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The Emergence of Mother Teresa as a Religious Visionary and the Initial Resistance to Her Charism/a: A Sociological and Public Theology Perspective

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AbstractThe article focuses on the emergence of Mother Teresa as a religious visionary and the hostile treatment she received at the Loreto order in the late 1940s. Mother Teresa’s early career as an ‘independent’ nun is a useful case study to look afresh at some traditional views on the revolutionary nature of charisma, the initial reception of the ‘natural’ and charismatic leader, mainly the ‘deviant type’, and the ‘proofs’ expected from and provided by the ‘bearer of charisma’ in modernity. This article contends that approaching Mother Teresa’s charism/a from a sociological and public theology perspective reveals both the potential and the need for interdisciplinary research to explore the publicness of religion and engage further the academy with the life, work and legacy of this twentieth century religious leader.

1. FN11 I identify some of the reasons why Mother Teresa scholarship does not concentrate on the private life of the famous nun in Gëzim Alpion, Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity? (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2007).
2. FN22 Charles Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3.
3. FN33 Ibid., p. 6.
4. FN44 Zygmunt Bauman, ‘Sociological Enlightenment: For Whom, About What?’, Theory, Culture & Society, 17:2 (2000), 71–82 at 78–9.
5. FN55 Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (London: SCM Press, 1967), p. 305. The book was first published in German in 1965.
6. FN66 See Mother Teresa, Where There Is Love, There Is God: A Path to Closer Union with God and Greater Love for Others, ed. B. Kolodiejuchuk (New York: Doubleday, 2010), pp. 179–80.
7. FN77 Albert Huart, ‘Mother Teresa: Joy in Darkness’, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflections, 64:9 (2000), 645–59; Joseph Neuner, ‘Mother Teresa’s Charism’, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflections, 65:3 (2001), 179–92; Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta’, ed. B. Kolodiejuchuk (New York: Doubleday, 2007); Teresa, Where There Is Love, There Is God.
8. FN88 Some Weber scholars take issue with what they consider as commonplace, even banal, appropriation and usage of Weber’s notion of charisma; see Christoph R. Hatscher, Charisma und Res Publica: Max Weber’s Herrschaftssoziologie und die Römische Republik (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000), pp. 19–20; and Stephen P. Turner, ‘Charisma Reconsidered’, Journal of Classical Sociology, 3:1 (2003), 5–26 at 6. Rapoport, on the other hand, argues that ‘[t]hrough Weber charisma has become a common term in our ordinary and academic vocabularies’; see David C. Rapoport, ‘Moses, Charisma, and Covenant’, The Western Political Quarterly, 32:2 (1979), 123–43 at 137.
9. FN99 For more information on the rise and fall of Nikollë Bojaxhiu, see Alpion, Mother Teresa, pp. 157–8.
10. FN1010 Mother Teresa is known to have read this publication regularly as a teenager.
11. FN1111 Becoming a nun is traditionally described as being dead to the world. See Marcelle Bernstein, Nuns (Glasgow: Collins, 1978), p. 108. Mother Teresa’s mother and brother Lazar were initially strongly against her decision to enter the religious life. Lazar went as far as saying to Mother Teresa that in joining an order in India she was burying herself alive in the middle of nowhere; see David Porter, Mother Teresa: The Early Years (Oxford and New York: ISIS Large Print, 1986), p. 29.
12. FN1212 See Kathryn Spink, For the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, her Missionaries of Charity and her Co-Workers (Godalming: Colour Library International, 1981), pp. 16–18; Kathryn Spink, Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography (New York: HarperOne, 1998), p. 3; and Anne Sebba, Mother Teresa: Beyond the Image (London: Orion, 1997), p. 13.
13. FN1313 See John Cairns, ‘How this Book Came About’, in L. Vardey, ed., A Simple Path (London: Rider, 1995), pp. 7–12 at pp. 11–12; Spink, Mother Teresa, p. vii; Navin Chawla, Mother Teresa: The Authorized Biography (London: Vega, 2002), pp. vii, xxii, 192–3 and 197; Aroup Chatterjee, Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict (Kolkata: Meteor Books, 2003), p. 31.
14. FN1414 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 184. Ferdinand Périer was born in Belgium on 22 September 1875 and died in India on 10 November 1968. He was Archbishop of Calcutta from 1924–1960.
15. FN1515 Huart, ‘Mother Teresa’; Neuner, ‘Mother Teresa’s Charism’.
16. FN1616 Neuner, ‘Mother Teresa’s Charism’, 181.
17. FN1717 Huart, ‘Mother Teresa’, 659.
18. FN1818 Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America (New York: Vintage, 1992), p. 57.
19. FN1919 In December 2011 and January 2012, I contacted several individuals who knew Mother Teresa in person to inquire whether ‘charism’ or ‘charisma’ is the most suitable term to apply to her. They all believe that a distinction needs to be made between Mother Teresa and celebrities in general and that one way of doing this is through employing ‘charism’ and not ‘charisma’ to distinguish what was unique about her personality and why her order, the Missionaries of Charity, was successful from the start.
