*America* Magazine: The Catholic Church “Should Be Ashamed” by the McCarrick Case

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Last month we reported on Pope Francis’s decision to remove Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from public ministry following allegations that he sexually abused a teenager nearly fifty years ago.  The Jesuit America magazine has now published a statement about the McCarrick case.  Here is a taste:

The Catholic Church cannot pretend to be shocked about the pattern of sexual abuse of adult seminarians by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, recently detailed in a comprehensive story in The New York Times. As The Times made clear in its reporting, many church leaders had received multiple notices of the cardinal’s behavior. Local dioceses had been told, the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., had been told and, eventually, even Pope Benedict XVI had been told.

But none of these reports interrupted Cardinal McCarrick’s rise through the ranks nor his appointment as cardinal nor his eventual retirement in 2006 as a respected leader of the U.S. church. Nor did these reports lead to his removal last month from public ministry, which finally resulted from a credible allegation of abuse of a minor almost 50 years ago, recently revealed and acted on by the Archdiocese of New York.

It is true that none of the earlier reports of abuse alleged criminal behavior with minors, but they were serious enough that Cardinal McCarrick should have been called to account for the terrible misuse of his office and authority. The church and its leaders should be ashamed of their failure to do so. The slow and halting progress the church has made by way of reforms adopted in response to the sexual abuse of children, for example through the Dallas charter, has been called into question by the revelation of its ongoing failures to deal with other reports of abuse. Nor should the media, including we in Catholic media (Cardinal McCarrick was a longtime friend of this magazine and delivered the homily at our centennial celebration in 2009), be absolved of responsibility for any failure to take these and other rumors and reports as seriously as was required. To demand accountability only of the hierarchy is itself hypocrisy.

Read the entire editorial here.  This is significant because America is widely known as a left-leaning publication (although I am sure the editors would rightly say that they are simply upholding Catholic social and moral teaching) and McCarrick was a champion of social justice.

The Faith of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off a major upset in yesterday’s Democratic primary race in New York’s 14th District.  She defeated Joe Crowley, the 10-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives who many believed would be the heir-apparent to Nancy Pelosi as the House Minority Leader.  Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old Democratic Socialist who ran on universal health care and the abolition of ICE.  She is also a Catholic.

On the day after her victory Ocasio-Cortez started writing, but not for The New York Times or The Progressive or The Nation or Jacobin or In These Times.  Nope. She turned to the web pages of the Jesuit magazine America.

Here is a taste of her piece, published today:

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration. No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary. By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

Read the entire piece here.  She apparently disagrees with her church, however, on abortion and marriage.

Catherine O’Donnell on Elizabeth Ann Seton

I am really looking forward to Catherine O’Donnell‘s forthcoming biography of Elizabeth Seton.  This weekend she delivered the keynote address at the Spring meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Here is her fascinating talk:


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/264862672″>Plenary Address, Spring Meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association at Mount St. Mary’s University</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user84031308″>Mount History</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

*Commonweal* Magazine on Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

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The Catholic magazine Commonweal has had enough.  In the March 6, 2018 issue, the editors chide the evangelicals and Catholics who voted for Donald Trump.   Here is a taste:

…[Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David] Brody’s “reason” for Trump’s ascendency, however, seems to confuse the political agenda of conservative Evangelical Christians with God’s will, something that is much harder to discern in the opacity of historical events. Thanks to Trump, Brody proclaims, the reliably prolife Neil Gorsuch sits on the High Court. The U.S. embassy in Israel is moving to Jerusalem. Obama’s alleged assault on religious liberty has been reversed. As a consequence, Evangelicals have learned their lesson. They vote in “the macro” now, meaning a deal with the devil gets a Christian imprimatur. “The goal of Evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate,” Brody writes.

Is this really what it means to be a conservative Christian in America today? At a time when the nation and the churches are desperately in need of the moral, spiritual, and intellectual contributions of thoughtful, traditionally minded Christians, it is alarming to see “macro” calculations of expedience replacing the Gospel. Is championing a “bold culture warrior” who promises to reverse what Brody and his allies insist is the nation’s precipitous cultural decline now the Christian mission?

