Forging a Catholic Nation amidst a Secular State: Catholic Mobilization and Contentious Politics in 20th-Century Mexico

AHA Session 231
Conference on Latin American History 51
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Chelsea (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Matthew Butler, University of Texas at Austin
Matthew Butler, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

The aim of this panel is to examine the ways in which Catholic activists, intellectuals, institutions, and organizations in mid-20th century mexico sought to define the political contours of national identity through both belligerent and peaceful means. With the Cristero rebellion as a historical backdrop, and taking into account the enduring conflicts around secularization, state intervention, social mobilization, and the contested readings of the Revolution and its legacies, the panel engages with multiple perspectives on how these actors appropriated and deployed Catholic language, values, and ideas to position themselves and their constituencies vis-a-vis the postrevolutionary state and define the role of Catholics in steering the direction of social change. Altogether the papers explore the connections between Catholicism as a language of contention and the wide range of conservative, progressive, and radical projects it engendered, to account for the plurality of Catholic thought and action, and the ways in which Catholics shaped the social, political, and cultural history of mid-20th century Mexico. From the connection between religious sentiment and grassroots violence; to the international impact of sinarquista Catholic militancy; the role of art and cinema in Catholicism's own internal "culture wars"; and the debates between conservative intellectuals about the threat of "progressivism" and the true meanings of "the Catholic nation," the different themes, actors, and conflicts explored by the panelists shed light on the importance of these Catholic spheres as sites of nation-making, linked to larger debates about Catholicism's relation to modernity, and reflecting the conflicts created by divergent interpretations of papal encyclicals and of Catholic social doctrine more broadly. Altogether, the panelists will contribute to a more comprehensive view of the contentious relationship between church, state and society in Mexico, and how it informed the tensions within and among the clergy and lay Catholics, opening many possibilities to place the study of Catholic Mexico in communication with broader Latin American and global histories.
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