Hostility to Catholicism is one of the hearty perennials of the study of law and religion in America. I have recently argued in this piece that there was an important shift in the political rhetoric of the late 19th and early 20th century from accentuating anti-Catholic to anti-Christian themes. That shift continues to be a vital one in today’s understanding of the separation of church and state.
But Anti-Catholicism in American: 1620-1860 (Cambridge University Press), by Maura Jane Farrelly (author of an excellent earlier volume entitled, “Papist Patriots”) begins in the colonial period and works its way to the Civil War. It looks well worth exploring.
Using fears of Catholicism as a mechanism through which to explore the contours of Anglo-American understandings of freedom, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620–1860 reveals the ironic role that anti-Catholicism played in defining and sustaining some of the core values of American identity, values that continue to animate our religious and political discussions today. Farrelly explains how that bias helped to shape colonial and antebellum cultural understandings of God, the individual, salvation, society, government, law, national identity, and freedom. In so doing, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620–1860 provides contemporary observers with a framework for understanding what is at stake in the debate over the place of Muslims and other non-Christian groups in American society.