“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

church-1515456_960_720

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.

The Author’s Corner with Max Longley

LongleyMax Longley is an independent historian based in Durham, North Carolina.  This interview is based on his new book book For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War (McFarland, 2o15).

JF: What led you to write For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War?

ML: A Catholic convert myself, I realized that I could combine a study of several converts’ experiences with my longstanding interest in the Civil War era.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War?

ML: Four men joined the Catholic Church in the 1840s and were in the thick of the Church’s and the country’s disputes over slavery, immigration, nativism, religious freedom, secession and war. I show the interconnection among all these issues, while telling a compelling human story at the same time.

JF: Why do we need to read For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War?

ML: It’s surprisingly relevant – After the book came out, there was the controversy about the Jesuit order in Maryland selling slaves in 1838 and giving the proceeds to Georgetown University. There’s a big debate over that history, and it makes my book’s extensive discussion of the relationship between slavery in the American Catholic Church in the Civil War era all the more relevant.

It appeals both to readers’ continued interest in the American Civil War and their interest in religion, and the reader will find the careers of the protagonists very interesting. There is a compelling human story about each of the four converts in the title. William Rosecrans was a West Point trained engineer who became Catholic after a search for the true church, and then sought to share his spiritual discovery with the people around him. He was a Civil War Union general and his military career is controversial to this day. One of the people with whom he William Rosecrans shared his faith was his younger brother Sylvester. Sylvester joined the Church, received training for the priesthood in Rome during a revolution against the Pope, and became a great scholar-priest in Cincinnati. He was a bishop during the Civil War, assisting Archbishop John Purcell of Cincinnati and becoming a fervent foe of slavery as the war went on. James Augustine Healy was the first African-American priest who served in the United States. Born to a planter father and a slave mother, Father Healy went to Boston and became a key aide to Bishop John Fitzpatrick. Fr. Healy’s duties included defending the Irish-Americans of Boston from the powerful Know-Nothing party, defending the rights of people who often hated his race. Orestes Brownson was a Yankee convert who belonged to many religious and political movements – universalism, Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, labor radicalism – before joining the Catholic Church, where he moved between the Church’s liberal and conservative wings while defending the Union and, during the war, becoming a Catholic abolitionist.

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

ML: As a freelance writer, I found particular fulfillment writing freelance articles and books about historical subjects. I believe it was Toni Morrison who said you should write the books you want to read. And the books I want to read are generally about American history.

JF: What is your next project.

ML: I have two projects right now. I think it’s too early to discuss my first project, but my second project is a biography of Joseph Williams Thorne, a radical Quaker whose career spanned half of the nineteenth century. A schoolmaster and farmer, Thorne was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Pennsylvania and a “carpetbagger” in North Carolina after the war. I am in search of a trade publisher for this project.

JF: Thanks Max!

The Vatican Congratulates “Spotlight” on Winning Best Picture

Spotlight_(film)_posterOver at Religion News Service, Rosie Scammell is reporting that the Vatican has given “two thumbs up” to “Spotlight,” the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.  As most of you probably know, “Spotlight” is a movie about the Boston Globe‘s investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

[“Spotlight”] manages to voice the shock and profound pain of the faithful confronting the discovery of these horrendous realities,” wrote journalist Lucetta Scaraffia of L’Osservatore Romano, a “semi-official” Vatican newspaper.

Here is a taste of Scammell’s piece:

In her column, Scaraffia praised the film for recounting the reality of how, within the Catholic Church, “some are more preoccupied with the image of the institution than of the seriousness of the act.”

Scaraffia also noted Sugar’s acceptance speech, arguing that his reference to the pontiff demonstrated there was still hope in the institution of the church.

“There is trust in a pope who is continuing the cleaning begun by his predecessor,” she wrote.

L’Osservatore Romano’s praise for the movie follows comments of a similar vein by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, who said earlier this month that all bishops and cardinals should watch the film.

“The movie shows how the instinct — that unfortunately was present in the church — to protect a reputation was completely wrong,” Scicluna told an Italian newspaper.

A Scholar of American Catholicism Responds to Jerry Falwell’s Remarks About the Pope

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, has endorsed Donald Trump. And now Falwell Jr. is defending Trump against remarks made by Pope Francis that the New York businessman and GOP presidential candidate is not a Christian because of his views on immigration.

