Changing God, Changing Bodies: The Impact of New Prayer Practices on Elderly Catholic Nuns’ Embodied Experience


  • Anna I. Corwin


I focus this study on changes in the prayer lives of U.S. Catholic nuns following Vatican II; widespread institutional change in the Catholic Church that, among other things, transformed U.S. Catholic nuns’ lives. In the article, I combine a phenomenological model of embodiment with narrative analysis to show how institutional linguistic prayer practices transform elderly nuns’ embodied experience as they age. Drawing on naturalistic video- and audio-recordings gathered over three years in a Catholic convent in the Midwestern United States, I show how changing communicative and embodied prayer practices following Vatican II have impacted U.S. Catholic nuns’ (1) understanding of the divine, (2) relationship with the divine, (3) embodied experience of the divine, and (4) how these changes have impacted their experiences of and interpretation of physical states including illness and pain. Overall, I offer insight into how changes in the nuns’ linguistic practice of prayer impact the nuns’ documented success in managing loneliness and chronic pain at the end of life.