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Vocation for Travel: Catholic Seminary training in Sri Lanka, Bernardo Brown

Monday, November 18, 2019 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

The decline in religious vocations is a serious concern for Catholic authorities who struggle to find solutions to its ‘vocation crisis’. While seminary applications are extremely low in western nations, they have grown steadily across Africa and Asia over the last four decades. The usual explanation for this dynamic is that highly secularized countries are unable to attract young vocations, whereas countries that uphold traditional values have not lost their capacity to inspire young men to join the priesthood. I argue that such views fail to consider the personal ambitions and material anxieties that encourage young men in countries like Sri Lanka to think about the priesthood as a career alternative. Seminary recruiters have a keen understanding of the aspirations of young men in their communities, which allows them to develop creative strategies to recruit prospective clergy. Highlighting aspects of career mobility, graduate studies overseas and missionary work, seminaries provide an important incentive and source of inspiration for prospective priests. I reflect on how ‘the calling’ and notions of a ‘sincere’ vocation are products of seminary work, rather than preconditions for priestly careers.  This presentation is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Sri Lanka with Catholic men who are studying for the priesthood. Since 2014, I have worked with seminarians, formators, ordained priests and seminary authorities to interpret how vocations are sought and shaped at the National Seminary of Sri Lanka. 

Bernardo E. Brown is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the International Christian University in Tokyo. He is currently working on an ethnographic monograph about Catholic seminary training in Sri Lanka. His work on return migration to Sri Lanka has been published in several journals including Anthropological Quarterly (2018), Ethnography (2015), The Australian Journal of Anthropology (2017) and South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies (2015). With Brenda S.A. Yeoh, he edited Asian Migrants and Religious Experience. From Missionary Journeys to Labor Migration (AUP, 2018). He received a MA from the New School for Social Research and a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Cornell University. Before joining ICU, he was Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, NUS and held a post-doctoral fellowship at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Anthropology


Religion, relstcal, cashum, isscal, immcal






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