Blood gushes down a boxer's face, his heart racing, his eye swollen. Just before entering the ring, he prays for protection and fortitude, confident that the supplication, in addition to his training and skill, will protect him from permanent injury. A husband sits in his living room scrolling on his smartphone, listening to a podcast about natural family planning. A Civil War soldier attends Mass and receives a scapular that he stuffs in his pocket, a holy badge that he prays will keep him from danger. A group of friends hangs out in the basement of their parish, cracking jokes as they construct religious displays. Catholic soldiers in World War II snack on free chocolate from the Knights of Columbus in the midst of a war zone. A priest in the late 1960s shares his innermost feelings with a teenage girl.
These short vignettes speak to the complex lives of Catholic men—laymen, soldiers, fathers, priests. We see men using the practices and sacramentals of Catholicism for protection, both bodily and supernatural. We see men in relationships, with their families and also with their friends. Those relationships happen in spaces that are domestic and parochial; they are structured by ideas of pleasure and play. Those relationships might be earnest and nurturing, but also dangerous or abusive.
By looking at such touchpoints, the scholars in this forum prompt us to think in deeper and more nuanced ways about the making of Catholic masculinities in various moments in U.S. history. Taken together, these short "provocations"—as they were called when they were first presented in February 2021, during an online roundtable sponsored by the American Catholic Historical Association—move us [End Page 1] beyond the sanctuary and into the emotional, relational, and somatic lives of Catholic men.
This forum is intentionally located at the intersection of Catholic Studies and Men and Masculinities Studies. As scholars have shown, masculinity is not just a set of standards, ideals, and traits; it is also a "certain feel to the skin, certain muscular shapes and tensions, certain postures and ways of moving, certain possibilities in sex."2 It is an assemblage of practices, habituated over time. It is a continual product of bodily training and emotional negotiation.3 It is a set of relationships and power differentials. Masculinity does not exist only in a contrary and oppositional relationship to femininity; rather, it is often constructed and achieved in relationships between men.
Catholic Studies is a prime arena for the exploration of masculinity and materiality, illuminating the relationship between objects, bodies, and gender identities. From the materiality of vestments and the pedagogical environment of seminaries to rosaries and boxing gloves, Catholic Studies knows how to be attuned to the touch and feel of religion and how religious identities are achieved through relationships with objects. Catholic men have and continue to relate intimately with sacramental and devotional objects, objects typically coded feminine or associated with women's religious practices. Their authority has developed with and in relationship to architectures and structures of Catholic power and presence, like altars and confessionals.
Drawing on these insights from both subfields, the contributions to this forum reveal how Catholic masculinity has been enacted and lived in different ways in various times and settings, and through a wide range of practices, not just liturgical or devotional, but athletic and social as well. They propose the need for contextual, local studies of Catholic masculinities to uncover the particular feel, texture, and practices of masculinity, and its unstable, shifting nature. Masculinity is different on the battlefield in the 1860s than it is in the basement of an urban parish in 2019, but attentiveness to masculinities allows us to see how gender and religious identities are co-constructed.
This set of provocations brings together historical and ethnographic studies to show how masculinities are made and lived in diverse times and settings: battlefields, seminaries, parish basements, homes, and boxing rings. Each foregrounds the voices and experiences of Catholic men and demonstrates that when men negotiate their historical and [End Page 2] local circumstances, they are also negotiating and working on their gender identities. Together...