Cultural Catholics in America: Narrative, Authority and Identity since Vatican II Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • O'Donnell, Mary Ellen
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This dissertation interrogates the identifying category "cultural Catholic" in the United States and distinguishes the overarching elements that contribute to its construction and development. I argue that a deliberate connection to the Catholicism of one's past-and its authoritative contexts-constitutes the key component of cultural Catholicism. Adults, removed from their childhood environments and reflecting on the influence of their religious upbringings, use narrative to highlight distinct circumstances that had long-lasting impacts. Selectively emphasizing particular memories, cultural Catholics, from a variety of geographic, ethnic and economic origins, construct similar pictures of their childhood environments. With this range of possible sources available, I have limited this investigation to texts by authors who were born between 1940 and 1965 and who self-identify as having been raised Catholic. This first generation of cultural Catholics highlights three contexts of Catholic authority in mid-twentieth century America-the institutional Church, the family home, and the ethnic neighborhood-where, as children, they encountered definitive responsibilities and expectations. Their narratives emphasize the powerful Catholic forces occupying these different spaces. However, through the process of writing about their early religious experiences, they effectively reclaim a sense of agency regarding those environments. Cultural Catholics exhibit a sense of power over their Catholic past and assume control of the way it takes shape in history. Further, they establish themselves in a new segment of society, one removed from their particularized origins and comfortably settled in professional surroundings, precisely by invoking the past in specific ways. Their stories allow them to perpetuate their connection to the tradition and communities that formed them. However, in the process, they construct a new position that allows them to be prominent figures in secular settings and still deeply shaped by the Catholic influences that characterized their youth.
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  • In Copyright
  • Maffly-Kipp, Laurie F.
  • Open access

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