To Become a Priest in Sri Lanka: Recruitment, Education and Mobility in a Catholic Seminary by Dr Bernardo E. Brown
Date : 22 Feb 2019
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : AS8, Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Prof Kenneth Dean, Asia Research Institute, and Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore


The steep decline in religious vocations over the last fifty years is a main concern for Catholic authorities who struggle to find solutions to the ‘vocation crisis’ in the Church. Although the number of men joining seminaries has remained low in western nations, they have grown steadily in former mission territories across Africa and Asia. The usual explanation given for this contrasting dynamic is that countries where secularism and liberalism are stronger are unable to attract young vocations, whereas countries where Catholic communities uphold traditional values have not yet lost their capacity to inspire young men to join the priesthood. I argue in this paper that such views reflect the position of Church authorities and theologians rather than the aspirations and anxieties that encourage young men in Sri Lanka to consider the priesthood as a career alternative. 

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 are vocations cultivated in contemporary Sri Lanka. I suggest that seminary recruiters have a keen understanding of the aspirations of young men in Sri Lanka, and develop creative strategies to recruit young men to join the seminary. Highlighting aspects of career mobility, graduate studies overseas and missionary work, seminaries provide an important incentive and source of inspiration for prospective priests. My research thus attempts to reflect on how perceptions of ‘the calling’ and notions of what is a 'sincere' vocation are product of seminary work, rather than the precondition of a priestly career.


Bernardo E. Brown is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. His current research projects focus on Catholic seminaries and priestly vocations in South and Southeast Asia. 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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