Here is a taste of a piece at Newsmax:

Further, said Falwell, “I think the Pope is mistaken. I think John F. Kennedy would be rolling over in his grave right now if he could hear what the Pope was saying, because that’s a man who fought to be president against lots of prejudice, because many Protestants in this country did not want to elect a Catholic president, and he broke down those barriers.”

Jesus said to “render under Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” Falwell continued. “And that means to choose the best president. Here’s the Pope saying we have to choose the leaders — sounds like he’s saying this — that share his faith. Or share the Christian faith.”

Julia Byrne, the Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, responded to the Pope-Trump-Falwell controversy at her Facebook page.

Here is what she wrote:

• A lot of Roman Catholics support Trump, and will continue to support him here. (I have to  get numbers, and the class breakout.) Stephen Prothero has been saying that Trump is if nothing else a masterful politician, and I am starting to agree.

• Among many many white US Roman Catholics–all classes–and this is part of the legacy of JFK’s legitimizing and mainstreaming–Catholic is currently a word that means 1) my family/community connections optionally including religious practice; 2) valorization of white-ethnic identity including historic formation alongside the Roman church, life-events sanctioned by it, and identifying Catholic material culture like saints and crucifixes; and/or 3) “normal American,” i.e. Christian Smith’s “moral therapeutic deism,” not anything specifically theologically Catholic.

• This “normal American” way of using the word Catholic is also how many many white Protestants use the word Christian. Which since JFK has led, as we know, to previously unthinkable levels of collaboration between Protestants and Roman Catholics on issues of policing what normal in America means.

• As a scholar of religion, none of this is “not religion,” “not Christian,” or “not Catholic” to me. People are whatever they say they are. So I guess I … agree with Donald Trump?!

• But I do witness what Pope Francis said, and what many other Christians including Catholics try to say, as their identifying words change public meaning in directions they don’t like. Which is basically, we wish Christian including Catholic meant something else.

• But a lot of what they wish is exhorting a past that never existed, nostalgia for when everyone only ever used the words to reflect a reality of robust specific knowledge, sincere religious practice, and accountability to traditions that called you beyond your own self. Which was, for the vast majority of Christians including Catholics, never.

• Still, there is a difference between past times, when US Roman Catholics and Protestants defined themselves in opposition to each other, and now, when many alliances have erased differences, while a Roman pope trades on general Christian goodwill toward him to pronounce on the Christianity of a Presbyterian presidential candidate who then claims to be a better defender of the Vatican than the pope, and prominent Protestant Republican Falwell uses Catholic Democrat icon President Kennedy to chastise the pope.

And a bunch of RCs will agree with Falwell.

What happened in the US Roman church between then and now?

Mount St. Mary’s Reinstates Fired Professors

eb6e1-mountBut it is not clear whether they will come back as long as Simon Newman remains president of the university.

This article in Inside Higher Ed explains everything.  Newman is trying to extend an olive branch, but for many at The Mount it appears to be a poisoned one.

Here is a taste of Scott Jaschik’s piece:

Whether the tensions will be resolved remains unclear. Inside Higher Ed reached Thane Naberhaus, one of the faculty members who was fired this week, despite having tenure, and asked him if he was planning to return. His email response: “Hell no.”

He elaborated: “I’ll refuse to be reinstated until Newman is gone and some others are gone. “

Ed Egan is the adviser to the student newspaper, and is the other faculty member who was fired and whom the university said has now been reinstated. In an interview, he said that President Newman called him and told him he would be reinstated in part because the Roman Catholic Church has declined a Year of Mercy.

Egan said he was uncertain about returning and that he was bothered by the statement — and went to the faculty meetings to tell his colleagues why. Egan said he told them that the president’s statement was “as if I had done something wrong and was in need of his mercy.” In fact, the reinstatement is an attempt to “placate” the campus so that it will not consider all of the issues that go beyond the two professors.

“Reinstating me does not make these other problems go away and Simon Newman needs to show mercy on Mount St. Mary’s and resign,” Egan said. He added that he is consulting lawyers on his next moves.

Faculty members, after the news about the offer to reinstate the two professors, voted to seek the president’s removal. They adopted a letter to Newman that said: “Our community is suffering. In recent weeks, we have been divided due to miscommunications, missteps, and misunderstandings. It is clear that we all could have done things differently to avoid the situation that we now find ourselves in. Regrettably, our problems have become public and have cast a dark shadow across our holy mountain.”

