Scholars have noticed in recent years the resurgent role of religion in both American and global politics. Italian scholar Manlio Graziano studied the global dimension (Holy Wars and Holy Alliance: The Return of Religions to the Global Political Stage, Columbia University Press, 2017) and took notice of the role of Catholics in recent American administrations and in the Vatican. So he set out to take a look at American Catholics and, given his self-described “outsider” status, he came up with some very helpful ideas. He sympathizes with Rick Santorum’s judgment that George W. Bush, based on his domestic policies and moral rhetoric, was “the first Catholic President.” And he notes that the number of Catholics in important offices increased under President Barack Obama, where they seemed to dominate the White House staff and much of the cabinet as they did the military and the judiciary. Graziano makes a convincing case that the universal church is flourishing across the globe, while the economic and cultural power of the United States is declining. And bridging the two are ever more well-placed American Catholics. In this study Graziano explores the historical development of the American Catholic community, the internal divisions of recent years, and the wide range of political orientations evident in Catholic voting patterns and in the work of Catholic politicians and policy makers. He takes respectful note of historical arguments about the assimilation of Catholics into American society, but, from his global perspective, he thinks there has also been a Catholicization of American culture and politics. Catholics have been and are highly organized, which has allowed them to be agents, not just passive responders to social or cultural pressures. And that organizational factor is critical to their future. Graziano is equally interested in the politics of the church. He makes a case that Catholic prelates play an increasingly important role in the Vatican. Like other scholars, Graziano sees the universal church as remarkably successful in adapting to changes across the globe, so it is well positioned to exert considerable influence on international affairs in a period when there are numerous sources of “disorder.” On this matter, the increasing importance of religion in geopolitics, there has been considerable scholarly attention. But in studying the American Catholic scene, Graziano has less to work with. While American Catholic historiography has flourished in recent years, scholars and pundits have barely skimmed the surface of recent US Catholic politics, either politics within the church (almost entirely ignored) or in the country at large, where evangelicals have drawn far more attention. While Catholics are everywhere in national, state, and local politics, they have as Catholics drawn little scholarly attention. At the same time, Catholic scholars have been very shy about engaging in extended critical examination of the political behavior of bishops, Catholic policy makers in both parties, organized Catholic lobbying, or even Catholic voters. The favorable response of many working and middle-class Catholics to Donald Trump’s insurgent campaign took commentators by surprise. But there has been evidence of widespread disenchantment with mainstream politics since the 1970s experience of the so-called ethnic revival, which came simultaneously with the powerful impact of the abortion issue. On both the global and national stage, Graziano sees a need for new initiatives aimed at renewing civic life and a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility. He shares the conviction of Charles Morris that “if America does not need the Catholic Church, it may need something very much like it” (American Catholics, Times Books, 1997, 421). His book deserves attention both from scholars interested in religion and politics, broadly understood, and from intelligent citizens searching for new possibilities for civic life. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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