Thursday, August 12, 2021

Michael Graziano's "Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors"

Michael Graziano is an Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Northern Iowa. His research focuses on the relationship between religion, law, and government in the United States. In particular, he is interested in how the U.S. government decides what counts as “religious,” and how it chooses to engage religious people, ideas, and institutions.

Graziano's first book, Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors: Religion and the History of the CIA, explores how conflicts over America’s religious diversity were formative influences on the development of U.S. intelligence.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 is a great snapshot of my book’s themes. A reader turning to page 99 in Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors: Religion and the History of the CIA would be dropped into the tale of Tom Dooley, a Catholic US Navy doctor working in Vietnam who, through a combination of good luck, his Catholicism, and the intervention of several powerful United States government agencies, was catapulted to superstardom in 1950s America. Specifically, page 99 details the CIA’s involvement in Dooley’s best-selling books that introduced millions of Americans to Vietnam. More broadly, page 99 begins sketching how the CIA used American Catholicism⁠—and American Catholics, like Dooley⁠—to frame the conflict in Vietnam for American audiences. This meant not only representing foreign peoples in particular ways, but also encouraging non-Catholic Americans to think about American Catholics differently: as both truly American and truly Christian. This challenged longstanding anti-Catholic trends in US history, and it was these same trends that the CIA encountered as a roadblock to greater religious cooperation in the Cold War.

Page 99 is also smack dab in the middle of one of my favorite parts of the book, which explores how a popular American understanding of “religion” (as something universal, global, and inescapably everywhere) often reflected little more than provincially American ideas⁠—even as that was sometimes hard to see when those same ideas were delivered by America’s new global power. This lulled the CIA into a confidence that they knew which way the world was going and why. My book explores this confidence⁠—its sources, effects, and pitfalls—as the CIA engaged with religious people, ideas, and institutions. A reader could do worse than starting with page 99.
Visit Michael Graziano's website.

--Marshal Zeringue