In this extended essay I intend to reprise and refocus my work on American Catholics. 1 I will try to tie together in a reasonably coherent package some of many bits and pieces of research from various studies in which I have participated since 1961. Three theoretical perspectives have aided in this refocusing—William Sewell Jr.'s work on revolutionary events (1996), Melissa Jo Wilde's study of the Second Vatican Council as collective behavior (2002), and my own theories of the Catholic imagination (Greeley 1995, 2000).
My argument will be that the bishops of the world, in the euphoria generated by their (alas temporary) freedom from the obstructions of the Roman Curia, introduced relatively modest changes to the Church that were too much for the rigid structures of nineteenth-century Catholicism to absorb. They poured new wine into old wineskins and the wineskins burst. The changes the Council mandated persuaded the lower clergy and the laity that “unchangeable” Catholicism could change. When the conciliar