The (Catholic) Politics
of Catholic Studies
Catholic Studies, the interdisciplinary study of Catholicism, seems a simple idea, and a useful one. Yet support for reflective intelligence about Catholicism has proven controversial in the Church and in the academy, even in academies sponsored by the Church. This volume describes the emergence of interest in Catholic Studies, including initiatives to establish Catholic Studies centers and academic programs in Catholic colleges and universities. These impressive projects, however, have yet to realize their potential or meet the very real need for institutional support for research and teaching on matters related to Catholicism. Only a limited number of Catholics are convinced of the usefulness of Catholic Studies, even fewer of the need for investment in developing Catholic scholarship. Research and teaching about Catholicism requires resources, human and material, and that support has proven hard to come by.
This essay will provide a short commentary on the development of Catholic Studies in the United States over the last three decades. We will focus attention on the way in which debate about Catholic Studies has been an important factor in the development of American Catholic institutions and ministries, and self-understanding, since the Second Vatican Council (1962–65).
The Catholic politics of Catholic Studies are embedded in a network of contested questions, some related to the Second Vatican Council, some to the role of religion in American life, some to the present state and future prospects of the Catholic Church in the United States. Much has been written about the ideas behind Vatican II renewal and the nowdominant moves to “reform the reform,” but very little has been said