Tuesday, October 3, 2023

William S. Cossen's "Making Catholic America"

William S. Cossen is a historian specializing in the intersection of religion and nationalism. He is a faculty member of The Gwinett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology.

Cossen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Making Catholic America: Religious Nationalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Making Catholic America: Religious Nationalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era comes about one-third of the way through the book’s fourth chapter, “Catholic Gatekeepers: The Church, Immigrants, and the Forging of an American Catholicism.” The page begins in the middle of a paragraph discussing native-born American Catholics’ perceptions that they were already integral parts of their nation, despite growing anti-immigrant sentiment at the turn of the twentieth century, much of which also targeted the Catholic Church and its members. As the next paragraph notes:
A similar article in the Catholic World from 1871 described the founding of the American colonies as a project carried out by a diverse group of European immigrants. Even the founding documents of the United States, according to the piece, were of foreign provenance, with the Declaration of Independence springing from Dutch origins, the common law coming from the English, and the civil law born of the French and Spanish.
Although the author described above seemed to aim toward a more pluralistic conception of American nationhood, they still shared in other prevailing sentiments of the period:
[T]he author demonstrated an essentialized understanding of race and ethnicities, ascribing qualities supposedly inherent to each of them. The author expressed faith in the ability of the “practical genius of Americans” to harness, control, and eventually assimilate immigrants into the national community, pointing to an outlook on racial differences shared by many native-born Catholics and Protestants alike and an understanding of the “genius of Americans” that was just as dependent on its Catholic members as on its non-Catholic constituents.
This page is a good reflection of one of the book’s main arguments. A major theme in Making Catholic America is the ability of Catholics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to make successful claims for themselves as quintessential Americans and as the most authentic exemplars of American ideals. Central to this argument is a focus on how Catholics used a merger of religion, race, and nationalism to make these assertions. While this is the only chapter focusing exclusively on immigration – the others address western expansion and missionary activity on Native American reservations; the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893; the American colonization of the Philippines; and politics and anti-Catholicism in the Progressive Era – the passages from page 99 described above work very well as illustrations of one of the book’s principal claims.
Visit William S. Cossen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue