The Pious Sex

Catholic Constructions of Masculinity and Femininity in Belgium, c. 1800–1940

Tine Van Osselaer (Author),

Series: KADOC-Studies on Religion, Culture and Society 12

Category: Gender Studies, History, History 1800-present

Language: English

ISBN: 9789058679505

Publication date: December 10, 2013

€49.50 (including 6% VAT)

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Number of pages: 271

Size: 238 x 170 x 15 mm

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Stock item: 83719

Standard delivery time for print books:

For Belgium: 5 to 8 working days

For EU: 2 to 3 weeks

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Series: KADOC-Studies on Religion, Culture and Society 12

Category: Gender Studies, History, History 1800-present

Language: English

DOI: 10.11116/9789461662132

ISBN: 9789461662132

Publication date: December 10, 2013

€37.00 (including 6% VAT)

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Number of pages: 271

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The construction of gender in Belgian Catholicism

Although women were called the ‘pious sex’ much earlier, it was during the nineteenth century, when the differences between men and women were being made more explicit, that an intense bond between women and religion was developed. Religiosity was thought to be a ‘natural’ part of femininity and turned religious masculinity into an oddity. This clear-cut gender ideology, however, remains an ideology (prescribed and contested) that needs to be put in the perspective of its context of origin, the bourgeois milieu. How were these gender identities constructed and by whom?

With this volume Van Osselaer seeks to clarify how the gender differentiation was created among Belgian Catholics. She brings to light the extent to which religiosity was inscribed in these constructions and how religious teachings contributed to it. It is clear that the limitations of the ‘feminization’ thesis, a master narrative that has strongly contributed to the introduction of women in religious history, have gradually become more visible. Documenting pastoral care, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Catholic Action, The Pious Sex offers critical commentaries on the master narratives, suggesting that even men could belong to a ‘pious sex’.

This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).


Gender & Religion
‘Plus une femme est sainte, … , plus elle est femme’: ‘Naturalising’ religiosity
On the intersection of gender studies and religious studies

The ‘Feminisation’ Thesis: a Primer

Introducing Belgian Catholics
Opening perspectives
Gender dualisms
Sacred Heart devotion
Catholic Action
Pastoral manuals and periodicals
Constructing gender identities


The ‘Pious Sex’
Topography of a theme
‘The other sex’
Women’s piety
Communicating with the ‘pious sex’
‘La classe dévote’
Women’s spiritual guidance: concluding remarks
Only fit for women
‘Handle with care’: communicating with male parishioners
Winning men through ‘masculine’ behaviour
The pastor and his flock

Gender Ideology in Church
Pharisees, porch guards and lovers: gender prejudices and ideals pervading the sermons
Creating a problem?
Considering Belgium
Considering Catholic practice
Considering a crisis

Gender Ideology for the ‘Little Church’, the Catholic Home
Introducing the Catholic family, cornerstone of Christian society
A family model and model family
‘Mulieri non permitto… dominari in virum’
A good wife is God-given
In the name of the Father
Concluding remarks


The Sacred Heart Devotion in Belgium
For the love of Christ
For the heart of the nation: Belgium and the Sacred Heart
Devotional practices and movements

Changing Apostles
‘More effective than the sound of the bell’: the Apostleship of Prayer at the end of the 1860s
The Apostleship in the 1890s: defining a problem
‘Divide et impera’: reintroducing women in the 1930s

Gendering Heroism
Catholic heroism
Heroic women
Heroic men
Becoming a hero and heroine
Models for Christians


Setting the Stage: Adult Catholic Action Movements
Catholics in action
Introducing the Catholic Action in Belgium
Catholic Action in Belgium: youth organisations
New style adult Catholic Action movements
Young prophets and veterans
Mobilising the laity
Unity and difference

Mobilising Men
‘Militant’ and ‘modern’ movements
A lay movement
Promoters and militants
A focus on men
‘Real’ men
A single-sex movement
‘En service commandé’
Catholic Action and new ideologies
Concluding remarks

Mobilising Mothers
Women’s Catholic Action
Women’s movement
Motherhood duties?
‘Real’ women
Regarding men
Concluding remarks


Adam, Eve and the Others
Gender dyads
Gender difference
Dichotomous constructions?

