Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation

Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation

Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation

Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation

Synopsis

In this important new study, Charles Keith explores the complex position of the Catholic Church in modern Vietnamese history. By demonstrating how French colonial rule allowed for the transformation of Catholic missions in Vietnam into broad and powerful economic and institutional structures, Keith discovers the ways race defined ecclesiastical and cultural prestige and control of resources and institutional authority. This, along with colonial rule itself, created a culture of religious life in which relationships between Vietnamese Catholics and European missionaries were less equal and more fractious than ever before. However, the colonial era also brought unprecedented ties between Vietnam and the transnational institutions and culture of global Catholicism, as Vatican reforms to create an independent national Church helped Vietnamese Catholics to reimagine and redefine their relationships to both missionary Catholicism and to colonial rule itself. Much like the myriad revolutionary ideologies and struggles in the name of the Vietnamese nation, this revolution in Vietnamese Catholic life was ultimately ambiguous, even contradictory: it established the foundations for an independent national Church, but it also polarized the place of the new Church in post-colonial Vietnamese politics and society and produced deep divisions between Vietnamese Catholics themselves.

Excerpt

Scholarship on the history of Catholicism in Vietnam has experienced a renewal since the end of the Cold War and the social and economic transformations of the market reform era in Vietnam. Over the last two decades, a growing number of scholars have provided nuanced accounts of Catholicism from its arrival in Vietnam in the seventeenth century to the present day. Missing in this new historiography, however, has been one very important period, arguably the most important one, namely the transition during the colonial period from a foreign-administered mission to an independent national Church. With his new book Catholic Vietnam, Charles Keith fills in this gap and in so doing provides us with a brilliant analysis of the sociocultural and political nature of this transformation and its complex consequences. He also provides us with powerful insights into modern Vietnamese history.

Drawing upon an impressive array of colonial, missionary, Vatican, and especially Vietnamese sources, Keith demonstrates the extent to which colonial rule created increasingly fractious relationships among Vietnamese Catholics, European missionaries, and French officials. At the same time, he situates his analysis within the social, economic, and cultural changes occurring inside Vietnam affecting relationships among Vietnamese Catholics and non-Catholics. If historians have paid close attention to the famous uprisings crushed by the French at Yên Bái and Nghệ An in 1930–31, Keith is the first to draw our attention to the significance of the ordination of the first Vietnamese bishop, Nguyễn Bá Tòng, in 1933. In the wake of World War II, the ordination of another famous bishop, Lê Hữu Từ, and his early support of Hồ Chí Minh left no doubt that much had changed among Vietnamese Catholics since the late nineteenth century. By the end of the . . .

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