The Convent as Colonist: Catholicism in the Works of Contemporary Women Writers of the Americas

  • Jeana DelRosso


Writing about the complex relationship between Christian religions and Third World countries in Women and Christianity: A Map of the New Country, Sara Maitland argues that Christianity “has frequently been a special vehicle of oppression, but it has also, as in South America, proved a dynamic inspiration for change“ (16). Maitland’s observation speaks to the perspective of many contemporary women writers regarding the role of Catholicism in colonized nations. Writers such as Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, and Rosario Ferré address the conflicts between Catholicism and their individual cultures with an internally divided attitude that reflects their position in the middle ground of my continuum of Catholic literature and that is informed in part by the fact that Catholicism was imported into those cultures through colonialism. This conflict is not limited to Latin American writers, but also informs the work of Native American and Chinese American authors such as Louise Erdrich and Gish Jen; in other words, this conflict frequently emerges in texts in which Catholicism comes into contact with ethnicity. In this chapter, I examine a variety of recent works by women writers of various ethnicities and nationalities and explore the relationships between Catholicism and colonialism revealed in their girlhood narratives. Such writers do not fail to look critically at the colonialist intent of the Catholic convent; they often, however, also find feminist impulses in some of the more liberatory teachings and practices of the Catholic church. I intend to address these works by contemporary international women writers as sites of feminist awareness of this tension and to argue that the connections between Catholicism and ethnicity in recent writings by women of the Americas demonstrate how such writers critique, deconstruct, and reconstruct Catholicism in terms of its relationship to nationhood and its colonial history.


Young Girl Catholic Church Woman Writer Christmas Tree Female Role Model 


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  1. 4.
    Nasimiyu-Wasike, “Christianity and the African Rituals of Birth and Naming,” in The Will to Arise, Women, Tradition, and the Church in Africa, ed. Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Musimbi R. A. Kanyoro (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992) 40–53.Google Scholar

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© Jeana DelRosso 2005

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  • Jeana DelRosso

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