Methodology: research on the dialogical relationship between the monastic and other worlds

The concept of moral economy is based on the assumption of two parties, one of which in our case is a ‘monastic w'orld'. If exchanges between the two parties constitute a moral economy in the form of a mutual moral pact (or in a more settled form of moral order), then we must seek out the other side of the pact from our redefinition of the concept - the ‘outside w'orld'.

The outside world(s)

Research interview's within the ‘neighbourhood’ of the monasteries consist of those with monastery employees, local community representatives, business partners or competitors, parishioners, guests and so on.8 Together, we made 19 recordings with members of monastic communities at the time of writing and 24 recordings with various actors around the monasteries created between 2017 and 2020.9 The term ‘w'orld’, which constitutes the ‘other side’ of the monasteries in the negotiation of moral economics, was inspired by the emic categorisation of communities as they often speak about going ‘into the world’ when going beyond monastic enclosure. It also comprises society in the form of moral, social sentiments and discourses, which we searched for in media text databases.10 But, of course, the range of their communication partners is broader and consists, for example, from members of other Benedictine monasteries around the world or other church institutions not ‘from the w'orld’. In short, in every research situation, it is necessary to ask again to whom specifically the monastery now relates, who refers to the monastery and who they represent. Often we spoke to a monastery neighbour; however, they did not speak from a neighbourly perspective but as a voice expressing a specific media discourse, such as that concerning the ‘greedy’ Church.

The monastic worlds

The ‘monastic side’ of the exchanges is nonetheless no less problematic. We see two significant limitations to our research of monastic communities and their conceptions.

The first lies in our limited access to the building and to all the activities of everyday monastic life. Our research is based on short-term stays in the monasteries, during which we sought interviews with community members. Typically, we addressed superiors - abbots and priors, or cellarers, who are in charge of the economic support of the monastery, and host brothers or sisters who are responsible for the care of guests and novice masters. Where possible, we occupied different positions in the monastic worlds: monastery tourists (we took part in monastery tours), people interested in monastic products (we shopped in monastic shops), parishioners (we went to parish services) and monastery guests (we lived in guest houses, and we participated in common prayers in choir).

The second limitation is closer to our own mindful bodies, ourselves as researchers. If we seek a proper understanding of monastic worlds, we must consider their unique ‘everydayness’ as ordered by lived Christian ontological concepts. Whether the communities try to communicate their way of life to the public or not, their daily lives are still shaped differently. Whether it is because of orientation towards transcendental goals and beings or not, their time and space operate in a different mode to ours, as we do not, for example, live within monastic walls or according to the horarium. We have also tried our best to interpret their morality with respect to their specific ontology, but none of us has experienced life within a consecrated community. We try to be open to the most complex human experience possible, but our anthropological training does not include practising a perception of the transcendent being as agents. Therefore, some areas of monastic worlds remain closer to us than others, we can only operate in the overlapping areas created by the monastic communities to connect to people like ourselves, while not part of the monastic world itself.11

Monasteries: presentation of three selected places

As of 2020, there are eight Benedictine communities in the Czech Republic: three male Benedictine (Brevnov, Rajhrad, Emauzy), one female Benedictine (Venio), one male Cistercian (Vyssi Bord), one female Cistercian

(Porta Coeli), one male Trappist (Novy Dvur) and one female Trappist (Policany). Monasteries of the Benedictine tradition, as elsewhere in Europe, are the oldest in the Czech Republic, having an important status as representatives of this cultural tradition. However, we chose them also because they were entitled to restitution of their estates, which enabled us to analyse their re-introduction into society thanks to the restoration of the monastic economy. For this article, we have selected the three Benedictine communities we consider the most open to dialogue with the secular ‘world’ when compared to the rest. These examples are valuable terrain for analysing the reinterpretations and exchanges of values, emotions, spiritualities, norms and material goods within the pact of the moral economy.

Břevnov Monastery

The Benedictine Archabbey of St Adalbert and St Margaret in Bfevnov was founded in the 10th century, which makes it the oldest male community in the Czech Republic. The Bfevnov Monastery is situated in a district carrying the same name. It is recognised as a national cultural heritage site,12 which makes it a prominent local landmark in Prague. A hotel and brewery are also a part of the complex. At the time of the research, the community consisted of 13 monks (Figure 6.1).

Bfevnov Archabbey

Figure 6.1 Bfevnov Archabbey.

Source: Photograph published on website,

Broumov Monastery

Broumov Monastery is a rather special case in our analysis since it is not currently inhabited. The monastery was transformed into an internment camp in 1950 and a community of Dominican sisters who lived there until moving to Moravia in 1990. The monastery was founded in the 14th century and later rebuilt in the Baroque style. It is also recognised as a national cultural heritage site.13 The monastery is currently managed by the Broumov Region Development Agency,14 who transformed the monastery into a cultural and education centre. As such, the Broumov Monastery is administered by the archabbey in Brevnov. All activities organised by the agency are therefore executed with the consent of Archabbot Siostrzonek (Figure 6.2).

Venio Community (Komunita Venio)

Venio Community is situated not far from Brevnov on a former pilgrimage site on the White Mountain in Prague where the famous Battle of White Mountain took place.13 It is the youngest community in our analysis, having only arrived in Prague in 2007 from Munich, where they were formed by the original Venio community founded in the early 20th century.16 The central church of the complex, the Church of Our Lady Victorious, was founded in the 18th century as a site of pilgrimage. It was entrusted to the care of the Benedictines of the Brevnov Monastery in the early 19th century, and the sisters of the Venio Community have lived there and taken care of it since 2007. The complex is an unusual space for communal life since it was

Broumov Monastery and its gardens. Source

Figure 6.2 Broumov Monastery and its gardens. Source: Photograph © Tereza Pickova.

not initially built as a monastery. The place holds rather conflicting memories for Czechs and Germans, as well as Catholics and Protestants, and the sisters’ mission is to reconcile these groups. The sisters of the Venio Community do not work inside the monastery, as do many Benedictine monks and nuns, but retain their civil jobs and spend most of the day outside the monastery. The community consisted of five sisters at the time of the research (Figure 6.3).

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