2019-2020 Seminar

How Nuns Changed America



About the Ramonat Seminar

The Ramonat Seminar in American Catholic History and Culture is an interdisciplinary, two-semester course that provides Loyola undergraduates with the unique opportunity to explore changing topics within American Catholic history through hands-on research. Taught by a Loyola faculty member, the seminar is limited to 12 participants who pursue common readings in the fall semester and individual research projects in the spring semester. Unlike standard undergraduate courses, the Ramonat Seminar provides promising students, who will be named Ramonat Scholars, with resources for research, travel, and even publication in digital and print formats, all aimed at their general professional development. The best final research paper or digital project from each year’s seminar, to be voted on by a panel of three judges from among the faculty of the University, will win The Susan Ramonat Prize for Scholarly Excellence.

2019-2010 Seminar: How Nuns Changed America
HIST 300D-03W | WSGS 397-03W

You may have seen Sister Act, The Blues Brothers, and maybe even The Nun. Perhaps the first nun you’ve ever thought about is Sister Jean. Though often reduced to caricatures or ignored altogether, American nuns have made immeasurable contributions to U.S. society.

  • They built the largest independent health care system in the world and the largest private educational system in the U.S.
  • They served on battlefields and protest lines, in mining towns and urban slums.
  • They were first responders in natural disasters and epidemics.
  • They were among the first women to get PhDs and run corporations.
  • They have stood up to the United States military, international corporations, and The Vatican.
  • They helped change the role of American women, the role of the American Catholic Church, and even the nature of American feminism.

This class will explore how Catholic nuns shaped this country in the past and how they continue to do so.

Topics to be considered are the intersection of women and religion, the role that official Catholicism has played not only in maintaining patriarchy but also subverting it, how American nuns broke from their European counterparts, how nuns devised their own practice of leadership in many arenas of American society…sometimes subversive, sometimes defiant, the fascination with nuns in U.S. popular culture, the growing commitment of nuns to social justice issues, and the role of nuns in shaping Chicago.

In addition to the weekly seminars, the fall semester will include guest speakers, film screenings, and field trips. The spring semester is devoted to writing a primary-source research paper.

For information or to apply, please contact Dr. Murphy at bmurphy@luc.edu.

About the Instructor

Dr. Bren Ortega Murphy

Bren Ortega Murphy received her PhD in Communication Studies from Northwestern University and holds a joint appointment at Loyola University Chicago in the School of Communication and Women’s Studies/Gender Studies.

Dr. Murphy’s areas of teaching and research include gender representation in film and children’s literature, communication ethics, communication theory, community engagement, and feminist theory. In addition to numerous book chapters and conference presentations, she co-authored Hegemony in the United States (with Dr. Lee Artz) and co-edited Voices of Strong Democracy (with Dr. David Droge). She has written, directed and produced one radio documentary and two video documentaries including A Question of Habit, a feature length documentary that examines the depiction of women religious in U.S. popular culture. A Question of Habit won numerous awards at U.S. film festivals and was broadcast on PBS. Her next project is a multi-segment documentary on American Catholicism.

She was one of the first recipients of Loyola’s highest teaching award, the Sujack Award for Teaching Excellence.

Applying to the Ramonat Seminar

Application for the Ramonat Seminar is competitive and open to undergraduate students in all majors. Accepted students are required to complete both the fall and spring courses.

Applicants must submit:

  • An application form
  • A short essay on their interest in the course
  • A copy of their transcript
  • A writing sample

by March 22, 2019 for consideration. Students will learn of their acceptance by April 7th, before the start of fall registration. For more information about the Ramonat Seminar, please contact Dr. Bren Ortega Murphy at (bmurphy@luc.edu).