The Study of Lived Catholicism


Exploring the everyday lives and hidden histories of Catholics.  A polyvocal and interdisciplinary project bringing together scholars from around the world. Lived Catholicism is an emerging notion comprising of a conference, journal special edition, and research programme at the Centre for Catholic Studies, Durham University.


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Lived Catholicism Online Conference: 15-16th November 2021

Paradox and prophecy: why the study of Lived Catholicism matters

Taking place across two days, bringing together theologians, ethnographers, anthropologists, human geographers, psychologists and ethicists among others for interdisciplinary exchange and encounter. Lived Catholicism 2021 is a project of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University, in partnership with the Department of Catholic Studies, Duquesne University.

Confirmed plenary speakers already include Michele Dillon, Valentina Napolitano, Clare Watkins and Massimo Faggioli. Robert Orsi, Alana Harris, Tricia Bruce and Stephen Bullivant – all speakers from last year – continue their involvement.

“The contribution of lived religion is to confound certainties, to unearth hidden agendas, to qualify judgment… and, above all, to encounter and engage religious practice and imagination within the circumstances of other people’s lives and within the contexts of our own”

Robert Orsi, ‘Is the Study of Lived Religion Irrelevant to the World We Live in?’, 2002

What is Lived Catholicism?

Lived Catholicism is an emerging notion reflecting the move to the study of Lived Religion over the past 30 years. It encompasses a number of other terms, including everyday Catholicism, folk Catholicism and customary Catholicism; and pays heed to the ways that Catholicism is lived through empirical research, close listening, and as Robert Orsi writes, “attention to religious messiness”.

Our 2021 conference has the following aims:

• To continue to bring together scholars of lived Catholicism across a broad range of perspectives and disciplines.
• To help scholars of lived religion reach wider audiences through the conference and any succeeding publications.
• To promote the notion of ‘Lived Catholicism’ both within the academy and the wider Church, potentially through a formal network.
• By using a digital format as with our 2020 conference, to enable a wide and diverse group of people to access the conference, from all parts of the world.

How will this virtual conference work?

Online conferences offer different opportunities from a classic face-to-face gathering. Last year, without the associated time and carbon cost of travelling, participants gathered in a digital space for encounters across the time zones. At this year’s conference, we will once again bring together some of the top people in the field, and offer global low cost access to the conference, while giving the participants the option to accommodate other activities or their daily routine. Full immersion over two days, or dipping in and out as daily life and work allow: both are possible.

In addition to the scheduled programme, we are also planning various ways to meet and chat with other attendees and other interactive elements which we will announce as the programme is finalised. And as with last year’s event, wherever possible, we will also promote the work of individual scholars and facilitate connections.

We want this to be a truly collaborative affair, so let us know if you have an idea that you’d like to share! 

Session types

The feedback on last year’s conference was very positive and the conference enabled participants to get a feel for the breadth of work going on and hear as many voices as possible.  This year we will be updating the format in line with that feedback, but once again allowing both in-depth keynotes from the leaders in our field addressing the key questions of our time, as well as short papers (15 mins) in themed tracks, and the return of our Pop-up Podium event with 5 minute pre-recorded videos giving a taste of the breadth of the work in the field.

Track Sessions

Our track sessions have 15 minutes papers exploring conceptual frameworks, interdisciplinary potential and methodological opportunities which emerge as we construct the field of study of lived Catholicism.  They will be chaired by last year’s keynote speakers: Tricia Bruce, Alana Harris and Stephen Bullivant.  Questions and other responses will be invited via chat, and we hope to have a time of conversation across the papers.

Dedicated Streams

This year we are interested in developing streams dedicated to particular themes.  One stream of papers (15 mins) relates to aspects of child sexual abuse within the Catholic context. What does abuse in the Catholic context reveal about Catholicism? What does it expose about the everyday practices of the lay people, priests or religious, ecclesial self-understanding, or theology? How does the institutional response raise questions? What needs to transform, and how do we transform the field of Catholicism in the light of abuse? Why is the study of Lived Catholicism of relevance in researching this field? 

Pop-up Podium  

This session engages with what it means in practice to study lived Catholicism to give us a feel for the breadth of research currently happening. Participants are invited to present 5 minute videos of research or potential research concerned with study of lived Catholicism. 

Invited speakers do not have to present completed or fully conceptualised work. It is envisaged as an open sided exploratory session in which we gather as many perspectives as possible about what might constitute the field of study of lived Catholicism, what is already happening and what potential exists to expand its reach and depth.

Conference Team

Our conference team is gathered from across the disciplines including systematic and practical theology, anthropology and the study of religion.

Avril Baigent is a PhD researcher working on the lived religion of Catholic teenagers at the University of Durham. Previously a Diocesan Youth Officer, she is currently Pastoral Ministry Advisor for the Diocese of Northampton working on projects related to lay ministry and leadership.

Dr Pat Jones completed her PhD in 2019. Her research consisted of empirical study of Catholic charities working in the field of homelessness and social exclusion. Previously she held senior roles in Catholic charities including CAFOD and Depaul International and in diocesan and national Catholic structures.  

Gaël Pardoen is a PhD student in the CCS at Durham University. In his work, he focuses on ideas of belonging and dissent within the Church. In his spare time, he rescues dogs and speaks French.

Tom Duggan recently graduated from Durham University with a degree in music and a dissertation on Sir James MacMillan. He is helping out with the website and providing tech support during the conference.

Lived Catholicism is a project of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University.