Easter will soon be upon us. Christians across the world will once again participate liturgically and sacramentally in the drama of Christ’s death and Resurrection. They will be reminded that the savior of the world was a political scapegoat and a marginal cultural figure. It is a false hope—some might call it blasphemy—to think that a bold culture warrior in the White House can bring about a revival of Christianity, or reverse the troubling transformations that have occurred in our culture and politics. It is always a grave mistake for Christians to align themselves too closely with any one political party or politician, especially with a man who has proudly confessed that he has never asked God for forgiveness. “If I do something wrong, I think I just try to make it right,” Trump has assured us. “I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Read the rest here.  Then go pre-order Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

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Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

Ganges

Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

The Author’s Corner with Maura Jane Farrelly

51Hpt1GPjKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Maura Jane Farrelly is associate professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. This interview is based on her new book, Anti-Catholicism in America (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The boring answer is that Cambridge asked me to put together a narrative about anti-Catholicism in early America that could be used in an undergraduate classroom. The more interesting answer, however, has to do with my sense, while watching protests over the construction of an Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan in 2010, that we have been here before.  Many immigrant groups have been viewed as a threat by native-born Americans — and sometimes, as is the case now, it’s been because those immigrant groups have been associated with violence.  But in the case of nineteenth-century Catholics and twenty-first-century Muslims, I think the fears were — are — about something deeper, as well.  The anxieties have been rooted in the not-entirely-unfounded sense that Catholics and Muslims have (or have had) an understanding of “freedom” that is  different from the American understanding of freedom.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The book argues that anti-Catholic bias played an essential role in shaping colonial and antebellum understandings of God, the individual, salvation, society, government, law, national identity, and freedom. For this reason, the early history of anti-Catholicism in America can provide us with a framework for understanding what is at stake in our contemporary debates about the place of Muslims and other non-Christian groups in the United States today.

JF: Why do we need to read Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: To give us hope — and maybe a bit of humility, too (she said with a striking lack of humility…).  As I note in my introduction, anti-Catholicism — which was such a salient force in America’s political and cultural history for such a long period of time — is basically gone now.  It’s a tool that is utilized primarily by internet trolls (and,  recently, by one thoughtless and impolitic senator from California who was looking to derail the nomination of a conservative law professor from Notre Dame to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  But I think the collective response of political and religious leaders to Diane Feinstein’s questioning of Amy Coney Barrett confirms my assertion that anti-Catholicism is no longer an “acceptable” impulse in America.).  If the Catholic understanding of freedom can become more compatible with the American understanding of freedom — and the American understanding can become more compatible with the Catholic — then maybe the same will happen with Muslims?  And certainly the fact that our cultural understandings of freedom are protean — as any serious study of history will reveal — should give us all pause as we make political claims that are based on our sense of what freedom is and what it takes to secure it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MJF: My journey to this place has been marked by some rather significant diversions (I worked as a reporter for several years — though Phil Graham, if he were still alive, might say I was just playing with the “first rough draft of history”…). But I think I first fell in love with early American history when my family and I took a summer vacation to Massachusetts. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old?  I still pinch myself, sometimes, that I now get to live in this state.

JF: What is your next project?

MJF: I may be leaving religion for a while.  I don’t know. I’ve stumbled upon a tragic story from the late nineteenth century that involves people from two prominent American families.  I’m hoping to use this story as a springboard into a greater exploration of the role of the frontier in defining American freedom (there’s the common thread, I guess…); the beginnings of the conservation movement; and the phenomenon of so-called “remittance men” and their place in the literature and lore of the American West.

JF: Thanks, Maura!

“America” Magazine on Anti-Catholicism and the Treatment of Amy Coney Barrett

Barrett

Over at America, Bill McCormack, a Jesuit and political philosopher at Saint Louis University, is the latest to speak out against what he believes to be the inappropriate line of questioning that Amy Coney Barrett received during her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Unlike other critiques, McCormack also criticizes the anti-Catholic rhetoric of former Trump adviser and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon.  It is worth noting that McCormack’s critique of both Bannon and the Democrats are less constitutional and more religious in nature.

