Date of Award

Spring 1994

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Bud B Khleif


This dissertation examines the effects of societal, institutional, and structural change on the status of Roman Catholic nuns. Based on interviews with 34 members of female religious orders, archival materials, Church documents, and participant observation, two case study orders (apostolic and cloistered) are compared in terms of structural change since Vatican II and their relative viability in the 1990s. As members of declining organizations, apostolic sisters are reconstructing their roles by drawing upon sources that pre-date formal hierarchical structures, as well as aspects of gender-status. Although active sisters show some congruence with feminist beliefs on work-related issues, other aspects of the feminist agenda are less relevant to them. While both orders exhibit the nurturant and emotive aspects of womanhood in their work, cloistered nuns, living in a sexually-segregated community, draw upon symbols of female physicality to enhance their spirituality. Both groups show congruence with women in other institutionalized roles in terms of gender-affirmation and negotiation of status.