Skip to main content

Unequal Partners

In Search of Transnational Catholic Sisterhood

Unequal Partners

In Search of Transnational Catholic Sisterhood

When we think of Catholicism, we think of Europe and the United States as the seats of its power. But while much of Catholicism remains headquartered in the West, the Church’s center of gravity has shifted to Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia. Focused on the transnational Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Unequal Partners explores the ways gender, race, economic inequality, and colonial history play out in religious organizations, revealing how their members are constantly negotiating and reworking the frameworks within which they operate.

Taking us from Belgium and the United States to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sociologist Casey Clevenger offers rare insight into how the sisters of this order work across national boundaries, shedding light on the complex relationships among individuals, social groups, and formal organizations. Throughout, Clevenger skillfully weaves the sisters’ own voices into her narrative, helping us understand how the order has remained whole over time. A thoughtful analysis of the ties that bind—and divide—the sisters, Unequal Partners is a rich look at transnationalism’s ongoing impact on Catholicism.

288 pages | 8 halftones, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Religion: American Religions, Christianity, Religion and Society

Sociology: Social Institutions

Women's Studies


"A richly researched ethnography that takes readers on a journey across the transnational ties of a Catholic women’s religious institute, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Sociologist Casey Ritchie Clevenger juxtaposes key takeaways in her debut book: that religious selves (and the orgnizations in which they are embedded) are at once transnationally connected and locally rooted. Religious sisters—like so many who labor and volunteer in organizations that cut across national boundaries—look the same, but different. Research doesn’t always adequately attend to those differences; Unequal Partners does."

American Journal of Sociology

“An insightful and moving case study… Casey Ritchie Clevenger manages to not only provide a rich description of the social and religious lives of these congregations… but also to speak to the larger social forces at play in the construction of transnational identities and competing narratives of global connection and competition.”

Sociology of Religion

“Scholarly and engaging from the outset, Clevenger’s Unequal Partners tackles a significant question, namely, how transnationalism emerges and impacts the living-out of what is, in one sense, a universal identity—being a Catholic nun—but which is highly contingent on localized realities as well as the dynamics of the transnational flow of both material and symbolic resources. Clevenger presents a rich empirical profile and thoughtful analysis of the kinds of women who become nuns, what their lives are like, and how and why American and Congolese nuns differ, even as they also overlap in significant ways.”

Michele Dillon, author of Postsecular Catholicism: Relevance and Renewal

“Clevenger's beautiful ethnography brings readers deep into the lived realities of Catholic sisters around the globe and the challenges of transnational sisterhood in the global Christian and sociological context.”

Wendy Cadge, author of Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine

 “Unequal Partners reads like a personal exploration into the world and life of Catholic sisters. One can easily picture life in a Congolese convent, eating the local food, traveling on the treacherous highways, and witnessing the colorful habits of the nuns, which stands in sharp contrast to the living situation of sisters in the United States, who often live in apartments by themselves or with one or two other sisters. Through historical and social analysis of sisters in these two settings, Clevenger takes up the question of the degree to which cultural differences play a substantial role in shaping the lives of sisters.”

Donald E. Miller, author of Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Batteries, Crosses, Solar Panels, and Global Sisterhood

Chapter 2. Julie Is Our Ancestor: Unearthing the Roots of Transnationalism

Chapter 3. Like Night and Day: Sisters’ Personal and Communal Religious Practices in Two Places

Chapter 4. Pathways to Religious Life for American and Congolese Women

Chapter 5. A Life of Ministries

Chapter 6. Mission Is Everything: Sisters on the Frontiers of Ministry in Greater Boston

Chapter 7. Poverty, Development, and the Challenges of Catholic Sisterhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Conclusion: Circling Back and Looking Forward

Appendix: Research Methodology


ASA Sociology of Religion Section: Distinguished Book Award
Honorable Mention

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press