Here is a taste of the section on the Senate hearings:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, recently questioned a prospective federal judge’s fitness for office. It turns out the nominee, Amy Barrett, is just a little too Catholic for the Democratic senator’s taste:

Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.

This is sad coming from Senator Feinstein. I doubt she has any problem with the Gospel call to serve the poor, and she is known for the strength of her own convictions, convictions that she is generally happy to force on others. But the minute a truth comes up that she dislikes, in this case, arguments against abortion, then suddenly conviction becomes “dogma” and the truth loses its right to a public voice.

As if working in tandem, Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and himself Catholic, asked Ms. Barrett directly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?

Again, you can argue that these senators’ views do not represent their party. But at its worst, the Democratic Party is deeply skeptical of any claims to truth or authority. That is bad for Catholics who recognize the salvific truth of the authority of Jesus Christ and want to assert it on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, including the unborn.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happens When You Are Catholic And Your Research Uncovers Unflattering Things About a Person Up For Sainthood?

Hecker3Head over to Religion in American History blog to read “Historiographic Saints,” William Cossen‘s excellent piece on balancing his Catholic faith with his work as a Catholic historian.  Cossen’s research has turned-up what he describes as “unflattering information” about Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers and a significant figure among American Catholics in the early 19th century.  Hecker has been up for sainthood since 2008.

Here is a taste:

It is obviously not uncommon for historians of Catholicism to write about men and women who have been recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.  This may be somewhat rarer in scholarship on U.S. Catholicism, which reflects the fewer canonized saints from the United States than from other countries with longer histories of an extensive Catholic presence.  There are, however, several fine examples of recent historical scholarship that include canonized (or soon-to-be canonized) Catholics as central figures in their narratives.

Why this has been on my mind is that my research on Hecker could have the potential to turn up what may be, at least to present-day observers, unflattering information on this Servant of God (an initial step in the process of canonization).   While Hecker’s life has been examined as part of the history of transcendentalism, the religious conversion experience, and the Americanist controversy within late nineteenth-century Catholicism, my research on Hecker explores how his writings and their intellectual legacy intersected with ideologies of race and growing American imperialism during the same period.  Remaining mindful of the multiple audiences of a scholar of Catholicism, I want to employ a rigorous methodology befitting an academic historian.  I also want to provide a more detailed picture of Hecker that is neither hagiographical nor exaggeratedly critical, recognizing that the institutional church and Hecker’s canonization promoters may be undertaking the simultaneous process of writing their own histories of Hecker.  Following Pope John Paul II’s reform of the canonization process in 1983, religion journalist Kenneth L. Woodward writes, the Catholic Church’s saint-makers began “employ[ing] the academic model of researching and writing a doctoral dissertation.  Hereafter, causes would be accepted or rejected according to the standards of critical historiography.”   In contemporary saint-making, individuals involved with the formal canonization process as well as academic historians operating outside the church’s institutional structures are all involved in creating saintly historiographies that may or may not exist at odds with one another.

Read the entire piece here.

Cossen addresses an issue that many historians of faith will encounter in their careers. He handles it in a thoughtful way.

Catholics and Patriotic Worship

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Apparently it is not just evangelicals who have a problem with patriotic worship services.  This weekend a priest was quite surprised when a patriotic song was played during the communion mediation at mass.

Here is a taste of Father James Martin’s America magazine piece “Should we sing patriotic songs at Mass?  Probably not”:

Yesterday I heard an excellent homily at Mass. The Gospel reading (Mt 10:37-42) had Jesus telling his followers, with the uncompromising language he often used, that nothing comes before God. God comes first, and everything else is secondary—even the love for a mother and a father. In a line that undoubtedly shocked listeners in first-century Palestine and still has the power to shock, he said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

As the homilist told the congregation this Sunday, everything must be subordinated to God. Agreed.

That is why it was so jarring to hear the Communion meditation just a few minutes later. It was a song, which I had not heard before, in which the singer pledged her heart to America. Not to Jesus but to the United States of America.

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. It was the Sunday before the Fourth of July, and I have come to expect patriotic songs in Catholic churches in the United States, around that time of year, as well as around Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

But it was hard not to think: Isn’t this the opposite of what Jesus said in the Gospel? Surely we should all be good Americans and love and honor our country. But especially during the Mass, shouldn’t our hearts be pledged to something, or someone else?

