* Seldom leaving their gated enclosure, the nuns of the Poor Clare Colettine Order in Rockford, Illinois, are almost never seen or heard from---until now. Exploring their individual and cultural identity through interviews and stunning photographs, Reese highlights their countercultural values and dedication as they seek to glorify God and indirectly impact humanity. 256 pages, hardcover from Oxford University.
As a subculture, cloistered monastic nuns live hidden from public view by choice. Once a woman joins the cloister and makes final vows, she is almost never seen and her voice is not heard; her story is essentially nonexistent in the historical record and collective, public history.
From interviews conducted over six years, Abbie Reese tells the stories of the Poor Clare Colettine Order, a cloistered contemplative order at the Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, Illinois. Seldom leaving their 25,000-square-foot gated enclosure, members of this community embrace an extreme version of poverty and anonymity-a separation that enables them to withdraw from the world to devote their lives to prayer. This removal, they contend, allows them to have a greater impact on humanity than if they maintained direct contact with loved ones and strangers.
Dedicated to God explores individual and cultural identity through oral history interviews with several generations of nuns, focusing on the origins and life stories of the women who have chosen to become members of one of the strictest religious orders. But the narrative is also one of a collective memory and struggle against extinction and modernity, a determination to create community within the framework of ancient rules.
The author's stunning photographs of their dual worlds, religious and quotidian, add texture to the narrative. This artistic and ethnographic work highlights the countercultural values and dedication of individuals who, at incredible personal cost, live for love of God and humanity, out of faith in what cannot be seen, and with the belief that they will be rewarded in the afterlife.
Abbie Reese is an independent scholar and interdisciplinary artist who utilizes oral history and ethnographic methodologies to explore individual and cultural identity. She received an MFA in visual arts from the University of Chicago and was a fellow at the Columbia University Oral History Research Office Summer Institute. Her multimedia exhibit, Erased from the Landscape: The Hidden Lives of Cloistered Nuns, has been shown in galleries and museums and she has presented her work at academic conferences internationally.
"That is another one of monasticism's surprises: where the world expects sorrow, the cloistered feel joy. Reese's attentiveness and patience allows that joy to reveal itself." --The New Yorker
"A fascinating read, this book lifts the veil of mystery surrounding women who forsake contact with the outside world to become brides of Christ." --Booklist
"[A] fascinating peek into a life that is often misunderstood and rarely subject to this type of scrutiny" --Library Journal
"Through Reese's narrative and photographs, and the nuns' oral histories, we are allowed a rare opportunity to encounter the members of this enclosed order of contemplative nuns, glimpsing their individual pasts and observing their collective and individual present. ... [T]his book tells important stories that explain experiences and lend meaning to the diversity of religious life." --Oral History Journal
"Reese does do an excellent job of presenting the nuns as individuals. They are not fetishized or turned into fringe caricatures with clichéd beliefs. Even when she has a chance to poke a hole in their convictions with contradicting opinions held by fellow nuns, she does not dispel their faith. Instead she withholds judgment, allowing room for the flexibility of their personal beliefs. Each nun gets the chance to express herself as she continues to explore and understand herself in her journey inwards and towards God." --Bookslut
"Reese's narrative, based on six years of meticulous interviews, allows us to hear cloistered nuns' own voices and see their (interior and exterior) lives in all of their complexity. Reese explores the Poor Clare Colettines' resolve not to be 'erased from the landscape' but instead to serve as the 'agents of change' that they are. This is a new and fresh view of the cloistered life, a welcome contribution to the growing body of literature on the lives of women religious." --Debra Campbell, author of Graceful Exits: Catholic Women and the Art of Departure
"The interviews in this book are informative, revealing, and thought provoking....Those who are truly fascinated with American nuns...will find much to like about this book." --The Historian
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