The University of Wisconsin Press

Faithful Passages
American Catholicism in Literary Culture, 1844–1931
James Emmett Ryan

Studies in American Thought and Culture
Paul S. Boyer, Series Editor

“An important contribution to U.S. Catholic history, and useful to anyone teaching courses in literature and religion.”
—Una M. Cadegan, University of Dayton

Roman Catholic writers in colonial America played only a minority role debates about religion, politics, morality, national identity, and literary culture. However, the commercial print revolution of the nineteenth century, combined with the arrival of many European Catholic immigrants, provided a vibrant evangelical nexus in which Roman Catholic print discourse would thrive among a tightly knit circle of American writers and readers. James Emmett Ryan’s pathbreaking study follows the careers of important nineteenth-century religionists like Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker, Anna Hanson Dorsey, and Cardinal James Gibbons, tracing the distinctive literature that they created during the years that non-Catholic writers like Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson were producing iconic works of American literature.

Faithful Passages
also reveals new dimensions in American religious literary culture by moving beyond the antebellum period to consider how the first important cohort of Catholic writers shaped their message for subsequent generations of readers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Perhaps most strikingly, Ryan shows that by the early twentieth century, Roman Catholic themes and traditions in American literature would be advanced in complex ways by mainstream, non-Catholic modernist writers like Kate Chopin and Willa Cather.

Catholic literary culture in the United States took shape in a myriad of ways and at the hands of diverse participants. The process by which Roman Catholic ideas, themes, and moralities were shared and adapted by writers with highly differentiated beliefs, Ryan contends, illuminates a surprising fluidity of religious commitment and expression in early U.S. literary culture. 

James Emmett Ryan is associate professor of English at Auburn University. His publications in American literature and culture include Imaginary Friends: Representing Quakers in American Culture, 1650–1950, also published by the University of Wisconsin Press.


“An original and convincing compensatory history—not only because it corrects a narrow construal of Catholic literary influence in the decades under consideration.”
Journal of American History

“To be sure, this is an important, elegantly written work—necessary reading for any student of American Catholic culture.”
Catholic Historical Review

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Of Related Interest:
The cover of Countercultural Conservative is a collage of two images of Christian evangelicals.Countercultural Conservatives
American Evangelicalism from the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right
Axel R. Schäfer
“A compelling history of evangelical politics from the early 1940s to the late 1990s. This one is a gem.”—Mark A. Noll, author of God and Race in American Politics: A Short History

March 2013
LC: 2012013606 PS
258 pp.   6 x 9  

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Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-29064-1
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Updated January 14, 2013

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