CFP: Contemporary Catholicism: Innovations, Reinventions, Discontinuities and Regulation

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New ecclesial movements and/or « communautés nouvelles » in Contemporary Catholicism: Innovations, Reinventions, Discontinuities and Regulation

International conference organised by the RSCS Institute (UCLouvain) and CéSor (EHESS) from 7 to 9 September 2022 in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

The “communautés nouvelles” –similar but not identical with the “new ecclesial movements”– occupy today a central place within Roman Catholicism in many countries. The aim of the conference is to explore this topic from a fresh perspective, from the point of view of history, sociology, anthropology, and political sciences, without restriction of geographical area. We welcome contributions discussing: the definition of the category itself, the ways in which these communities understand and narrate their history and the history of their relation to the wider Catholic Church, as well as their relations and their impact on “ordinary” Catholicism. The importance and the possibilities of regulating these communities, especially in the light of emerging abuse allegations, will also be discussed.




            The category of “communautés nouvelles”, popularized within French-speaking Catholicism from the second half of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s (Paiement, 1971), was quickly taken up by the academics (Beaulieu, 1974) to refer to a number of heterogeneous groups of faithful, founded in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), that were challenging the established social and ecclesial structures (Séguy, 1979). While many of these utopian experiments have progressively declined (Lebel, 2015), some have developed to the point of occupying a central position in the Catholic landscape today (e.g. Sant'Egidio, the Neocatechumenal Way, the Emmanuel Community, the Chemin-Neuf Community). From a historical point of view, these communautés nouvelles appear as the avant garde of the theological and pastoral line promoted during the pontificate of John Paul II (1978-2005) (Dumons, Gugelot, 2017), and as major players in the Catholic “return of certainties” after 1980 (Ladrière, Luneau, 1987). They represent a break with the left-wing politicization of the previous generation of catholic movements (Pelletier, Schlegel, 2013). For their part, sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists have emphasized that the communautés nouvelles played a major part in recent changes in several areas of Catholicism, such as parish structure (Herbinet, 2021), modes of sociability (Hervieu-Léger, 2019), militancy (Balas, 2012) and politicization (Béraud, Portier, 2015). Within this broad category, the communities associated with the “Catholic Charismatic Renewal” movement have received particular scholarly attention from researchers. Research has focused on sociological and anthropological analyses of the practices of these communities (Parasie, 2005), their relationship with ecclesial structures (Cohen, 1986), society (Pina, 2001), and their Protestant counterparts (Aubourg, 2020).

Notwithstanding, with the exception of Olivier Landron historical synthesis (2004), there are few works in French that take the category of communautés nouvelles as an object of study in itself. In the English-speaking world, with the exception of the innovative historical work of Valentina Ciciliot on the charismatic current (2019, 2020, 2021), the situation is relatively similar (Faggioli, 2014, 2016). In Italy, if some movements have been analyzed (Abbruzzese, 1989), the only available synthetical works are mostly theological and/or promote internalist narratives (Fusco, Rocca, 2010; Rocca, 2010; Fusco, Rocca, Vita, 2015). The purpose of this conference will therefore be to propose new perspectives of analysis (in history, sociology, anthropology and political science) of communautés nouvelles, understood here in a broad sense, without restriction of geographical area:


  1. Communautés nouvelles, a problematic category. In the French-speaking context, the expression communautés nouvelles remains tied to the socio-historical context of 1968. In many other national Catholic configurations, the term “new ecclesial movements” or simply “ecclesial movements” has been more common. However, these two expressions, often used indiscriminately, do not completely overlap. Movements established before the Second Vatican Council (Foyers de Charité, Focolari, Comunione e Liberazione, l'Arche, etc.) are often referred to as communautés nouvelles, while others – especially traditionalist ones founded after 1965 – seem to be excluded. Finally, the epithet “new”, like the term “renewal” used for the charismatic movement, is largely influenced by a theological discourse that looks for the “signs of the times” and/or a revivalist vision of the history of the Catholic Church. We therefore want to question this category. One of the possible lines of inquiry could be the repositioning of these “new” ecclesial movements within a plural Catholic landscape, by examining them in relation to other movements (e.g. ecumenical, older congregations, Catholic Action movements) and to the evolution of the internal polarities of Catholicism. This repositioning can be done through the study of the trajectories of the founders of these communities;
  2. Constructing and legitimizing the modalities of belonging to the Catholic Church. This section will study the socialization and structure of relations within the communautés nouvelles (e.g. between clergy and laity, the issues of authority, gender relationships), then move to examine their practices (e.g. liturgical, pastoral), and their discourse in regard to its origins, its belonging to the Catholic Church, and its positioning in society. Special attention will be given to the study of ecumenical groups emerging in national contexts with a long history of confessionalism, such as Germany or Switzerland. This also requires the study of the social background of the communities and how they contribute to social reproduction for their members and sympathizers. The study of the growing acceptance of these groups in Catholicism also requires the study of the “routinization” of their charisma and practices (what did they abandon and why?). The problem of institutionalization, , will constitute the other central theme of this section. Theologians (van Lier, 2019) have emphasized the complexity and the challenges surrounding the implementation of the new code of canon law of 1983 in the case of new ecclesial movements.  While such an issue as institutional regulation is of course of interest for the social sciences, much works remains to be done in this regard regarding these movements.
  3. The issue of abuse within communautés nouvelles. Suspected of “sectarian deviations” in the 1990s (Baffoy, Delestre, Sauzet, 1996; Ronzoni, 2019), these communities have a specific and significant part in the history of sexual and spiritual abuse scandals that have become a major issue within Roman Catholicism (Béraud, 2021; Hoyeau, 2021; Joulain, Demasure, Nadeau, 2021). The Saint John Family and the Community of the Beatitudes, for instance, are among the first French communities where real structural abuses have been exposed. This part of the conference will offer an opportunity to discuss the genealogy of abuses within these groups, their theological justifications, and their management by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. It will also encourage a better understanding of the very category of "abuse" and its multiple variations (spiritual, power, sexual abuse, etc.);
  4. The impact of communautés nouvelles on “ordinary” Catholicism. Whether we focus on a local (Dolbeau, 2019) or global (Mercier, 2020) level, communautés nouvelles seem to play a key role in many of the recent transformations of Catholicism: the formation of priests, the contribution to the renewal of the episcopal body, the rise of affinity parishes, the emergence of bioethical and anti-gender activism, etc. This part of the conferencewill allow researchers who have encountered the communautés nouvelles object in their fields to come and share their analyses, in order to understand the impact of these movements in various national configurations;
  5. Communautés nouvelles in everyday life. Following in the footsteps of Albert Piette’s work (1999), this part of the conference will be devoted to the study of these communities, not from an event-based perspective, but from that of how belief and performance of belief works among their members. How, for example, can imperatives of virtuosity be reconciled with the management of an ordinary parish (meetings, celebrations, etc.)?


Method of submission


We accept proposals in both French and English. The proposals should be no longer than 500 words (including title, abstract, status and the institution of the author) and should be submitted before November 15, 2021 to all of the following four addresses (do not put only one).


Organizing Committee


- Céline Béraud (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales)

- Jean-Pascal Gay (Université catholique de Louvain)

- Arnaud Join-Lambert (Université catholique de Louvain)

- Samuel Dolbeau (FNRS, Université catholique de Louvain-École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales)


Scientific Committee


- Valentina Ciciliot (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia)

- Valérie Aubourg (Université catholique de Lyon)

- Silvia Scatena (Università degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia)

- Astrid Reuter (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)

- Dries Bosschaert (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)


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