The letter continued: “You have only been with us a short time. We know all too well the great love for this community that comes to those who join us. But it has become apparent that negative public attention has interfered with our ability to continue in our work and to bring new students and faculty to this campus. We have come to the sad conclusion that this state of affairs cannot be resolved while you continue in your current office. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart, in a loving spirit of compassion and forgiveness, that we appeal to your generosity of spirit and ask that you resign your position for the good of our community by 9:00 a.m. on February 15, 2016.”

Newman could not immediately be reached.

The Mount St. Mary’s campus has been in turmoil since word leaked through The Mountain Echo, the student newspaper, last month that President Newman compared struggling students to bunnies that need to be drowned or killed with a Glock. The metaphor grabbed attention, but educators said that the underlying debate was what really mattered. Newman had proposed to use a survey — on which freshmen would be told there were no wrong answers — to identify those at risk of dropping out and to encourage them to do so in the first weeks of the semester. The idea was to raise the university’s graduation rates, since those who leave very early in the semester don’t count in the total enrollment figures. Many professors and some administrators protested the plan, saying that the university has an obligation to try to educate those it admits.

I just don’t see any way that Mount St. Mary University can go forward with Newman in charge.

(Is this the first time that you are hearing about all of this?  Get up to speed here).

Brantley Gasaway: Diversity and Debates With the Social Gospel Tradition

GasawayBrantley Gasaway of Bucknell University offers another dispatch from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta.  See all  of his AHA 2016 posts here.

While historians devote much of our time to critically examining the past, we also ask critical questions about the ways in which previous scholars have interpreted this past. As a result, numerous sessions at professional conferences such as this one are devoted to historiographical issues, re-examining familiar narratives, concepts, and interpretive categories. The first session I attended on Thursday was devoted to reassessing the concept and history of “culture wars.” Today, a panel of historians presented papers that sought to “Rethink the Social Gospel(s).”

In the earliest historiography, scholars portrayed the Social Gospel as a movement developed and led by elite white Protestant liberals, popular primarily in urban centers, concerned most with the deleterious consequences of industrialization and urbanization, and ebbing in influence after the 1930s. In recent decades, however, historians have challenged this characterization by showing how the theology of Social Gospel was adopted and adapted by a variety of religious and racial activists in many different locales and for many different purposes. Today’s panel continued this trend.

Curtis Evans, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, delivered a paper that examined the efforts of the Federal Council of Churches’ (FCC’s) Department of Race Relations as a manifestation of the Social Gospel. This initiative was founded upon one of the Social Gospel’s core theological principles concerning “the fatherhood of God” and the “brotherhood of man.” As an ecumenical and cooperative organization of liberally-inclined Protestants, the FCC inherited the Social Gospel tradition and, from the early 1920s through the 1950s, extended their commitment to address social problems to racial injustice. Through the participation and leadership of African-American ministers, the FCC developed concrete programs designed to change not only individual attitudes but also systemic racism as embodied in economic, educational, and legal structures. Because the FCC concluded that the realization of the Kingdom of God required the eradication of racial injustice, Evans concluded, the work of the Department of Race Relations deserves a place in narratives about the Social Gospel.

Arlene Sánchez-Walsh of Azusa Pacific University focused on the labor activism of Emma Tenayuca and the 1938 strike of Chicana pecan shellers in San Antonio. The vast majority of the workers were Catholic, while a sizable minority were converts to the Assemblies of God tradition. Nevertheless, both the Roman Catholic hierarchy and Assemblies of God leaders opposed the strike for a variety of reasons, including labor leaders’ association with communism. As a result, Tenayuca, who had indeed joined the communist party, and other workers were forced to draw their inspiration and justification from sources outside of traditional religious institutions. As Sánchez-Walsh explained further during the discussion period, she found no influence of the traditional “Social Gospel” theology and liberal Protestants in her case study.

Paul Putz, a Ph.D. student at Baylor University, focused on two controversies during the Gilded Age in the Midwest. In 1894, the commencement address given by Christian Socialist George Herron at the State University of Nebraska created public debates concerning the Social Gospel’s legitimacy and limits. In 1900, Charles Sheldon, author of the classic Social Gospel novel In His Steps (that introduced the question “What Would Jesus Do?”), assumed editorial responsibility for the leading paper of Topeka, Kansas for one week and pledged to run it according to Social Gospel principles. Despite their initial enthusiasm, local black leaders criticized Sheldon for virtually ignoring issues of racial injustice. For racial minorities, attention to racial problems represented the sine qua non of Social Gospel activism. Thus, Putz concluded, historians must pay attention not only to familiar leaders such as Herron and Sheldon but also to other Social Gospelers and their priorities.

