Year of Publication

2020

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Gender and Women's Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Melissa Stein

Abstract

This project explores the complex relationship between religion, culture, and politics in the United States during the twentieth century by examining a largely unexplored pocket of Roman Catholic pamphlet literature, as well as other forms of Catholic media, including newspapers, magazines, radio programs, and television shows. During the twentieth century Catholic media makers spent a considerable amount of energy speaking and writing about issues related to gender and sexuality, and they often did so in racially coded terms. In addition to making prescriptions of what was appropriate and moral sexual and gendered behavior, these media makers repeatedly made the case that Catholic values on these issues were what made Catholics great Americans. Considering this, this dissertation will illustrate how Catholic media texts should be understood not only as a form of religious self-help literature, but as part of a larger political project aimed at helping Catholics assume a more central place in American social and political life. In doing so, this project will reveal how religious discourses about race, gender, and sexuality are not static, but always a product of their political, geographical, and historical context.

My dissertation makes important contributions to existing scholarship on the historical production of ideas about gender, sexuality, and race, as well as the history of Catholicism in America. While many scholars interested in the history of Catholic ideas about gender, sexuality, and race tend to focus on official Vatican documents, this project focuses on the Catholic media texts that Catholics in America would have most regularly come into contact with. Vatican documents such as papal encyclicals and letters are important landmarks, but exclusively focusing on these documents risks perpetuating the notion of ideological homogeneity within the Catholic Church, which obscures the diversity of more localized experiences and manifestations of Catholicism.

This project examines religion both as an institution and as a marker of identity that—like race, class, gender, and sexuality—is constructed and situated within a hierarchy of power. This project will expand on intersectional feminist scholarship and make the case for a heightened focus on religion as an axis of identity that shapes people’s experiences of the world. The United States during the twentieth century is a useful site to explore how religious identities are politically situated, as this period witnessed a significant shift in attitudes towards, and growth in confidence for, Catholics in America. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Catholics in America had been cast as a national threat and were a target of a wave of xenophobia and religious nationalism. A century later, Catholics in America are now a group whose religious identity is seen as mainstream and no longer marked as “Other.” This shift was not spontaneous, sudden, or inevitable. Instead, as this project makes clear, it was a result of a well-organized media campaign that utilized racially coded discourses about gender and sexuality to reshape the popular imagination of Catholics in America.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2020.199

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