20. FN2020 See Bernstein, Nuns, p. 268.
21. FN2121 Mother Teresa was hailed as a ‘living saint’ by the media and politicians in India almost from the moment she set up the Missionaries of Charity.
22. FN2222 Desmond Doig, Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work (London: Collins, 1978), p. 48.
23. FN2323 Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God: Mother Teresa of Calcutta (London: Collins, 1971).
24. FN2424 Unattributed article, ‘Saints Among Us: The Work of Mother Teresa’, TIME Magazine, 29 December 1975, <,9171,945463,00.html> [accessed 28 May 2013].
25. FN2525 According to Mother Teresa’s brother Lazar Bojaxhiu, his father was a staunch supporter of the Albanian national cause and his patriotic activity cost him his life. In an interview, which the Italian magazine La Gente ran in December 1979 and January 1980, Lazar made the claim that his father was poisoned by Serb ultra-nationalists after he had attended a meeting in Belgrade.
26. FN2626 See Alpion, Mother Teresa, pp. 157–82.
27. FN2727 I learned for the first time about the large number of deaths to have afflicted Mother Teresa’s extended family as a teenager in Skopje during the interviews with her relatives in 2013.
28. FN2828 I will shortly submit for publication the first article on Mother Teresa’s spiritual darkness.
29. FN2929 M. P. K. Kuttty, ‘Muggeridge, Mother Teresa and her Mission: A Response to Vir Sanghvi’, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India News, 14 September 2007.
30. FN3030 Teresa, Come Be My Light, pp. 133–4.
31. FN3131 Ibid., p. 134.
32. FN3232 Chawla, Mother Teresa, p. 34.
33. FN3333 See Porter, Mother Teresa, p. 63.
34. FN3434 Bharati Mukherjee, ‘Mother Teresa: The Saint’, Time, 14 June 1999, <,9171,991258,00.html> [accessed 12 January 2012].
35. FN3535 See Alpion, Mother Teresa, p. 197.
36. FN3636 For information on the discrimination Mother Teresa experienced at Loreto, on the basis of her Albanian origin, see Alpion, Mother Teresa, pp. 195–9.
37. FN3737 See (rsv, Rom. 15:19).
38. FN3838 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 143.
39. FN3939 Mukherjee, ‘Mother Teresa’.
40. FN4040 Ibid.
41. FN4141 I am grateful to Gaston Roberge for showing me various scripts of the film In the Name of God’s Poor during my visit at St Xavier’s College, Calcutta, India, in the summer of 2005.
42. FN4242 See Teresa, Come Be My Light, pp. 82 and 90.
43. FN4343 Ibid., p. 90.
44. FN4444 Mother Teresa: In the Name of God’s Poor. Dir. Kevin Connor. The Family Channel and Hallmark Entertainment, 1997 (usa). Film.
45. FN4545 Ibid.
46. FN4646 See Charlotte Gray, Mother Teresa: The Nun whose ‘Mission of Love’ has Helped Millions of the World’s Poorest People (Watford: Exley, 1990), p. 20; Doig, Mother Teresa, p. 53; and Edward Le Joly, We Do it for Jesus: Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1977), p. 18.
47. FN4747 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 109.
48. FN4848 Mother Teresa scholarship does not offer a clear picture regarding Mother Teresa’s command of spoken and written Bengali language. To clarify this issue, in January 2012 I sought out the opinions of five people who either knew Mother Teresa personally or have written extensively on her. On the basis of their information, I conclude that Mother Teresa had a good practical knowledge of Bengali (though not literary Bengali) that enabled her to teach geography and even be the Principal of St Mary’s School, but her written Bengali was not very good. Calcutta born London based physician Aroup Chatterjee is of the opinion that the claim that Mother Teresa taught children in Bengali is a myth. Likewise, Chatterjee holds that Mother Teresa could not have been a head teacher in a Bengali medium school (see A. Chatterjee, ‘Mother Teresa’s Command of Bengali Language’, e-mail, 10 January 2012).
49. FN4949 Sebba, Mother Teresa, p. 35.
50. FN5050 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 109.
51. FN5151 I had a chance to look at some of Mother Teresa’s unpublished letters in the possession of her relatives during interviews I conducted with them in 2011 and 2013. These letters indicate a very good command of the English language.
