Mother teresa inside
Mother Teresa's devotion to the poor was motivated by her intention to benefit her soul

New research carried out by the University of Birmingham's Gëzim Alpion concludes that Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul was triggered by childhood and that she had gnawing doubts about the existence of God to the end of her life.

Dr Gëzim Alpion, who is based in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology, writes how Mother Teresa’s inability to come to terms with her father’s poisoning by Slavic nationalists when she was nine in 1919, her brother’s association with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist army, and her concern about the safety of her mother and sister in communist Albania post 1945 explain why she never spoke about her private life and family.

Alpion suggests Mother Teresa’s ‘dark night of the soul’ determined all her decisions, including entering the religious life, choosing India as her destination, leaving the Loreto order, setting up her Missionaries of Charity congregation, and expanding her work outside of India from 1967 onwards. To illustrate the last point, Alpion claims that her projects in Australia in 1969 began as another desperate attempt to get rid of her spiritual desolation at a time when she was realising that this was an incurable condition.

Dr Gëzim Alpion says: "Mother Teresa entered the religious life and chose India as her destination not simply or primarily to serve the poor but in the hope that, through them, she would discover the elusive God as well as to get rid of her dark night of the soul. Her devotion to the poor was unwavering and genuine to the end. The poor, the members of her religious congregation, and her volunteers, however, were ‘tools’ that she employed to cleanse her own ‘dark night of the soul’."

"Contrary to the claims made by her hagiographers, Mother Teresa’s spiritual aridity did not begin in the wake of the foundation of her congregation in 1950 but during 1919 to 1922 by which time she lost her father and eight close relatives. The ever presence of death in her early years had a lifelong traumatic impact on her spirituality and relationship with family members, her nation and especially vulnerable people. Mother Teresa was never cured of her doubts about God; nonetheless, she always held sacred the dignity of every human being."

Some of these findings are included in Alpion’s latest study titled ‘Why are modern spiritual icons absent in celebrity studies?’, which has just been published in Celebrity Studies Journal (Routledge). Alpion finds the sidelining of spiritual personalities in celebrity studies a bizarre situation given that the proliferation and ubiquity of celebrity culture have led some scholars to approach this modern phenomenon as a form of religion as well as because, like everything else, religion has been affected by celebrity culture.

In this study Alpion announces for the first time the existence of a hitherto unknown member of Mother Teresa’s family in Australia, a first cousin who was adopted by the nun’s mother as an orphan at the age of six, something he initially discovered during a visit to Melbourne in 2011.

Since then Alpion has been using the information from this and other new sources to write the study, provisionally titled Rooting Mother Teresa: The Saint and Her Nation, a monograph which will be published by the end of 2019. Next year, Alpion will complete a book about Mother Teresa’s forgotten sister in Australia.

In his acclaimed 2007 monograph Mother Teresa: Saint or Celebrity? Alpion argued for the first time that her spirituality and ministry should be explored in the context of the lifelong impact of her ethnic and familial background, a theme that is central to his aforementioned work in progress.

Mother Teresa, also known in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was the Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary, born in Skopje (now the capital of Macedonia) in 1910, then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire. After living in Macedonia for eighteen years she moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life until she died in 1997.

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  • Dr Gëzim Alpion is an acclaimed academic, writer, playwright, journalist, and a media, political and culture analyst. Educated at Cairo University and the University of Durham, he lectured at the Universities of Huddersfield, Sheffield Hallam, and Newman prior to joining the Department of Sociology at the University of Birmingham in 2002, the Department of Political Science and International Studies in 2010, and the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology in 2016.
  • Alpion is considered ‘the most authoritative English-language author’ on Mother Teresa and the ‘founder of Mother Teresa Studies’. In recent years, he has delivered over 50 keynote addresses, talks and lectures at international conferences and renowned universities in 15 countries.
  • The Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology at the University of Birmingham is the leading multi-disciplinary academic team committed to providing world-class research and innovative degree programmes. The department delivers research led teaching with 66% of publications by their academic staff rated as world-leading or internationally excellent in the latest Research Excellence Framework. They are at the forefront of cutting edge social science research that informs and influences public debate.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.