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Michael Graziano

Errand Into the Wilderness of Mirrors: Religion and the History of the CIA

Michael Graziano’s intriguing book fuses two landmark titles in American history: Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness (1956), about the religious worldview of the early Massachusetts colonists, and David Martin’s Wilderness of Mirrors (1980), about the dangers and delusions inherent to the Central Intelligence Agency. Fittingly, Errand Into the Wilderness of Mirrors: Religion and the History of the CIA (U Chicago Press, 2021) investigates the dangers and delusions that ensued from the religious worldview of the early molders of the Central Intelligence Agency. Graziano argues that the religious approach to intelligence by key OSS and CIA figures like “Wild” Bill Donovan and Edward Lansdale was an essential, and overlooked, factor in establishing the agency’s concerns, methods, and understandings of the world. In a practical sense, this was because the Roman Catholic Church already had global networks of people and safe places that American agents could use to their advantage. But more tellingly, Graziano shows, American intelligence officers were overly inclined to view powerful religions and religious figures through the frameworks of Catholicism. As Graziano makes clear, these misconceptions often led to tragedy and disaster on an international scale. By braiding the development of the modern intelligence agency with the story of postwar American religion, Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors delivers a provocative new look at a secret driver of one of the major engines of American power.

Host: Allison Isidore

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Mark Newman

Desegregating Dixie: The Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945-1992

In Desegregating Dixie: The Catholic Church in the South and Desegregation, 1945-1992 (UP of Mississippi, 2018), Mark Newman draws on a vast range of archives and many interviews to uncover for the first time the complex response of African American and white Catholics across the South to desegregation. In the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, the southern Catholic Church contributed to segregation by confining African Americans to the back of white churches and to black-only schools and churches. However, in the twentieth century, papal adoption and dissemination of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, pressure from some black and white Catholics, and secular change brought by the civil rights movement increasingly led the Church to address racial discrimination both inside and outside its walls.

Far from monolithic, white Catholics in the South split between a moderate segregationist majority and minorities of hard-line segregationists and progressive racial egalitarians. While some bishops felt no discomfort with segregation, prelates appointed from the late 1940s onward tended to be more supportive of religious and secular change. Some bishops in the peripheral South began desegregation before or in anticipation of secular change while elsewhere, especially in the Deep South, they often tied changes in the Catholic churches to secular desegregation.

African American Catholics were diverse and more active in the civil rights movement than has often been assumed. While some black Catholics challenged racism in the Church, many were conflicted about the manner of Catholic desegregation generally imposed by closing valued black institutions. Tracing its impact through the early 1990s, Newman reveals how desegregation shook congregations but seldom brought about genuine integration.

Winner of the 2020 American Studies Network Book Prize from the European Association for American Studies

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Kate Moran

The Imperial Church: Catholic Founding Fathers and United States Empire

Through a fascinating discussion of religion’s role in the rhetoric of American civilizing empire, The Imperial Church: Catholic Founding Fathers and United States Empire (Cornell UP, 2020) undertakes an exploration of how Catholic mission histories served as a useful reference for Americans narrating US settler colonialism on the North American continent and seeking to extend military, political, and cultural power around the world. Katherine D. Moran traces historical celebrations of Catholic missionary histories in the upper Midwest, Southern California, and the US colonial Philippines to demonstrate the improbable centrality of the Catholic missions to ostensibly Protestant imperial endeavors.

Moran shows that, as the United States built its continental and global dominion and an empire of production and commerce in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Protestant and Catholic Americans began to celebrate Catholic imperial pasts. She demonstrates that American Protestants joined their Catholic compatriots in speaking with admiration about historical Catholic missionaries: the Jesuit Jacques Marquette in the Midwest, the Franciscan Junípero Serra in Southern California, and the Spanish friars in the Philippines. Comparing them favorably to the Puritans, Pilgrims, and the American Revolutionary generation, commemorators drew these missionaries into a cross-confessional pantheon of US national and imperial founding fathers. In the process, they cast Catholic missionaries as gentle and effective agents of conquest, uplift, and economic growth, arguing that they could serve as both origins and models for an American civilizing empire.

The Imperial Church connects Catholic history and the history of US empire by demonstrating that the religious dimensions of American imperial rhetoric have been as cross-confessional as the imperial nation itself.

Hosted by Carlos Ruiz Martinze and Allison Isidore

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Sophie Cooper

Forging Identities in the Irish World: Melbourne and Chicago, 1840-1922

Forging Identities in the Irish World: Melbourne and Chicago, 1840-1922 (Edinburgh UP, 2022,) explores the shifting influences of religious demography, educational provision, and club culture to shed new light on what makes a diasporic ethnic community connect and survive over multiple generations. Sophie Cooper focuses on these Irish populations as they grew alongside their cities establishing the cultural and political institutions of Melbourne and Chicago, and these comparisons allow scholars to explore what happens when an ethnic group – so often considered ‘other’ – have a foundational role in a city instead of entering a society with established hierarchies. Forging Identities in the Irish World places women and children alongside men to explore the varied influences on migrant identity and community life.

