The Catholic Studies Reader

By James T. Fisher; Margaret M. McGuinness | Go to book overview
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Asian American Catholic
Experience and Catholic Studies


A standard narrative of American religious history has relied on the Puritan sense of a common purpose. John Winthrop’s famous “City on a Hill” speech to the Pilgrims is emblematic of this. This narrative of election and purpose has shaped the way other religions have been measured. But in doing so it has neglected the voice of religious dissenters and the significance of racial diversity within the ranks of American Christians. Likewise, social science and historical studies of immigrants and refugees tend to gloss over religious affiliation and focus mainly on adaptation or assimilation processes into American culture. Both religious history and immigration studies tend to compartmentalize the full range of experience of immigrants and refugees to the neglect of the importance of religion in their transition to American life.

The eminent scholar of American Catholicism Jay P. Dolan observes that the recent turn in interest to immigration in American religious history has been attributed more to attention paid to social history and other social developments rather than an explicit attention to the religious impact on immigration.1 Even with this promising turn, there is still rather little attention paid to the study of immigration in American religious history. In discussing the social mobility and acceptance of American Catholics, Sydney Ahlstrom states that individual Catholics adapted better to America but as a “group had been greatly retarded by a constant incoming tide of immigration which actually reached its peak in the early twentieth century.”2 He adds that by the end of War World II, American Catholics were no longer seen as an “immigrant faith.”3 Catholic immigrants blended into the American landscape and were wholeheartedly embraced as “normal” Americans. This complex process of immigration is seen as only a process of a one-sided assimilation to become Americans. The oversight and even antipathy toward


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The Catholic Studies Reader
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