The study of vocation is a classic in the sociology of religion, at least since Max Weber. An updating of this subject is welcome as it provides fresh information on how vocation is perceived in our new cultural milieu and how it is practiced today.
The book edited by the Italian sociologist Giordan brings together nine contributions dealing with theoretical and empirical aspects of vocation. The starting point is the view that vocation involves both individuals and society, hence must deal with this complex relationship. It also relates to both the traditional Christian understanding of vocation and the modern, broader, notion of vocation as profession, commitment, and purpose.
The first chapter, by Weigert and Blasi, outlines a theoretical map based on sociology and social psychology. Vocation is related to personal identity, and consequently to social interaction, in line with the pragmatic approach of G.H. Mead. This identity is also an answer to a socially defined call.
The other papers of the book present empirical research. Several papers deal with vocation among young. Garelli analyzes data from young Italians, pointing to a secularization of the notion of vocation, which still plays an important role in describing one’s project, in a self-serving fashion. Berzano uses similar data, exploring the constrains to vocation in general, and to religious commitment in particular, identifying factors involved in this personal life choice.
The other papers are dedicated to specific issues. Blasi centers on the exodus of Catholic clergy, showing the transformation in their understanding of vocation after the crisis. A similar survey has been conducted by Giordan, interviewing a sample of 25 former Catholic priests. In their view, vocation is still a good framework to understand their dramatic choices, taking into account the displacement of meaning that takes place.
The evolution of clerical vocations is a good indicator of general changes. Fishman and Jones analyze cross-national variations in the evolution of priestly ordinations, pointing to a positive correlation pattern between political openness and religious engagement.
Leming compares the ways female Catholic identities are negotiated in the USA and India, explaining the different strategies used to cope with displacements, and pointing to the role played by religious agency. In data on Catholic seminarians in Italy, Dal Piaz explores deep changes in the way priestly candidates are formed and how they configure their identity and expectations. In the last chapter Butler describes the vocation of Martin Luther King as a leader to involvement in social action.
This book allows us to measure the development of the notion of vocation up to its present state – yet almost exclusively in the Catholic Church – and the factors that affect its present condition, as social, cultural, and ecclesiastical changes over the last decades have deeply affected the way vocation is perceived and practiced, specially when it involves higher levels of commitment.