‘Feminisation’ and ‘Masculinisation’



Tine Van Osselaer

Tine Van Osselaer is research professor at Universiteit Antwerpen (Ruusbroec Institute).

Feuilleter cet ouvrage permet d'apprécier une belle étude historique (beaucoup de sources), qui montre comment s'est construite l'image prescrite d'une féminité par essence voulue "pieuse"... Sondant les stéréotypes, l'auteure, Tine Van Osselaert, finit par suggérer que les hommes aussi, dans le fond, peuvent appartenir au "sexe pieux"...
Blog de Sébastien Fath >>>

The 'Pious Sex' is a must-read for gender historians, theologians, feminist theorists, religious historians and anyone else who wishes to move beyond the simple stereotypes of 'female piety' to gain deeper insights into the logic and contradictions of Catholic devotion in the 'long' nineteenth century and throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
Mary Heimann, University of Strathclyde, The Innes Review 65.2 (2014): 158-;184

Van Osselaer heeft een helder gestructureerd boek geschreven. Door de structuur steeds duidelijk aan te geven neemt zij de lezer mee aan de hand. Dit schept overzicht, al haalt het soms ook een deel van de spanning weg. Van Osselaer heeft voortdurend oog voor de bredere historische ontwikkelingen en ruimere context waarin haar empirische materiaal te begrijpen valt. Haar proefschrift bevat een uitgebreide geschiedenis van de religieuze bewegingen die zij beschrijft, en maatschappelijke ontwikkelingen krijgen een centrale plek in haar betoog. Van Osselaers belangrijkste bijdrage is echter haar scherpzinnige en genuanceerde genderanalyse van het gevarieerde bronnenmateriaal. Zij heeft een indrukwekkende hoeveelheid bronnen bestudeerd en plaatst haar analyse in de context van de internationale secundaire literatuur. Het boek eindigt met een oproep om binnen religiegeschiedenis meer aandacht te besteden aan de historische en geografische veranderlijkheid van genderconstructies. Van Osselaers studie laat het belang van een dergelijke benadering zien.
Saskia Bultman, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, Volume 127, Number 4, November 2014, pp. 728-729(2)

Van Osselaer's sources are so abundant and voluminous (the book's materials are in Flemish, French, German and English) and she reads them so well, that many fresh, new insights surface. [...] The chapters express an abiding curiosity about the centrality of femininity and masculinity in European Catholicism, and a willingness to read carefully and think deeply about ideas different from one's own. So, not only for the richness of her data, but also as an exemplum of a scholarly ideal, The Pious Sex deserves considerable praise.
Brenna Moore, Fordham University, USA, European History Quarterly, Vol. 45 No. 1

Throughout the book, Van Osselaer insists on this dual view, showing that the Pious Sex of the title could be defined as both male and female throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in Catholic Belgium. Her analysis of several Catholic initiatives impressing the laity with carefully designed images of “devout” masculine and feminine identities shows that, although the relation between men and women within Belgian Catholic circles was highly dichotomous and hierarchical, and although women’s roles within these organizations changed substantially throughout the modern period, these changes cannot be qualified as a process of feminization, but rather as one of increasing differentiation. Whereas the introduction offers a sharply drawn theoretical critique of the feminization narrative based mainly on current debates in gender studies, the
empirical chapters show a wide array of roles and models held up to laymen, laywomen, and children.

Josephine Hoegaerts, Catholic University of Leuven, The Catholic Historical Review 2015, vol. 101, no. 2

Tine Van Osselaer’s meticulously researched The Pious Sex constitutes the most recent comprehensive product of the first generation of scholars that thoroughly developed the study of gender, and specifically masculinity, in the modern history of the Low Countries.Stefan Meysman, BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review. 132, 2017

BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review

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