The Catholic Studies Reader
Edited by James T. Fisher and Margaret M. McGuinness
Fordham University Press, $30, 350 pp.
I remember the day five years ago when the head of a conservative Catholic congregation of women religious asked me what I taught. “Catholic studies,” I replied. “Oh,” she said, in a fairly good but probably unintentional impression of Lady Bracknell, “and what exactly is that?”
She may have had a point. After reading the many fine essays in The Catholic Studies Reader it is clear, as anyone who works in the discipline knows, that no consensus exists about what constitutes Catholic studies. The most correct but least helpful description might be that you are “doing” Catholic studies whenever your inquiry is related to the Catholic Church or the Catholic tradition. So the historian who writes about the Council of Trent, or the literary critic who examines Catholic tropes in Graham Greene’s novels, or the psychologist who tries to figure out whether there is a correlation between a tendency toward sexual abuse and the vow of celibacy are all engaged in Catholic studies, even though the disciplines they employ in these endeavors differ widely. Perhaps, then, it is not only a matter of what is studied but how. Still, that leaves the trickiest question: Why do Catholic studies?
The answers presented in The Catholic Studies Reader are loosely grouped into five sections: sources and contexts; traditions and methods; pedagogy and practice; ethnicity, race, and...