Feb 20: Monastic Silence and a Visual Dialogue


6-8 PM

509 Knox Hall, 606 W. 122nd St.

Institute for Art, Religion, and Social

Poor Clare Colettine nuns follow an ancient order. As members of one of the strictest religious communities in existence, they make vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and enclosure. For more than eight years, Abbie Reese has been granted rare and continued access to conduct oral history interviews and make photographs with a community of Poor Clare Colettine nuns at the Corpus Christi Monastery in Rockford, Illinois.

A metal grille separates the enclosure from the outside world. This symbolic and literal separation enables the nuns to focus on their mission – to pray for humanity. Following an 800-year-old religious rule, the Poor Clare nuns observe the Liturgy of the Hours; they pray seven times a day, including at midnight. Each day oscillates between manual labor, prayer, meals, and sleep. Family members of the Poor Clare nuns are allowed up to four visits each year. One nun’s great-niece, when she was four years old, described her trips to the monastery as trips to “the Jesus cage.” The nuns, who find this description amusing, make a distinction: The enclosure, rather than restricting them, offers freedom; the grille keeps the world out. 

During this book talk about Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered NunsAbbie will talk about the process – the negotiations and the exchanges – entailed in this long-term oral history and photography project with an enclosed community that values anonymity and whose members observe monastic silence. Abbie will also show some footage of a collaborative ethnographic and documentary film that will form a portrait of a young woman – Heather/Sister Amata, the newest member of the community; this film-in-progress will focus on the liminal phase that is the process of becoming

Abbie Reese is an independent scholar and interdisciplinary artist who utilizes oral history and ethnographic methodologies to explore individual and cultural identity. She is the author of Dedicated to God: An Oral History of Cloistered Nuns (Oxford University Press, 2013), and she is working on a collaborative documentary, Chosen: Suspension of Belief in the Jesus Cage. Abbie 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.

This event is free and open to the public and is part of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series.