Focus on Cistercian Studies Quarterly

In the year 1098, in France, a Benedictine abbot named Robert of Molesme acquired a plot of land called Cîteaux just south of Dijon and relocated there with around twenty supporters to found a new monastery. In his view, the Benedictines had moved away from the so-called Rule of St. Benedict, which emphasized hard work and a simple life of charity. While the pope eventually ordered Robert to return to his original monastery, his supporters remained, putting up lodging, beginning to farm the land, and building their church. Within eight years, this work was completed, and a new religious order was created, founded on the principles of living an austere life as it was in St. Benedict’s time, emphasizing manual labor and agriculture in particular. Named after the Latin name of Cîteaux, Cistercium, this order came to be known as the Order of Cistercians. By the end of the 12th century, the order had spread to the British Isles, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. Over the years, the focus of this order moved towards education and scholarship, and starting in the 17th century, a group of reformers based out of La Trappe Abbey, known as the Trappists, developed their own version of the order dedicated to a new commitment to the Rule of St. Benedict. By 1892, these reformers had consolidated into a new order called the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, or OCSO, while those who remained under the original order became known as Cistercians of the Common Observance (OCist).

Starting in 1934, OCSO began publishing Collectanea, a review of monastic spirituality and history within the order, primarily in French but occasionally in English. In 1965, OCSO decided to spin the English translations of Collectanea into its own publication. It was then determined that rather than duplicating the articles in Collectanea, the new publication should publish original material in English, along with English translations of various Cistercian studies. This new publication was launched in 1966 under the name Cistercian Studies. In 1991, to avoid confusion with a series of books published under the same name, it changed its name to Cistercian Studies Quarterly (CSQ). Soon after its founding, it became entirely independent of Collectanea and today is considered the premier international review of scholarship related to OCSO. Atla proudly indexes Cistercian Studies Quarterly in Atla Religion Database®, and its full text is available in Atlas PLUS®. Atla Product Specialist Todd Aiello spoke with Father Jerome Machar, who serves as Administrator for Cistercian Studies Quarterly, on the journal’s history and place within religious scholarship.

Cistercian Studies Quarterly published its first issues under the editorship of Dom Samson (James) Wicksteed, abbot of Caldey Abbey in Wales. Initially patterned on Collectanea, Cistercian Studies Quarterly gradually became independent. CSQ‘s editorship remained at Caldey through 1981. Since then, CSQ‘s editors have been members of various OCSO monasteries in the United States, including New Clairvaux Abbey in Tehama County, California; Holy Trinity Abbey at Huntsville, Utah; Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, New York; Wrentham Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts; and its current home at Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky under the editorship of Fr. Lawrence Morey. Associate Editor Marsha Dutton has held her role since 1991.

While the focus of the journal is the Cistercian Order and its history starting in the 12th century, according to Father Machar, “submissions are welcome from the perspective of Eastern and Western monasticism and the context of monasticism from late antiquity to the present day. There is generally a good balance between historical and interpretive approaches.” The articles serve as a resource for research into Cistercian thought or history, contributed by many of the best-known scholars in the field, often extending from the beginning of their careers through full maturity. The journal also contains work by scholars not engaged in Cistercian research but whose articles provide context for Cistercian thought.

According to Father Machar, “many articles in CSQ over the years have become indispensable for scholars in the various fields covered by the journal. The Quarterly format fosters a long-term dialogue between scholars and monastics.” CSQ sources articles not only from preeminent scholars of the Cistercian order but also from the homilies and chapter talks of Cistercian monks and nuns who are not practicing scholars. This is a valuable resource to scholars of Cistercians who lack personal access to monastic life. Father Machar proudly reports that scholars often develop their initial articles from CSQ into monographs after publication. The journal also encourages presenters at scholarly conferences related to the Order to submit their work for publication with CSQ, which has allowed its readers to hear the voices not only of American scholars but also (as in recent years) of German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and South African scholars.

The article submission process involves several steps to ensure quality and relevance. Initially, the editor reviews the article. Following this, it undergoes a blind peer review by experts specializing in the article’s subject area. Finally, the article is collaboratively edited with the author before it is published. There is also a dedicated section in each issue for book reviews on works covering topics of interest to its readers. Additionally, the journal offers annual and ten-year indices, providing a regular overview of what is being read and footnotes leading to supporting material. Each year, the journal includes summaries of all the papers published at the Cistercian Studies Conference (part of the International Congress of Medieval Studies) at Western Michigan University.  

When asked of the lasting scholarly significance of CSQ, Father Machar said, “The growing collection of articles by some of the greatest of Anglophone scholars of monastic thought and history means that CSQ’s resources will continue to contribute to the growth of research and writing in the field, not only among those publishing in CSQ itself but also those expanding into other scholarly areas and publishing in other fields, such as those devoted to medieval music, patristics, medieval pedagogy, literary genres, iconography, homiletics, architectural theory, and economics.”

Cistercian Studies Quarterly’s importance in the scholarly world of religion and theology can perhaps best be summed up with words from a letter to the editor written by CSQ Associate Editor Marsha Dutton in January 2003, shared with Atla by Father Machar: “Most English-speaking scholars in the rapidly growing field of Cistercian studies publish in CSQ, knowing that as that is the journal of preference for the field, anyone addressing Cistercian topics will turn there first.  Furthermore, although the primary focus of CSQ is Cistercian writers, history, documents, and spirituality, it regularly publishes articles on other monastic topics, e.g. concerning the Rule of Benedict, patristic writers, and lexical change over time in words of particular Biblical, patristic, and monastic texts.  It is thus a journal of importance not only for students and scholars narrowly concerned with Cistercian topics but for all those investigating topics of early Christian and monastic thought and history.”

Atla is grateful for the opportunity to include Cistercian Studies Quarterly in our research tools.