The Roman Catholic Church as a Discipline
In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault defines the body as “docile” which allows it to be transformed and controlled by various disciplines. Disciplines form from relationships that enact the policy of coercion on a body to create a machine made up of various basic parts. Religion is a prevalent way in which people are disciplined especially since most people search for some type of belief system, though it does not have to necessarily be faith based. The Roman Catholic Church exists as a widespread discipline to its almost 1.2 billion members (CNN) throughout the world. Persons belonging to it are transformed politically, morally, and geographically. The Church has a particular stance on political issues which its assumes its members will follow. Its teachings form a moral code to which its members are supposed to adhere. People are affected geographically because they must travel to different churches to practice their worship and it is expected for members to attend church services at least once a week, preferably Sunday.
Under the “art of distributions” Foucault determines that a discipline requires a multi-purpose, protected enclosures that are divided up into sections wherein an individual has its own space. For Catholicism, “Vatican City” is the main enclosure that houses the discipline, protected by a wall and considered its own country, separate from Italy where it is located. It is also heavily guarded, regulates it visitors, and houses the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which is the pope. Churches embody enclosures as they house different parishes throughout the world, which have individualized membership for those communities where they reside. Each church is further partitioned by having individual confessional booths for its members to “profess their sins” which could be considered a way to manage its individuals under Foucault’s assertion that the disciplinary space must allow for supervision. Churches are serial and useful spaces in that they can be used for mass, ritual baptisms, communions, funerals, marriages, or community meeting centers. Most of them have factions aside from the main worship hall or alter such as classrooms, dining hall, housing area, nurseries, and food pantries.
Foucault further defines a discipline’s power through its organizational creation of activity control that manipulates the body to feel a natural inclination towards its techniques. His defined control of activity includes timetables, obligatory repetitive movements, proper procedures, body positioning, and efficient timed scheduling (149). Church services follow all of these techniques as individual churches have there own weekly time schedule with Saturday being considered a day for resting and Sunday is the most common day to attend Church service or “mass”. The Roman Catholic Church has ordained certain gestures to be performed at specific times during the service such as making the sign of the cross or recite a specific phrase. They also control body positioning when people are required to kneel during the receiving of communion ceremony until the priest, also known as the head of the mass, sits down in his chair, then the rest of the congregation may do the same. The body positioning techniques form a natural habit for children that attend service and become a form of self-policing after they have learned them. Though they may not be openly ridiculed if they do not perform them, practicing adults in Catholicism automatically adhere to them during church services. The priest is part of the rank order that exerts command and authority within a community church, which embodies the sum of parts to make the Roman Catholic Church a whole working machine. Of the seven sacraments that the Church has degreed, it requires its members to receive the sacrament of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation in order to be initiated as full members. Based on the elementary parts set out by the Church, Foucault would consider it to be a dominant yielding discipline that exerts control over a large body.