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Annual Meeting: American Academy of Religion 2015

November 24, 2015 - Atlanta, GA

At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Bradley Kime will present his paper, “Religious Outsiders and the Catholic Critique of Protestantism in America,” which includes a discussion of Mormonism’s place in Catholic anti-Protestantism.

Bradley Kime, “Religious Outsiders and the Catholic Critique of Protestantism in America”
Session: “The Uses of Propaganda in American Religious History: Catholicism, Mormonism, Protestantism”

Abstract: In the long nineteenth century, widespread Catholic commentary cast a congeries of (ir)religious outsiders as an indictment of Protestantism in America. To Catholics, Mormons and Millerites, atheists and agnostics, Spiritualists and Christian Scientists were the exegetical and educational products of Protestantism. And, to such Catholics, mainstream Protestant reactions to these groups exposed the contradictions of Protestant power and anti-Catholic discourse in America. Catholics argued that proliferating (ir)religious radicals ultimately belied Protestants’ portrayals of their own exegetical, intellectual, and politico-religious freedom from Catholic oppression. And as they countered Protestant characterizations of Catholic oppression, Catholics laid bare the mechanics of their own marginalization. What Protestants had to say about Catholicism and Catholic oppression has been carefully studied, but Catholics’ critiques of their American Protestant critics have received less attention. This historiographical imbalance tends to obscure historical Catholic perspectives on American religious history, reduce a polemical dialogue to a Protestant monologue, and exaggerate the cogency of American anti-Catholic discourse. As one initial corrective, this paper tracks widespread Catholic uses of radical religious outsiders to critique Protestantism in America. Moreover, this historical Catholic commentary is significant because it illuminates another domain of responsive strategies available to objects of religious prejudice. Outsider groups, scholars have often argued, maligned and distanced themselves from each other in order to prove their own Protestant-looking American-ness to mainstream Protestants. The Catholics considered in this study constitute an important counterexample with broad significance for the study of American religion as they used other outsiders to challenge and critique—rather than appeal to—the Protestant center of America.