In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension

In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension

by Jay P. Dolan
     
 

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For more than two hundred years, writes eminent Catholic historian Jay P. Dolan, Catholics have struggled to reconcile two sets of values, as Americans and as Catholics. In this incisive, elegantly written account, Dolan explores how Catholics have met the challenges they have faced as New World followers of an Old World faith. The ideals of democracy--and American… See more details below

Overview

For more than two hundred years, writes eminent Catholic historian Jay P. Dolan, Catholics have struggled to reconcile two sets of values, as Americans and as Catholics. In this incisive, elegantly written account, Dolan explores how Catholics have met the challenges they have faced as New World followers of an Old World faith. The ideals of democracy--and American culture in general--have deeply shaped Catholicism in the United States, Dolan argues, even as far back as 1789, when the nation's first bishop was elected by the clergy (and the pope accepted their choice). Dolan follows the tension between American democratic values and Catholic doctrine, from the conservative reaction after the fall of Napoleon, to the modernist movement of the late nineteenth century, to the impact of the Second Vatican Council. Dolan explores grassroots devotional life; the struggle against successive waves of nativism, from nineteenth-century Know-Nothings to the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s; the impact--and often, collision--of different immigrant groups and their traditions; and the disputed issue of gender. He shows throughout that influences have flowed in both directions; belief and church traditions have shaped Catholics' sense of citizenship, community, and public advocacy. Today, the author writes, the tensions remain, as we see signs of both a resurgent traditionalism in the church in response to the liberalizing trend launched by John XXIII, and a resistance to the conservatism of John Paul II. In this lucidly written account, the unfinished story of Catholicism in America emerges clearly and compellingly, illuminating the inner life of the church and of the nation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dolan, an emeritus professor at Notre Dame whose book The American Catholic Experience has become a standard work, here addresses the dialectic inherent in being simultaneously Catholic and American. In prose that is accessible, even basic, Dolan explores how American Catholics have swung between ideals of democratization (as when the nation's first bishop was elected, not appointed, in 1789) and Romanization (as when Catholics in the mid-19th century retreated into their own growing infrastructure of parochial schools and networks). Today, he says, both of these ideals are still present as some American Catholics embrace neo-traditionalism as a reaction against Vatican II and others feel that the current pope is too conservative. Throughout, Dolan teases out themes of nationality, gender, democracy and the Americanization of doctrine. His attention to the evolution of grassroots devotion is especially welcome, since too many books about American Catholicism concentrate on doctrine to the exclusion of popular piety. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A brilliant study about the relationship between Catholicism and American democratic ideals, this timely book considers the historical foundations and subsequent evolutions of Catholicism's adaptation to and influence on American self-understanding. In an accessible text, Dolan (history, emeritus, Univ. of Notre Dame) explains how major doctrines and moral precepts have been significantly affected by democracy. Beginning with the American Revolution and ending with a postscript on the recent scandal of clergy sexual abuse, Dolan makes a clear case for the dynamic rhythm of religion and culture. Considerable attention is given to the themes of immigrant nationalities, religious freedom, and gender issues within the modern Catholic milieu. As the author of the acclaimed American Catholic Experience and former president of the American Catholic Historical Association, Dolan brings impeccable credentials to this work. This scholarly, well-documented, and lucidly written book is essential reading for all Americans interested in religion and politics. Wholeheartedly recommended.-John-Leonard Berg, Univ. of Wisconsin Lib., Platteville Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An eminent Catholic historian (History Emeritus/Notre Dame Univ.) tries with mixed results to examine the ways American culture and Catholicism have affected one another. Dolan (The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present, not reviewed) is no prose stylist. His language is conventional, predictable, even pedantic and banal. Clich�s are frequent, and so are dull quotations from sectarian authorities. But despite these impediments, the author provides a useful outline of the story of Catholicism in America. From the earliest pages, he establishes the central conflict between what he calls the "republican" and "monarchical" models of church authority and organization. He shows how these models have gone in and out of fashion, and he can�t hide his regret that the latter, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II (for whom Dolan appears to have little professional regard), is now ascendant. (A powerful postscript, written as news of the current sex-abuse scandal is emerging, reveals his belief that the church must permit women and married men to become priests.) Dolan examines a number of cultural issues that have greatly affected the status and role of the church in America, including immigration, wars, women�s liberation, civil rights, public education, church-and-state conflicts, and the economy. In his most engaging section, covering the past 40 years, he reveals his great admiration for John XXIII and his disdain for the conservative, authoritarian policies of the current pontiff. He does a good job, as well, of showing how Hispanic and black Catholics have affected the church as a whole. Although he addresses abortion and birth control, he does notpoint a way toward any resolution of these contentious issues. In all, more patent than potent.
From the Publisher

"It is ideal as an introduction to the main issues and characters in American Catholic history."--Patrick Allitt, Professor of History, Emory University, The Journal of American History

"The capstone to Dolan's celebrated career. Put simply, he argues that America has been quite good for Catholicism and that Catholicism must continue to adapt to American culture if it is to endure, let alone flourish."--Christian Century

"This absorbing inquiry answers the often troubling question of what it means to be both a Catholic and an American."--Booklist

"A brilliant study about the relationship between Catholicism and American democratic ideals, this timely book considers the historical foundations and subsequent evolutions of Catholicism's adaptation to and influence on American self-understanding. This well-documented, and lucidly written book is essential reading for all Americans interested in religion and politics. Wholeheartedly recommended."--Library Journal

"An eminent Catholic historian examines the ways American culture and Catholicism have affected one another. In his most engaging section, covering the past 40 years, he reveals his great admiration for John XXIII and his disdain for the conservative, authoritarian policies of the current pontiff. He does a good job, as well, of showing how Hispanic and black Catholics have affected the church as a whole."--Kirkus Reviews

"The product of a lifetime's learning and passion, Jay Dolan's new work offers a compelling interpretation of the varieties of American Catholicism and of the tense and conflicted but ultimately creative encounter of the church of migrants and immigrants with the challenges and opportunities of American democracy."--Robert Orsi, author of The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950

"In this limpid, sometimes aching book, the historian Jay Dolan explores the American Catholic dilemma so frequently imposed from outside as well as inside: can Catholics be Americans without compromise? Dolan offers an extraordinarily mature, subtle, and sophisticated account that integrates American and Catholic history with an eye for irony as well as understanding--a simply wonderful book from the master historian of Catholicism in America."--Jon Butler, author of Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People

"Few American historians have acquired the broadness of mind and intellectual curiosity to do what Jay Dolan has done in this book. In Search of an American Catholicism represents a tour de force of mature scholarship, careful but critical thought, and engaging prose. The work represents a bold departure from earlier social histories of American Catholicism to engage relevant theological and intellectual issues without ever losing sight of their social context. At a time when the Roman Catholic Church is re-examining its role and mission in American society, this book could not come at a more auspicious time. This book deserves the widest possible attention from readers within and without the Catholic tradition. All will learn more about Catholicism. All will learn more about America."--Harry S. Stout , author of The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199839261
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
09/05/2002
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Jay P. Dolan is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Notre Dame. He has authored or edited several books on the history of American Catholicism, including his best known work, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present. He has served as President of both the American Catholic Historical Association and the American Society of Church History. He was the founder of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame and served as its director from 1975 to 1993.

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