Read the rest here.

Not Since the Kennedys

Melania

It appears that Catholicism has returned to the White House.

One of the things we learned during the Trump visit to the Vatican is that Melania Trump is Catholic.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports at The Washington Post. 

A taste:

After she met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, first lady Melania Trump confirmed a little-known fact about her faith: She is Catholic. And she described the visit with the leader of the Catholic Church as “one I’ll never forget.”

While President Trump referenced his Presbyterian identity during the campaign, her faith did not come up. He and the first lady were married in 2005 in an Episcopal church in Palm Beach, Fla., where their son Barron Trump was later baptized.

The church’s rector performed a traditional Episcopal wedding service, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. “The bride walked down the aisle carrying only an ancient rosary, not to Lohengrin or Wagner, but to a vocalist singing Ave Maria in an exquisite soprano voice,” the local newspaper reported.

Her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham confirmed in an email that Melania Trump identifies as Catholic, but Grisham did not respond to questions about whether the first lady attends Mass regularly at a specific parish and whether the first family are current members of a church. The first lady, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, grew up in what is today Slovenia, which has been heavily influenced by Catholicism.

During their visit to the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope blessed the first lady’s rosary beads, and the two had a lighthearted conversation about what she feeds her husband. She spent time in front of a statue of the Madonna at the Vatican’s children’s hospital and laid flowers at its feet.

Read the rest here.

 

Catholic History at the AHA

acsI hope you have enjoyed William Cossen‘s posts from the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver this weekend.  You can read them all here.  

Below is his final post.  He reflects on two sessions on American Catholic History.–JF

On AHA’s third day, I attended a presidential roundtable hosted by the American Catholic Historical Association, of which I am a member, titled “The Future of Catholic History: What Do Graduate Students Want to Know?”

The first presenter, Boston College’s Peter Cajka, who serves as the Graduate Student Representative to the ACHA’s Executive Council, posed five timely questions dealing with the job market and with the field of Catholic history:

1) Why are there not more positions being created at Catholic schools for junior scholars who specialize in Catholic history, and if there is only one Catholic history position open this year, what else is available for job seekers?

2) How can a scholar make a case for Catholic history when applying to general history positions?

3) Can religious historians apply for theology or religious studies positions?  Furthermore, what is really meant by “Catholic studies,” and how can historians make themselves competitive for positions in this field?

4) How can historians of Catholicism demonstrate the relevance of their research for postdoctoral positions that focus on broader issues dealing with religion?

5) How can Catholic historians articulate what it means to be Catholic and connect this to their research and teaching when applying to religious schools?

The second presenter, Shannen Dee Williams of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, spoke about her important research on black Catholic sisters.  Williams described the difficulties involved in locating sources on religious sisterhoods and then gaining access to archives holding these materials.  Looking toward future trends in the field, Williams recommended investigating the transatlantic history of Catholics of color, urging scholars to “look at those who have remained on the margins of the church.”  I have been thinking since the roundtable about a provocative question Williams posed during her presentation that historians of all fields, especially those researching figures who have been traditionally left out of historical narratives, should consider seriously: how can we reconstruct histories that were never meant to be told?

The third presenter, Kyle Roberts of Loyola University Chicago, who serves as Director of Loyola’s Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities and Project Director of the Jesuit Libraries Project, described exciting advances and possibilities in the field of Catholic digital humanities.  Roberts explained that the main activity in Catholic digital humanities has emanated from Catholic archives, which have a done a fine job making more widely available to the public important sources in Catholic history.  My own research has benefited immensely from digitized U.S. Catholic sources, and it is important to note that such popular databases as America’s Historical Newspapers also contain Catholic periodicals.  I was left with one question that I discussed with other audience members following the roundtable.  While many digital humanities projects are freely available, many others (for example, several newspaper and academic journal databases) are not, often requiring an institutional affiliation with access to a research library to utilize the sources they contain.  What can the AHA and other historical societies do to help scholars without access to such institutional subscriptions to make use of important digitized sources and to maintain active, productive research agendas?