52. FN5252 See Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 371 n. 9.
53. FN5353 For information on nuns leaving orders see Bernstein, Nuns, pp. 81, 100 and 270.
54. FN5454 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 97.
55. FN5555 See Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 108.
56. FN5656 Ibid., p. 118.
57. FN5757 Ibid., pp. 21 and 25.
58. FN5858 Teresa was advised by the Superior General of the Loreto order in Ireland to apply to the Holy See for an indult of exclaustration, which meant that she could live by her vows when she left Loreto to work in the slums of Calcutta.
59. FN5959 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 76.
60. FN6060 Ibid., p. 369 n. 26.
61. FN6161 See Teresa, Come Be My Light, pp. 49, 51, 92 and 94.
62. FN6262 Ibid., p. 62.
63. FN6363 Ibid., pp. 54–5.
64. FN6464 See Bernstein, Nuns, p. 127.
65. FN6565 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 63.
66. FN6666 See ibid., p. 54.
67. FN6767 Ibid., p. 63.
68. FN6868 See ibid., p. 80.
69. FN6969 Ibid., p. 55.
70. FN7070 Ibid., p. 80.
71. FN7171 Ibid., pp. 48 and 96.
72. FN7272 Ibid., pp. 51 and 66.
73. FN7373 Ibid., p. 143.
74. FN7474 Ibid., p. 137.
75. FN7575 Ibid.
76. FN7676 Ibid., p. 143.
77. FN7777 See Teresa, Come Be My Light, pp. 109 and 137.
78. FN7878 Mother Teresa claimed that on 10 September 1946, when she was on her way to the hill station of Darjeeling to recuperate following a spell of ill health, Jesus told her to leave Loreto.
79. FN7979 Spink, Mother Teresa, p. 8.
80. FN8080 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p. 3.
81. FN8181 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 62.
82. FN8282 Ibid., p. 124; see also pp. 125–6.
83. FN8383 Ibid., p. 126.
84. FN8484 Ibid., p. 129.
85. FN8585 Ibid., p. 143.
86. FN8686 Bernstein, Nuns, p. 270.
87. FN8787 Karl Jaspers, Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (Berlin: Julius Springer, 1919).
88. FN8888 Mother Teresa claimed she experienced the ‘first call’ from God to enter the religious life when she was 12 years old.
89. FN8989 Alpion, Mother Teresa, pp. 217–20.
90. FN9090 Eileen Egan, Such a Vision of the Street: Mother Teresa—The Spirit and the Work, Complete and Unabridged (New York: Doubleday, 1986), p. 27.
91. FN9191 Teresa, Come Be My Light, p. 118.
92. FN9292 Ibid., p. 67.
93. FN9393 Max Weber, ‘Charisma and Its Transformation’, in G. Roth and C. Wittich, eds, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, vol. 2, trans. E. Fischoff et al. (London: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 1111–57 at p. 1111 (original italics).
94. FN9494 Ibid.
95. FN9595 Ibid., pp. 1111–12.
96. FN9696 Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, p. 60.
97. FN9797 For interpretations of Moltmann’s notions of ‘Exodus church’ and ‘Exodus community’, see Moltmann, Theology of Hope, p. 304; and Scott R. Paeth, Exodus Church and Civil Society: Public Theology and Social Theory in the Work of Jürgen Moltmann (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), p. 3.
98. FN9898 Moltmann, Theology of Hope, p. 304.
99. FN9999 Ibid., pp. 304–305.
100. FN100100 Doig, Mother Teresa, p. 48.
101. FN101101 For information on the Nehruvian secularism see Gnana Patrick, ‘Public Theology in the Indian Context: A Note on Certain Aspects its Prospects and Challenges’, <> [accessed 26 June 2013].
102. FN102102 Spink, Mother Teresa, p. 77.
103. FN103103 Kalyan Chaudhuri and Parvathi Menon, ‘For the Poorest of the Poor: People the World over Mourn the Death of Mother Teresa’, Frontline, vol. 14, no. 19, 20 September to 3 October 1997.
104. FN104104 Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (London: SCM Press, 2000), p. 185. Moltmann is using ‘he’ in the generic sense here and could equally have used ‘she’.
105. FN105105 Ibid., p. 186.
106. FN106106 Ibid., p. 188.
107. FN107107 See Teresa, Where There Is Love, p. 188.
108. FN108108 James Haire, ‘Public Theology: A Purely Western Issue? Public Theology in the Praxis of the Church in Asia’, <–03/09_jameshaire48.pdf> [accessed 3 June 2013].
109. FN109109 Pope Paul VI, ‘Decree on the Media of Social Communication: Inter Mirifica’, 4 December 1963, <> [accessed 1 June 2013].
110. FN110110 See Patrick, ‘Public Theology’; Simon Speck, ‘Ulrich Beck’s ‘Reflecting Faith’: Individualization, Religion and the Desecularization of Reflexive Modernity’, Sociology, 47:1 (2013), 157–72.

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