The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era

Overview

As the twentieth century opened, American intellectuals grew increasingly sympathetic to Pragmatism and empirical methods in the social sciences. The Progressive program as a whole -- in the form of Pragmatism, education, modern sociology, and nationalism -- seemed to be in agreement on one thing: everything was in flux. The dogma and "absolute truth" of the Church were archaisms, unsuited to modern American citizenship and at odds with the new public philosophy being forged by such intellectuals as John Dewey, ...

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Overview

As the twentieth century opened, American intellectuals grew increasingly sympathetic to Pragmatism and empirical methods in the social sciences. The Progressive program as a whole -- in the form of Pragmatism, education, modern sociology, and nationalism -- seemed to be in agreement on one thing: everything was in flux. The dogma and "absolute truth" of the Church were archaisms, unsuited to modern American citizenship and at odds with the new public philosophy being forged by such intellectuals as John Dewey, William James, and the New Republic magazine. Catholics saw this new public philosophy as at least partly an attack on them.

Focusing on the Catholic intellectual critique of modernity during the period immediately before and after the turn of the twentieth century, this provocative and original book examines how the Catholic Church attempted to retain its identity in an age of pluralism. It shows a Church fundamentally united on major issues -- quite unlike the present-day Catholic Church, which has been the site of a low-intensity civil war since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Defenders of the faith opposed James, Dewey, and other representatives of Pragmatism as it played out in ethics, education, and nationalism. Their goals were to found an economic and political philosophy based on natural law, to appropriate what good they could find in Progressivism to the benefit of the Church, and to make America a Catholic country.

The Church Confronts Modernity explores how the decidedly nonpluralistic institution of Christianity responded to an increasingly pluralistic intellectual environment. In a culture whose chief value was pluralism, they insisted on the uniqueness of the Church and the need for making value judgments based on what they considered a sound philosophy of humanity. In neither capitulating to the new creed nor retreating into a self-righteous isolation, American Catholic intellectuals thus laid the groundwork for a half-century of intellectual vitality.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Catholic Historical Review - Margaret Mary Reher

The Church Confronts Modernity is provocative, well-written, and deserves to be read.

Journal of American Studies - Frank Lennon

It is written with great clarity and fluency, making the complex philosophical and theological concepts approachable... This is a very important book which will be indispensable reading for scholars interested in the history of religion.

Theological Studies - Thomas G. Guarino

It moves briskly and gracefully through the thorny issues confronting the Church during the first two decades of the 20th century... An effective and detailed examination of Catholic intellectual life during a little studied period.

Journal of American History - Patrick W. Carey

This book is well worth reading. It is well written, well researched, and the thesis put forth is well argued.

American Catholic Studies - Michael J. Lacey

Provocative... Woods thoughtful study casts new light on the Catholic response to the culture of progressivism.

American Historical Review - Deirdre Moloney

Well written... Worthwhile contributions to the literature.

Choice - P. J. Hayes

This book will be a valuable resource...Highly recommended.

Catholic Historical Review
The Church Confronts Modernity is provocative, well-written, and deserves to be read.

— Margaret Mary Reher

Journal of American Studies
It is written with great clarity and fluency, making the complex philosophical and theological concepts approachable... This is a very important book which will be indispensable reading for scholars interested in the history of religion.

— Frank Lennon

Theological Studies
It moves briskly and gracefully through the thorny issues confronting the Church during the first two decades of the 20th century... An effective and detailed examination of Catholic intellectual life during a little studied period.

— Thomas G. Guarino

Journal of American History
This book is well worth reading. It is well written, well researched, and the thesis put forth is well argued.

— Patrick W. Carey

American Catholic Studies
Provocative... Woods thoughtful study casts new light on the Catholic response to the culture of progressivism.

— Michael J. Lacey

American Historical Review
Well written... Worthwhile contributions to the literature.

— Deirdre Moloney

The American Conservative - Paul Gottfried

Precociously wise... magnificent.

A Christian Review - Eugene McCarraher

A lucid and accessible book

Choice - P.J. Hayes
This book will be a valuable resource...Highly recommended.
The American Conservative
Precociously wise... magnificent.

— Paul Gottfried

A Christian Review
A lucid and accessible book

— Eugene McCarraher

Choice
This book will be a valuable resource...Highly recommended.

— P. J. Hayes

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231131865
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 5/26/2004
  • Series: Religion and American Culture Series
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas E. Woods Jr. is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
1 The Stage Is Set 1
2 The Challenge of Pragmatism 23
3 Sociology and the Study of Man 51
4 Assimilation and Resistance: Catholics and Progressive Education 85
5 Economics and the "Social Question" 119
6 Against Syncretism 143
Epilogue: Into the Future 157
Notes 177
Selected Bibliography 211
Index 221
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