The final presenter, Thomas Rzeznik of Seton Hall University, who serves as editor of the journal American Catholic Studies, asked the audience to consider how we can make articles in Catholic historical journals and the journals themselves more relevant to a wider audience.  Rzeznik also encouraged scholars of Catholicism to think more about what the “Catholic” in American Catholic studies means.  Rzeznik argued that too frequently, historians of Catholicism focus only on the so-called “good” Catholics, an approach which I think not only renders Catholic identity monolithically but frankly makes it much less interesting.  Rzeznik is right to call for scholars to more seriously consider in their research those who he terms “misfit Catholics” as well as those married to Catholics and those who worked or studied in Catholic institutions but were not themselves members of the faith.  This, Rzeznik argues, will “broaden our lens of who is considered Catholic.”  As far as the wider relevance of Catholic history in the historical profession goes, Rzeznik points out correctly that the “field already reflects the diversity the job market wants” due to Catholicism’s transnational, cross-cultural dimensions.  Ultimately, Rzeznik explains, scholars of Catholicism need to remain mindful of the many audiences they serve: the academy; interested lay non-scholars; and the institutional church.

I also delivered a paper Friday afternoon titled “Isaac Hecker’s American Odyssey: Rewriting the Catholic Nation in The Church and the Age.”  I argued two main points in the paper: first, the thought of Catholic convert Isaac Hecker was representative of an emerging movement in late-nineteenth-century U.S. Catholicism that espoused Anglo-Saxon racial superiority in an effort to challenge Protestant hegemony; and second, scholars have paid little attention to Hecker’s and the larger Catholic Americanist movement’s affinity for popular racial theories of the day.  This is part of the larger effort of my dissertation to revise historical interpretations of Americanism in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century U.S. Catholicism.  I argued in the paper and the dissertation that the Americanists, far from being the benign democratizers of historiography, were comfortable putting a Catholic spin on American colonization of the U.S. West and the Philippines, scientific racial theories, immigration regulation, and exclusionary formulations of the national community, which lends a darker cast to the Americanists than has been previously acknowledged by scholars.  My paper was joined by Erin Bartram’s (University of Hartford) “The ‘Use and Abuse of Reading’: American Catholics and the Debate over Reading, 1860-90” (which also examined Hecker but in an earlier period) and Luke Ritter’s (Troy University) “Where Bigotry Thrives: Know-Nothingism and the Origins of an Inclusive Civil Religion.”  Following our presentation, the panelists and members of the audience had a productive conversation on Catholicism, Americanism, historiography, and the state of the field that extended well into the evening.

This has been another fantastic AHA.  Between sessions, exhibits, and the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends and to make new connections with other scholars, the AHA and its affiliate organizations certainly fulfilled their goal of exploring cutting edge scholarship and building collegiality across our profession.  Safe travels, fellow historians, and see you next year in Washington, DC!

Parish Boundaries

parishWhen I first read John McGreevy’s Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter With Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North (1996) I thought he was describing my upbringing in an Italian and Slovakian enclave of northern New Jersey.  It is a great book.

So needless to say I have been enjoying the forum on the 20th anniversary of Parish Boundaries over at the Religion in American History blog.  The final post in the series comes from McGreevy himself.  Here is a taste of his reflections:

So how did I get to that dissertation, entitled, as Lila Berman noted, “American Catholics and the African-American migration, 1919-1970”? It’s a short story. I wandered into graduate school, as we might say, without a “research agenda.” I wavered between high school teaching and college teaching and in fact I  ended up teaching for a time at Hales Franciscan high school, an African-American Catholic high school on the south side of Chicago. At Stanford I loved the coursework and enjoyed working with superb and generous faculty such as David Kennedy and George Fredrickson, ultimately the first and second readers on my dissertation. But I agonized over a dissertation topic.  I did a seminar paper on 19th century populism in California. I did one on draft resisters in California and even wrote a dissertation proposal on the topic.[i] I finally settled  on Catholics and race after reflecting on my own life and that of my parents, very much  raised in a Catholic milieu, with both of my parents having gone to Catholic grade school, high school, college and, for my father,  medical school and then both working in catholic hospitals for much of their professional lives. This Catholic milieu – roughly 25% of the US population and a standard topic in, say, German history —  seemed absent from the literature on United States history.

