Taking Advantage of the Context: The Manifold Roles of Catholic Chaplains in Public Institutions in Spain

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 10:57
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Julia MARTINEZ-ARINO, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany
Mar GRIERA, ISOR, Investigacions en Sociologia de la Religió, Department of Sociology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès), Spain
This paper analyses the reconfiguration of the roles of Catholic chaplains in public institutions in Spain at the crossroads of secularisation, religious diversification and the deficiencies in the welfare system. We argue that Catholic chaplains refashion their roles by strategically taking advantage of the contextual opportunities provided by public institutions. This allows them to reinforce their position within the institutions and retain their legitimacy. We have identified four main roles that chaplains play in hospitals and prisons, which are basically those of being a) chaplains sensu stricto offering religious care and counselling; b) social service providers filling the gaps in the welfare system; c) experts on religious diversity issues addressing the religious illiteracy of secular organisations’ staff; and ultimately d) jacks-of-all-trades solving a number of accidental and intractable issues coming up in the everyday functioning of such institutions. However, this redefinition and adaptation of their roles and tasks is not always done smoothly. Along with the adjustment to the conditions of secular organisations and to the growing presence of religious minorities, subtle resistances emerge. The paper is based on qualitative empirical research done in 8 prisons and 6 hospitals in Spain between 2011 and 2014.