A nun is a woman who has taken vows to dedicate her life to religious service and contemplation. Although many people associate the idea specifically with the Roman Catholic tradition, nuns can be found in a variety of Christian sects, and in other religions, including Taoism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Many people have great respect for these women and their religious dedication, as joining a religious order often involves extensive commitment and sacrifice.
There are a variety of different types of nuns, and many religions make a distinction between nuns and sisters. In religions that distinguish between the two, a nun is a woman who lives a cloistered life within the walls of a convent or monastery, dedicating herself to religious contemplation and prayer. A sister, on the other hand, lives an active life of service in the community, and some have become very notable activists, famed for their commitment to social justice.
Sisters typically live within the walls of a convent, but they travel outside to work as doctors, teachers, farmers, or in a variety of other fields. Many are actively encouraged to pursue higher education, using their skills to support the convent, and some convents become self-sustaining, thanks to the skills of their occupants. Others rely on donations from the community.
A nun's vows vary, depending on her religion and the rules of the order she joins. Commonly, the vows include commitments to community, poverty, service, and chastity, and many women also pledge obedience. Typically, they take vows after several years of trial service in a convent or cloister, being accepted first as postulants, and then as novices, before they are finally offered the opportunity to take vows. Once a woman has taken vows, it is very difficult for her to leave the convent, reflecting the fact that her decision is intended to be permanent.
Women have been serving in cloistered religious environments for centuries, and they have chosen to become take their vows for a variety of reasons. In deeply religious cultures, for example, a family may commit to sending one child to the cloister to demonstrate its religious devotion and convictions. Women may also feel the calling to join a religious order after being encouraged by religious officials, other nuns, or their own personal beliefs. In some cultures historically, women took their vows after being widowed, choosing a cloistered life for their final years.
The process involved in becoming a nun varies, depending on the woman's religious beliefs. As a general rule, the first step is for her to talk to a religious officiant about the possibility. The officiant should be able to provide general information, along with a list of convents or cloisters that might be suitable. Most aspiring nuns take the time to research various convents closely, looking for a good fit, and convents often welcome visitors who are considering joining.
Once a potential nun settles upon a convent of choice, she can apply for a position as a postulant or novice. Typically, the application requires a series of interviews, along with a short stay in the convent, and the residents will vote collectively to decide whether she should be welcomed into the community. After acceptance, she may be asked to contribute a dowry to the convent.