But what would be my angle?  Probably no topic seemed as exciting to graduate students at Stanford as “race” broadly construed, and George Fredrickson’s work, and more distantly that of David Roediger, Barbara Fields and others animated late night conversations.[ii] And then like Amanda Seligman I read Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto:Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960 (Cambridge, 1983).  Hirsch mentioned Catholics episodically and I started following his footnotes, which led to a full summer going through the Catholic Interracial Council papers in the Chicago Historical Society archives. The late Archie Motley befriended me there and pointed me to other local sources and archives. I even ended up, I should add, marrying and raising four children with a local  archivist. So I had a topic.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Emily Clark

aluminousbrotherhoodEmily Clark is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University. This interview is based on her new book, A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: A Luminous Brotherhood is a much-revised adaptation of my doctoral dissertation. Initially my dissertation was a huge (way too huge) telling of religion and race in New Orleans with a focus on Afro-Creole communities. New Orleans Afro-Creoles were primary Catholic, often bilingual (or even trilingual), often educated, and many of them were free during the antebellum period. The Cercle Harmonique, the name the Afro-Creole Spiritualist community gave themselves, was only going to be a chapter of the project. They practiced Spiritualism from 1858 as the country was on the verge of a civil war through the end of Reconstruction in 1877. The dissertation I envisioned myself writing went beyond a group of men holding séances for 19 years, but as I began to read their séance records I realized that they told a much bigger story.

The spirits communicating with the Cercle Harmonique included Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, John Brown, Voltaire, Toussaint Louverture, Robespierre, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, and Confucius to name just a few. Their messages covered issues of politics, gender, racism, equality, poverty, power, and social injustice. Messages responded to local massacres of black politicians, the death of beloved martyrs for black rights, and issues of religious corruption. The Spiritualism of the Cercle Harmonique situated their practice in their immediate world of New Orleans, the region of the American South, the nation-state of the U.S., the politics of the Atlantic world, and issues of cosmic proportion. Their séance table opened up a vast and complex world.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: This book contends that the Cercle Harmonique envisioned the proper social, political, and religious ordering of the material world through communication with a wise spirit world. Through their séances the Cercle Harmonique connected with an idealized society whose members provided the Afro-Creoles with a republican ideology to combat politically destructive forces on earth and create a more egalitarian world.

JF: Why do we need to read A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: A Luminous Brotherhood weaves together a number of threads about the long nineteenth century in America: race, liberal religion, politics, anti-Catholicism, the Atlantic world’s age of revolutions, reform, utopian impulses, republican thought, slavery, and more. Though it focuses on a small group of Afro-Creoles, the story it tells is much bigger. The practice of the Cercle Harmonique allows us to sharpen our conclusions about those topics.

The Cercle Harmonique articulated a strong critique of racism and white supremacy that still has resonance today. They and the spirits they communicated with argued that racial identity had no real meaning. Bodies were only material envelopes that temporarily encased our spirits. Bodies only had meaning in the material world, whereas our spirits existed long after. One spirit even wondered if people would have followed Jesus had he been black. White supremacy was a real problem for the Cercle Harmonique and remains one today. The Afro-Creole Spiritualists I studied offer a rich example of the intersections between religion and race in America, and A Luminous Brotherhood provides a close look at how religion can provide strong critiques to societal norms and injustices. The book also reveals how religion simultaneously supports such societal norms and injustices. As I tell my students, American religion is complicated, and my book reflects that too.

Additionally, A Luminous Brotherhood is the first full-length study of the New Orleans Cercle Harmonique and one of the first academic texts on American Spiritualism to provide a close look at the practice and records of a nineteenth-century Spiritualist group. Previous works on American Spiritualism typically focus on major figures and ideas but fail to offer a deep look at the everyday practice of Spiritualism. Since much of the Cercle Harmonique’s séance records are intact, A Luminous Brotherhood looks at the spirits who communicated with the Cercle Harmonique, explores the significance of their presence, and situates them in the context surrounding their communication. The book examines what the spirits said and asks why.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