Cara Burnidge of the University of Northern Iowa gave the final paper and offered the most explicit reflections on Social Gospel historiography. Her paper analyzed how Social Gospelers’ theology concerning the “brotherhood of man” led Washington Gladden, Lyman Abbott and other leaders to support the United States’ international interventionism and participation in World War I in order to spread the democratic ideals vital to social salvation. Burnidge urged historians to focus not only on Social Gospelers’ goal of social salvation but also upon the diverse means they championed in their efforts. In her case study, she highlighted leaders’ desire to work through the United States and its foreign policies to realize the Kingdom of God as a global reality. As such, Burnidge concluded, Christian interventionism in global affairs represented an important impulse of the Social Gospel movement.

Heath Carter, a professor at Valparaiso University and author of the recently published Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (Oxford, 2015), responded to the panelists by asking how their research contributes to historiographical accounts of the Social Gospel. With so much diversity and internal debates, is it still useful to talk about the Social Gospel, or is it better to describe Social Gospels? Is the Social Gospel best understood as a “movement,” a “tradition,” or a set of emphases?

While much of this discussion lies beyond my specialization, I left with a sense that it is most useful to differentiate between the self-conscious Social Gospel movement of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and the practices of many Christians in a wide variety of contexts who drew upon Christian principles in diagnosing and redressing social problems. Perhaps this latter category is best characterized as “Social Christianity” in order to distinguish it from “the Social Gospel”—a suggestion made during the audience discussion by Mark Edwards (based upon, I think, the work of Gary Dorrien). I look forward to seeing how this session’s participants and other scholars write about the Social Gospel in the coming years.

The Author’s Corner with Antoinette Sutto

Antoinette Sutto is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi. This interview is based on her new book, Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists: Maryland and the Politics of Religion in the English Atlantic, 1630-1690 (University of Virginia Press, 2015).

 

JF: What led you to write Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?

 

AS: I wanted to write about politics and religion in the early modern English world – how ideas about subversion and conflict and threats to law and order were shaped by ideas about religion and allegiance. Maryland was an ideal place to do this because in the seventeenth century, it was a colony run by Catholics that formed part of a growing empire ruled by Protestants. As I discovered in the course of researching and writing, the process of extending lines of authority across the Atlantic forced seventeenth-century people to confront the same questions about law, loyalty and confessional difference that caused a civil war and a revolution in the British Isles.

 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?

 

AS: The book argues that the violent and colorful history of early Maryland is most intelligible when placed in the context of the troubled politics of religion of the seventeenth-century English Atlantic. Ironically, some of the most specifically American aspects of Chesapeake life – the challenges of diplomacy between Indian nations and Europeans, the ups and downs of the tobacco trade – proved so destabilizing because they seemed to fit within familiar European narratives of conspiracy and subversion.

 

JF: Why do we need to read Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?

 

AS: This book explores the local, regional and imperial politics of Maryland (and to some extent Virginia) in the 1600s. But the scope of the book is larger than the Chesapeake itself. It’s about the history of ideas in the early modern world, and especially about how ideas and material circumstances – trade, disease, demography, economic expansion – are connected. Parts two and three of the book are about the interaction between the American continent and the English Atlantic and describe how the politics of the American continent and American people, many whose activities and concerns were not known to Europeans, meshed with the tensions of the English Atlantic to create a crisis in the Chesapeake. The book also grapples with the category of Atlantic history – whether and under what circumstances it is useful and how best to do it.

 

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

 

AS: When I took the PSAT in high school, the test included a questionnaire about your career plans. I remember filling in the bubbles for “history major” and “historian” for college plans and career, but I don’t remember why!  Later, I began my academic training as a history of early modern England, but I moved into early American history because I have always been fascinated by the moments at which Europeans’ plans and preconceptions about America (and Native Americans) encountered real people, landscapes and experiences.

           

JF: What is your next project?

 

AS: My next project will be about Puritanism in the colonial world and the United States. I want to write a book not about the Puritans themselves, but about how later colonists and Americans understood them. It’s a way to explore ideas about origins, nationality and changing understandings of how to write history.

JF: Thanks, Antoinette!