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In April 2020, just as Covid began sweeping across the United States, Commonweal published a special feature about parish life in this country, examining how recent changes visible in the pews reflected broader dynamics in the Church and society at large. More than a year and a half later, with the lasting effects of the pandemic beginning to come into focus, we are now publishing a set of articles devoted to Catholic religious communities, in the broadest sense of that term.
The subtitle of this feature alludes to William James’s famous book The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), which argues that the essence of religion is individual experience, not doctrines or institutions. Our subtitle, “The varieties of religious community today,” is both a tribute to James’s great work and a partial challenge to its thesis, for in Catholic Christianity individual religious practice is usually mediated by some kind of community, and even the most solitary mystical experiences are intelligible in reference to the whole Body of Christ. Just as we understand the Trinity as a set of relationships within the Godhead, we understand the practice of Christian faith to entail a set of relationships—first between each of us and God, but also between the members of families, parishes, and the universal Church.
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