EC: I’m not so sure that I decided to become an American historian but rather just became one. During my time as an undergraduate student at Austin College and then an M.A. student at the University of Missouri, I was drawn to the interplay between religion and culture but not from a historical perspective. It wasn’t until I started my doctoral work at Florida State University that I began to study American religious history proper. I describe myself as being haunted by the stories that archives hold and feel the need to tell them. I encourage my students to consider the historical context of every source we examine. Just about all my academic work and class materials examine people, trends, communities, practices, ideas, and conflicts from America’s past. Even now there are times that I think of myself as a historian—I am trained in historical methods, after all—but I also think of myself squarely in the field of religious studies. I’m not surprised that I’ve become an American historian, but I think of that as one element of my academic identity.

JF: What is your next project?

EC: I have a couple projects in the works. I’m working on two edited volumes, one on digital humanities and material religion and the other on race and new religious movements. I’m also in the early research stages of my next full-length monograph, Jesuits, Native Americans, and Colonialism in the Pacific Northwest. While the historiography on Jesuit missions typically focuses on the seventeenth-century evangelists in New France, this work will interrogate the interactions between Native Americans and Jesuits in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike those earlier Jesuits, the Italian Jesuits out west operated more systematically and as part of the federal push to “civilize” and evangelize Native tribes in this region.

JF: Thanks, Emily!

Bruce Springsteen Talks Catholicism on “Fresh Air”

Born to RunCheck out Bruce’s interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.”  Here is a taste:

So, you also lived near the church and church was a part of your life. And you write about Catholicism, “This is the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a language of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward.”

Are there particular Bible stories or religious paintings that really made an impression on you? 

No, it was more just the basics. I think when you’re a child, you just cling to the basics, which is the basic story of Jesus and the Crucifixion and hell and eternal punishment and the flames. This was all stuff that was, when you’re young, this is very tangible and is as real as the gas station next door to you.

Maybe especially since the church was just about next door to you.

Exactly! So these things, and also because we lived in the presence of the church and the convent and the rectory and the school 24/7, and this was an enormous cornerstone in the lives of my entire family. They were all pretty serious Catholic churchgoers. And as a child, these things were very, very terrifying.

What things? Were you afraid of hell?

Haha, yeah.

Eternal damnation?

[Laughs] That one too! So, these were stories that were not stories, you know? They were simply facts. This is what occurred. This is what can occur, unless you toe the line, my friend.

So, when you’re a child — and you forget that the Catholic religion at the time was much darker and more mysterious. The entire Mass was in Latin. If you go to my church now it’s incredibly bright inside, but when I was young, it was very dark inside.

It was just the difference in the way they’ve painted it since I’ve gone there and it strives for a very different and welcoming spirit. Where when I was young, it was sort of built to intimidate, even on this very local level and this very small church in this small town, it still held you in the palm of its darkness. And it was something I carried with me, never forgot, brought into my music, and it’s been in my music ever since.

Read the entire interview here.

Tim Kaine: A White Parishioner in a Black Church

KaineI like how Luke Hill frames this dotCommonweal post on Tim Kaine’s Catholic faith.

He writes:

In American politics, we pretty much know how to talk about Tim Kaine’s brief-but-important youthful experience as a Jesuit Volunteer in Honduras.  We can—and do—argue vigorously about the many ways to interpret that experience: 1 – a transformative faith journey that led him to become a civil rights lawyer and care about the poor and oppressed, 2 – a typical do-gooding liberal who wants us all to give him an award because he spent a few months without air-conditioning, 3 – a radical gospel experience betrayed over the years as he’s become part of the establishment, executing death row prisoners and protecting bankers. (You can come up with more.)

And adds:

But what about the formation that comes from 32 years of being a White parishioner in a Black Catholic church?

Kaine and his wife, Richmond native Anne Holton, were married at St. Elizabeth’s in November 1984 and it’s been their parish ever since. It’s where they raised their children, and it’s the first place they wentafter Kaine’s initial campaign appearance with Hillary Clinton last month.

That’s not a story we know well, because it’s still true—56 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went on Meet the Press and said it—that “…11:00 on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America”.

So what do we make of that formation experience—the 32 year one, not the 9 month one?

Read the entire post here.