Hosted by Allison Isidore

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Maggie Scull

The Catholic Church and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1998

Until surprisingly recently, the history of the Irish Catholic Church during the Northern Irish Troubles was written by Irish priests and bishops and was commemorative rather than analytical. Margaret M. Scull’s The Catholic Church and the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1998 (Oxford UP, 2019) uses the Troubles as a case study to evaluate the role of the Catholic Church in mediating conflict.

During the Troubles, these priests and bishops often worked behind the scenes, acting as go-betweens for the British government and republican paramilitaries to bring about a peaceful solution. However, this study also looks more broadly at the actions of the American, Irish, and English Catholic Churches, as well as that of the Vatican, to uncover the full impact of the Church on the conflict. This critical analysis of the previously neglected state, Irish, and English Catholic Church archival material changes our perspective on the role of a religious institution in a modern conflict.

Hosted by Allison Isidore

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Mary Henold

The Laywoman Project: Remaking Catholic Womanhood in the Vatican II Era

In The Laywoman Project: Remaking Catholic Womanhood in the Vatican II Era (UNC Press, 2020), Mary J. Henold considers how these committed parishioners experienced their religion in the wake of Vatican II (1962-1965). This era saw major changes within the heavily patriarchal religious faith–at the same time as an American feminist revolution caught fire. Who was the Catholic woman for a new era? Henold uncovers a vast archive of writing, both intimate and public-facing, by hundreds of rank-and-file American laywomen active in national laywomen’s groups, including the National Council of Catholic Women, the Catholic Daughters of America, and the Daughters of Isabella. These records evoke a formative period when laywomen played publicly with a surprising variety of ideas about their own position in the Catholic Church.

While marginalized near the bottom of the church hierarchy, laywomen quietly but purposefully engaged both their religious and gender roles as changing circumstances called them into question. Some eventually chose feminism while others rejected it, but most, Henold says, crafted a middle position: even conservative, nonfeminist laywomen came to reject the idea that the church could adapt to the modern world while keeping women’s status frozen in amber.

Hosted by Allison Isidore

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Theresa Keeley

Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict Over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America

In Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict Over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America (Cornell UP, 2020), Theresa Keeley analyzes the role of intra-Catholic conflict within the framework of U.S. foreign policy formulation and execution during the Reagan administration. She challenges the preponderance of scholarship on the administration that stresses the influence of evangelical Protestants on foreign policy toward Latin America. Especially in the case of U.S. engagement in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Keeley argues, the bitter debate between the U.S. and Central American Catholics over the direction of the Catholic Church shaped President Reagan’s foreign policy.

The flashpoint for these intra-Catholic disputes was the December 1980 political murder of four American Catholic missionaries in El Salvador. Liberal Catholics described nuns and priests in Central America who worked to combat structural inequality as human rights advocates living out the Gospel’s spirit. Conservative Catholics saw them as agents of the class conflict who furthered the so-called Gospel, according to Karl Marx. The debate was an old one among Catholics, but, as Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns contends, it intensified as conservative, anticommunist Catholics played instrumental roles in crafting U.S. policy to fund the Salvadoran government and the Nicaraguan Contras.

Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns describes the religious actors as human rights advocates and, against prevailing understandings of the fundamentally secular activism related to human rights, highlights religion-inspired activism during the Cold War. In charting the rightward development of American Catholicism, Keeley provides a new chapter in the history of U.S. diplomacy. She shows how domestic issues such as contraception and abortion joined with foreign policy matters to shift the Catholic laity toward Republican principles at home and abroad.

Hosted by Allison Isidore

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Kristy Nabhan-Warren

Meatpacking America: How Migration, Work, and Faith Unite and Divide the Heartland

Whether valorized as the heartland or derided as flyover country, the Midwest became instantly notorious when COVID-19 infections skyrocketed among workers in meatpacking plants—and Americans feared for their meat supply. But the Midwest is not simply the place where animals are fed corn and then butchered. Native midwesterner Kristy Nabhan-Warren spent years interviewing Iowans who work in the meatpacking industry, both native-born residents and recent migrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In Meatpacking America, she digs deep below the stereotype and reveals the grit and grace of a heartland that is a major global hub of migration and food production—and also, it turns out, of religion.

Across the flatlands, Protestants, Catholics, and Muslims share space every day as worshippers, employees, and employers. On the bloody floors of meatpacking plants, in bustling places of worship, and in modest family homes, longtime and newly arrived Iowans spoke to Nabhan-Warren about their passion for religious faith and desire to work hard for their families. Their stories expose how faith-based aspirations for mutual understanding blend uneasily with rampant economic exploitation and racial biases. Still, these new and old midwesterners say that a mutual language of faith and morals brings them together more than any of them would have ever expected.

Hosted by Carlos Ruiz Martinez and Allison Isidore

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