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Lived Catholicism

Lived Catholicism is a notion developed by Avril Baigent in the course of her doctoral research into the lived religion and identity of Catholic teenagers. She had already been introduced to Lived Religion through the work of Ammerman, McGuire and Orsi among others, and began to feel that an umbrella term “Lived Catholicism” might be an exciting approach to a bottom-up study of Catholicism, or indeed, Catholicisms. Although the term seems to be recognisable without explanation, extensive searches did not find any previous use. 

With the backing of the CCS, a team consisting of Avril, Pat Jones, and Marcus Pound from Durham University and Kat Ajibade from the London School of Economics put on the first online Lived Catholicism conference in November 2020. Much to their surprise, the conference was a galloping success. The keynotes were Tricia Bruce, Alana Harris, Stephen Bullivant, and Robert Orsi and the conference attracted 51 paper abstracts and 230 conference registrations. As well as papers from across Europe and the US, there were papers from around the wider world, covering Catholicism across the five continents, and from disciplines as widely ranging as human geography, history, and psychology, as well as sociology, ethnography, and anthropology.

Through the final plenary of the conference, and a following journal edition, the conceptual work to flesh out Lived Catholicism began. Important questions are: 

  • What do Lived Religion approaches bring to the study of Catholicism?
  • What are the challenges of a Lived Catholicism approach?
  • In what ways is Lived Catholicism more than a subset of Lived Religion?
  • How do novel methodologies highlight religiosity in unexpected places?
  • How does Lived Catholicism speak back into other disciplines?
  • What is the relationship between Lived Catholicism and the institution of the church?


Second Lived Catholicism Conference

These questions and many more will be raised at the second Lived Catholicism conference, being held online on 15-16 November 2021. Our title, Paradox and prophecy: why the study of Lived Catholicism matters, seeks to move the study of Catholicism beyond persistent binaries, such as conservative/liberal; theologian/social scientist; insider/outsider. It recognises the messiness of the Lived, and the challenges this poses for researchers, as Michael Hornsby-Smith wrote thirty years ago:

It was only later, in subsequent interviews … that it became apparent that our implicit assumptions regarding the coherence and consistency of the religious world-view of Catholics were not valid … there was … evidence both of a considerable degree of heterogeneity of belief and practice, and of a wide variation in the salience of institutional religion among self-identifying Catholics. The analysis and interpretation of the accounts given by Catholics were clearly shown to be more problematic than had originally been assumed. (Hornsby-Smith, Roman Catholic Beliefs in England, p. 26.)

Lived Catholicism is an emerging research programme in the Centre for Catholic Studies. In addition to the conference, there will also be a special edition of Ecclesial Practices Journal in 2022, and a study group starting in autumn 2021.


Research Project: The Lived Catholicism of Teenagers in the UK

Avril Baigent is undertaking research into the Lived Catholicism of teenagers in the UK, exploring themes such as identity, practices, faith transmission, and family asking:

  • What are the complexities of Catholic identity among Catholic teenagers?
  • To what extent is faith identity among Catholic teenagers articulated:
    • As a part of their sense of self, their worldview
    • Connecting with family and the wider community
    • As lived through everyday practices
    • And as experienced at peak moments of stress or transcendence.

Taking a Lived Catholicism approach allows for a more complex and nuanced picture of Catholic teenagers to emerge, with implications for the wider church, and future directions.