SISTERS IN ARMS by Jo Ann Kay McNamara


Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia
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 An opinionated but reliable survey of the complex history of Roman Catholic nuns. McNamara (History/Hunter Coll.) knows how to make complex issues clear for a general audience. Throughout her ambitious narrative she pays close attention to the scholarly literature. But she does not allow the apparatus of scholarship to banish her own feminist point of view, or to overwhelm the story. What comes across most strongly in Sisters in Arms is the extraordinary tenacity of religious commitment women have made to the Church over the centuries, and the great difficulties they have faced in expressing a female point of view within an institution dominated by men. From the late Roman Empire to modern Latin America, nuns have been singled out for special discrimination within the church, and for special persecution by opponents outside the church. McNamara stresses the ways in which women have been empowered by celibacy and chastity, and have on rare occasions been able to transcend gender differences and work together with men as true equals. That point of view is so at odds with the dominant modern attitude toward sexuality that McNamara goes overboard in her search for historical illustrations in its defense. The result is a long book, made even longer by the author's commitment to fairness and balance. But readers who persevere will be rewarded with vivid reminders of the many ways that the problem of gender has been dealt with throughout Western history. More than a history of nuns, Sisters in Arms is a survey of how the Roman Catholic tradition has confronted the ever-present question of how to conceptualize the relationship between men and women.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0-674-80984-X
Page count: 768pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996


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