Accepted Paper:

Armies of children: Catholic children and adults in the US, 1925-1975  


Robert Orsi (Northwestern University)

Paper short abstract:

A study of how children and adults together constituted the distinctive shape of modern Catholicism in the US.

Paper long abstract:

Scholars of childhood have focused over the past several decades on the things that children themselves do and make in their worlds, a correction of earlier tendencies to view children through the lens of adult practice. But children and adults together make the world that together they inhabit. Relationships between adults and children take many forms, in various settings, with different consequences; the precise shape of these bonds is a matter for cultural analysis.

This paper examines relationships among children, their adult kin, and vowed adult religious (priests, nuns, and brothers) in U.S. Catholicism, from 1925 (when immigration from Europe ended by law) and 1975 (the close of the period of reform associated with Vatican II). There were three overlapping generations of children in these years (the immigrant generation, 1925-1940; the children of the war years; and the children of the 1960s and 1970s, in the changing church and nation). Each was faced with distinct challenges; in each, relational patterns were established that had great consequences for the shape of American Catholicism broadly. Catholic adults and children together worked through the religious and civic challenges that arose on shifting social grounds; together Catholic children and adults made their way into the American public sphere, in years that saw several outbursts of anti-Catholicism in the United States, amid the steady movement of the immigrants' children and grandchildren into the middle class. Children and adults together evolved new religious forms for changing times. 20th Century U.S. Catholicism is the product of these relationships.

Panel W031
Children, youth and religion: visions of mutuality and diversity across generations