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American Catholics in the Protestant Imagination

Rethinking the Academic Study of Religion

Michael P. Carroll

Publication Year: 2007

Michael P. Carroll argues that the academic study of religion in the United States continues to be shaped by a "Protestant imagination" that has warped our perception of the American religious experience and its written history and analysis. In this provocative study, Carroll explores a number of historiographical puzzles that emerge from the American Catholic story as it has been understood through the Protestant tradition. Reexamining the experience of Catholicism among Irish immigrants, Italian Americans, Acadians and Cajuns, and Hispanics, Carroll debunks the myths that have informed much of this history. Shedding new light on lived religion in America, Carroll moves an entire academic field in new, exciting directions and challenges his fellow scholars to open their minds and eyes to develop fresh interpretations of American religious history.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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pp. vii-viii

By their nature, books take a relatively long time to write; and during that period an author, unless he or she is incredibly arrogant, inevitably harbors concerns about what works and what does not work in the text being created. For that reason, it is important to receive feedback from informed commentators while a book is in progress. With that in mind, I would like to thank Donald Akenson, Je= Burns, Fred Gardaphe, Eugene Hynes, Bill Issel, Timothy Matovina, Sal ...

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pp. ix-xviii

This book is about several different things at once. Most chapters are concerned with some variant of American Catholicism, and one goal certainly is to provide new insight into the several Catholic traditions that have flourished in the United States over the past two centuries. But every chapter also seeks to identify some historigraphical puzzles in the study of American religion. Thus, we will encounter ... staunch Irish Presbyterians in the colonial era who weren’t very staunch, ...

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1 How the Irish Became Protestant in America

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pp. 1-26

During the 1970s and 1980s, when studies of “white ethnics” were very much in vogue, several national surveys quite independently turned up a surprising finding: most Americans who thought of themselves as “Irish” were Protestant, not Catholic. Donald Akenson’s (1993, 219–220) review of these surveys reports that anywhere from 51 to 59 percent of respondents (depending on the survey) who identified themselves as Irish were Protestant, about a third were Catholic, ...

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2 Why the Famine Irish Became Catholic in America

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pp. 27-61

The story of the Great Famine, which devastated Ireland in the late 1840s, is a story that has been told many times. While scholarly views of what caused the Famine, and who was or was not responsible, have shifted back and forth over time, what has remained constant—at least for anyone who reads the record with even minimal care—is a chilling sense of the death and devastation that swept over the Irish people ...

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3 Italian American Catholicism: The Standard Story and Its Problems

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pp. 62-95

The period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s was something of a golden age for the academic study of Italian American Catholicism. Scholarly monographs on particular Italian American communities proliferated, and these monographs inevitably included a chapter on religion. Some of the publications (notably Vecoli 1969; 1977) continue to be cited as authoritative characterizations ...

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4 Were the Acadians/Cajuns Really Good Catholics?

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pp. 96-112

The study of Cajun Catholicism in Louisiana has not attracted much attention from scholars concerned with the general history of religion in America. Mark Noll’s A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (1992), for example, makes a few passing references to Acadians in Canada but says nothing about Cajuns in Louisiana. ...

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5 Hispanic Catholicism and the Illusion of Knowledge

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pp. 113-148

In their book on New Mexico, Marta Weigle and Peter White (1988) list four “focal places” that epitomize modern New Mexico’s multiethnic identity, and the only one of the four that is distinctively associated with New Mexico’s Hispano Catholic population is the small church at Chimayó, located about thirty miles northeast of Santa Fe.1 This church, it happens, is also a well-known Catholic pilgrimage site and attracts thousands of visitors annually as either tourists ...

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6 Protestantism and the Academic Study of American Religion: An Enduring Alliance

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pp. 149-185

As I indicated in the Introduction, and as now should be clear, this book is about several things at once. One goal has been to offer answers to questions that have not previously been raised about American religion (like “How did the Irish become Protestant in America?”). Another has been to provide new answers to old questions (like “Why did Irish American Catholics become the mainstay of ...

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pp. 186-187

We have now met the cast of characters that I promised we would meet: the staunch Irish Presbyterians in colonial America who weren’t very staunch, the devout post-Famine Irish Catholics who weren’t very devout, Italian immigrants clinging to localized madonnas and saints who didn’t cling very hard, Cajun Catholics whose Catholicism was possibly more about performing femininity than ...


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pp. 189-192


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pp. 193-214


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pp. 215-219

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401997
E-ISBN-10: 1421401991
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886836
Print-ISBN-10: 080188683X

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 7 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2007