I first met John McGreevy at Harvard in 1994, when he was coming to the end of his junior appointment in the history department there, just before he moved to his current academic home at Notre Dame. He was quiet, intense, and well-liked—not a frequent combination—and his book is very much like the man. Catholicism and American Freedom is thorough, phenomenally well-researched, broad in its perspective, and sober in its judgments. It will not be the book Catholics will like to read about themselves, because it is really the story of a misalliance, between a Catholic culture that should have remained Catholic and an American culture which was persistently indifferent to Catholic wooing. Although McGreevy's final message is about whether American culture has finally developed the maturity to welcome Catholics as equal partners rather than strangers, it is hard to avoid the implications McGreevy strews in the reader's path that Catholics might be better advised to forget assimilation to a culture drunk with autonomous individualism and be content with Catholicism's own authentic strangeness.
Friday, March 19, 2004
Catholicism and American assimilation
The esteemed historian of American religion Allen Guelzo over at Books & Culture reviews John McGreevy's Catholicism and American Freedom, which is up there on my to-read list. McGreevy wowed me with a breathtaking historical study of American Catholic urban culture in his Parish Boundaries. Guelzo, from a Protestant perspective, draws some rather Hauerwasian conclusions from his latest book: