2018-2019 Catholics and Catholicism in American Politics

The 2018-2019 academic year is a perfect moment to offer a Ramonat Seminar focused on American Politics and how Catholics and Catholicism shaped twentieth-century politics at the local, state, and federal level. There will be a midterm election in Fall 2018 and a Chicago mayoral election in Spring 2019.  Readings and speakers will explore how Catholics shaped Chicago’s ward politics from the Progressive Era through the two Daley machines, how Catholics across Illinois brought their faith and sensibilities to the legislature, and how Catholics and Catholicism factored in the transformation of American politics. A major feature of this course must accordingly be the hostility Catholics, their parishes, and their elected representatives faced, providing insights into the struggles Catholics had in attaining legal voting rights, securing protection against religious discrimination at home and at work, as well as being broadly recognized as a vital, legitimate part of the American polity. An examination of twentieth-century local, state, and national politics will accordingly show students how the face of American Catholicism dramatically changed from the Irish and Italian immigrants to the Latino and South Asian immigrants who have recently won elected office through the Republican and Democratic parties.

These speakers as well as the scheduled elections will give Ramonat Scholars a range of possible topics to explore in Spring 2019. Students could, for example, write research papers on Catholics important to local, state, and nation affairs, whether they chose to focus on major elections, movements, policymaking, or reform efforts. Ramonant resources could also help undergraduates explore shifts within Catholic voters, either in specific cities or states or a more comparative project. For the latter, students could explore how Democratic, Republican, radical, or nonpartisan Catholics differed on major issues (such as busing, federal support for parochial schools, and affirmative action) across time or perhaps even place.


Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, Assistant Professor of History