Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The Roman Catholic Church is unique in having a unified set of institutional teachings across one billion people in the world including sixty million American Catholics. However, previous quantitative and qualitative studies in sociology suggest that Catholics are not unified in their beliefs but are actually quite diverse. Additionally, Baggett (2009) suggests that Catholics form distinct parish cultures on the local level, and that these parishes are the location that a majority of Catholics experience their faith. What is not know, however, is how Catholic parishes form cultures, especially around political issues. This study aims to understand exactly this by sampling a parish focused on social justice and a parish focused on respect life ministry.

The method of this study is a qualitative study of two Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Through participant observation and twenty interviews with parishioners, staff, and priests at each parish, I examined how parish cultures were formed. The first church, a self proclaimed progressive church, formed an "all are welcome" collective cultural narrative to welcome those who were alienated by the church. The second church, the respect life church, features a very active respect life group that is attempting to redefine the parish culture into a "culture of life," stemming from teachings of John Paul II. At both churches, what I observed was a negotiation of individual conscience and a collective sharing. The result was two different shared cultures - one on the parish level, and one on a small group level that was attempting to reform the parish level.

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