISTORY / Women, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain / 20th Century, RELIGION / History, Society & social sciences / Gender studies: women, Humanities / 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000
  • Series: Gender in History


This is the first in-depth study of post-war female religious life. It draws on archival materials and a remarkable set of eighty interviews to place Catholic sisters and nuns at the heart of the turbulent 1960s, integrating their story of social change into a larger British and international one. Shedding new light on how religious bodies engaged in modernisation, it addresses themes such as the Modern Girl and youth culture, '1968', generational discourse, post-war modernity, the voluntary sector and the women's movement. Women religious were at the forefront of the Roman Catholic Church's movement of adaptation and renewal towards the world. This volume tells their stories in their own words.


'An inspiration in its originality and rigour, and a pleasure to read, Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age is a major and progressive contribution to academic work on modern women religious.'
British Catholic History

'A significant contribution to British social and cultural history, it adds a gendered and religious perspective to the understanding of social movements which emerged in the mid-twentieth century. The result is a landmark publication.'
History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland

'Mangion's thoughtful and well-written narrative creates a powerful text that is a delight to read.'
Journal of the Catholic Archives Society

'[An] exemplary work of historical synthesis ... Mangion's work attests to the diversity of experience of the 1960s and to the limits of secularisation that overlook or exclude those subjects that do not conform to the prevailing narrative.'
The Journal of Ecclesiastical History

'Mangion's impressive volume seeks to dispel the notion that religious communities were separate from, and out of touch with, the wider world. Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age is a most welcome addition to the existing historiography which will undoubtedly inspire and encourage further research.'
Reviews in History

'Mangion skilfully deploys the stories of individual women religious to map the institutional changes taking place around them. [She] brings the women to life, revealing their hopes and fears, their humanity, how the ordinary can become extraordinary. An accessible book that achieves its aims and should have a wide appeal.'
Socialist History

'Mangion's book is a fascinating addition to the literature, and can be highly recommended to everyone interested in twentieth-century British women's history, the British sixties and postwar western Christianity.'
Women's History Review

'Mangion's book is a major contribution to the under-researched history of lived religion and will quickly be recognised as a landmark study for all historians of twentieth-century Catholicism.'
Twentieth Century British History

'More than a history of inevitable decline... the author seeks to reconstruct the complexity of lived changes by observing the actors up close. [These changes] were a source of enthusiasm as well as sadness, and it is these disparate voices that Carmen Mangion presents to us... This intelligent and sensitive book, thanks to its combination of interviews and archives, will serve as a model for other studies.'
Revue de l'histoire des religions

'As the nuns and sisters who navigated this tumultuous period pass from living memory into historical memory, Mangion has produced a landmark study. This book is a marvel, in terms of its prodigious research, keen interpretation and lucid prose.'
Kathleen Cummings, University of Notre Dame

'This book is highly recommended. It is an illustration of how oral testimonies combined with a variety of sources can give historians a vivid insight into the changes that women religious underwent in the period 1945-90. A rewarding read, both in method and content.'
Jan De Maeyer, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

'Carmen Mangion's study is an original addition to the social and cultural history of post-war Britain. Deploying a wide range of source materials, Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age provides us with a rich understanding of the impact that social changes and attitudinal shifts had on convent cultures - and in the process challenges a number of widely held beliefs about Catholic women religious in the modern era.'
Susan O'Brien, St Edmund's College, University of Cambridge

'This is an outstanding project which makes a highly significant contribution not only to the history of nuns and religious sisters in post-war Britain, but to the international history of Catholicism and the social and cultural history of the United Kingdom in the second half of the twentieth century.'
Susannah Riordan, University College Dublin


1 Introduction
2 Before the Council: post-war modernity and religious vocations
3 The modern girl and religious life
4 Governance, authority and '1968'
5 Relationships, generation discourse and the 'turn to self'
6 The world in the cloister and the nun in the world
7 Local and global: changing ministries
8 Becoming a woman
9 Conclusion


Carmen M. Mangion is Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Birkbeck, University of London

Catholic nuns and sisters in a secular age

By Carmen M. Mangion

Paperback £26.00 / $38.95

Hardcover £85.00 / $130.00

Or buy from your preferred bookseller:

Amazon Waterstones Blackwells

Click here for North and South America

Newsletter Sign Up

Manchester University Press

Your cart is empty.

Select your shipping destination to estimate postage costs

(Based on standard shipping costs)

Final cost calculated on checkout
Promotional codes can be added on Checkout