Today’s guest poster, William S. Cossen, is an Atlanta-based historian of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, specializing in the intersection of religion and nationalism. He serves as the book review editor for H-SHGAPE (Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era) and am a member of the faculty of The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, the top-ranked public high school in Georgia. Cossen received his PhD in History from The Pennsylvania State University and is currently revising a book manuscript entitled, Making Catholic America: Religious Nationalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.
Whether John Higham was correct in describing anti-Catholicism as the “most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history” is a matter of debate. Not as disputed, though, is the reality that, until relatively recently, a great many Americans did view Catholicism as one of the principal threats to liberty and order in the United States. Maura Jane Farrelly’s masterful new volume, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860, traces the development of anti-Catholicism in the United States (or what would eventually become that country) from the establishment of Plymouth Colony to the coming of the Civil War. Farrelly’s work is at once a survey bringing together several decades of scholarly work on American religious, social, and political history, and an impressive example of primary-source research in its own right. For Farrelly, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University, the history of American anti-Catholicism extends beyond questions of religiosity, instead encompassing the meaning and composition of the nation. As she explains in the book’s introduction, “Any understanding of anti-Catholicism…requires us to interrogate the meaning of American freedom and, by extension, the promise of American identity.” Continue reading