Annual Meeting of The Midwest American Academy of Religion
Rock Island, IL
Religion and Philosophy
Contrary to popular belief, there have often been monastic sisterhoods and brotherhoods in Protestantism. In Germany, Möllenbeck, Loccum, and Marienberg all contained cloisters that embraced the Lutheran Reformation but retained much of their monastic practice. That such groups are relatively unknown may reflect the ambivalence of those in positions of power toward potential holdovers from Catholicism. Protestant monasticism has never been normative; therefore, its occurrence might best be understood as an implicit critique of the mainstream confessions. For the purposes of this paper I will not define monasticism as a vague and flexible lifestyle of contemplation and asceticism, as have the so-called “new monastics”; Alan Jacobs has rightly pointed out that this is neither new nor monastic. Rather, my working definition of monasticism is the formal commitment of men or women to live simple lives of prayer and service, especially in the context of a religious community of likeminded invididuals.
Although monastic communities are atypical in Protestantism, a small number came into existence on continental Europe in the 20th century, with a significant increase in their number immediately after World War II. Taking issue with François Biot’s thesis, this paper will argue that these communities represent a critique of, rather than a radical break from Protestantism, for they are a development out of a long sub-tradition of communal living and a response to the conditions of war-torn Europe. Rather than attempt to include all possible communities, I will focus on Taizé and Pomeyrol in France, Grandchamp in Switzerland, and the Christ Brotherhood Selbitz and the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, in Germany. Tracing the history of each group, I will analyze their common emphases, including ecumenism and simplicity, while exploring their distinctive differences, such as eschatology. To understand these groups in their context is to better understand how war shapes religion.
Faithful, George, "Protestants Protesting Protestantism: 20th Century Experiments in Monasticism" (2010). Collected Faculty and Staff Scholarship. 314.