Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Religion in the Modern American West

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Religion in the Modern American West

Article excerpt

Religion in the Modern American West. By Ferenc Morton Szasz. [The Modern American West, Volume 4.] (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press. 2000. Pp. xviii, 249. $35.00.)

This first major survey on the subject commands a rereading of American history as a whole. The nation's religious bearings have been ignored, Professor Szasz of the University of New Mexico contends, for a number of reasons: a separation of church and state that relegates religion to the private sphere; a religious pluralism that defies the construction of an all-encompassing narrative line; the indifferent mindset of an Academy whose agenda was determined by earlier Progressive historians, such as Frederick Jackson Turner; and, the most important, according to the author, the prospect of a "religious template" that would realign all the traditional categories of ethnicity, economics, and politics, as well as the new triad of race, class, and gender.

In his attempt to illustrate how the churches created much of the institutional infrastructure of western life-schools, hospitals, and a variety of social welfare agencies-and shaped many of its prevalent attitudes, the author has divided his survey into three parts: the 1890's to the 1920's, the 1920's to the 1960's, and the 1960's to the present. Each part he further divides into three chapters, the first two either chronological or topical in nature but with attention to demography in the first. In the third he profiles a few striking personalities whom he considers paradigmatic.

This work offers to American Catholic historiography new dimensions and fresh insights that contradict the standard surveys of the Catholic Church in the United States. The latter portray immigrant urban life and episcopal control predominantly in the Northeast and Midwest. …

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