Neomonasticism at the Center for the Study of World Religions

Neomonasticism? Intentional Community? Pluralism? Count us in! Who wants to go?

Silence, stillness, movement, sound . . . Solitary and corporate contemplative Christian practices like meditation, labyrinth-walking, chant, and lectio divina have become increasingly popular among Americans since Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, began publishing decades ago. What is the allure? Living in an information age of innumerable cultural, economic, and sociopolitical spheres, many people now find exclusive, doctrinally narrow systems of belief untenable. Even so, people continue to long for the divine. In many guises, contemplative Christianity’s ritualized ways of life intentionally foster ambiguity alongside intellectual knowledge and social activism. Paradoxically merging knowing and unknowing, doing and not-doing, the contemplative stream leaves room for wonder and possibility—for “the subjunctive”— in an ever-expanding world in which so much is unsure.

Based on years of ethnographic research among monastic and non-monastic practitioners of Centering Prayer meditation, cultural anthropologist Paula Pryce’s work shows how a growing number of North Americans have turned toward the intentional, transformative cultivation of ambiguity to discern and craft a hospitable, justice-oriented openness in a chaotic globalized world.

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