Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Philip L. Barlow


Philip L. Barlow


Kyle Bulthuis


Harrison Kleiner


In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, numerous new religious and irreligious groups arose throughout the United States. These groups were often radical in their assertions of religious authority, their interpretations of scripture, their predictions about Christ’s second coming, their practice of supernatural gifts, their rejection of traditional Christian doctrines, or their rejection of Christianity altogether. American Catholics watched and commented as these groups multiplied and gained momentum. Catholics believed that the growth of radical religious and irreligious groups was the fault of mainstream Protestantism. Over the centuries, Catholics had argued that the Pope’s authority was necessary to provide spiritual security and scriptural interpretation and that Catholicism protected the proper relationship between faith and reason and promoted the proper relationship between the church and the state. Protestants, for their part, had defended the individual’s right to privately interpret scripture, and depicted Catholicism as the greatest threat to Americans’ intellectual, political, and religious freedoms. American Catholics used the rise of radical religious and irreligious groups to prove their points in these centuries-old arguments. Catholics argued that when Protestants were left without the Pope’s authority, new prophets arose to replace that authority, and new movement interpreted the scriptures in unpredictable and dangerous ways. Catholics argued that when Protestants were educated outside the Catholic Church’s care, they became vulnerable to the persuasions of both religious fanatics and irreligious skeptics. And Catholics argued that when mainstream Protestants criticized and coerced groups outside the mainstream, they proved that they weren’t truly committed to religious freedom. Thus, the rise of radical religious and irreligious groups in nineteenth and early twentieth-century America helped Catholics respond to anti-Catholic prejudice by critiquing mainstream Protestantism with concrete historical case studies.

Past scholars have studied Protestant anti-Catholicism much more extensively than they have studied Catholic responses to Protestant anti-Catholicism. In doing so, they have presented a lopsided picture of Protestant and Catholic interactions in American history. In that lopsided picture, Catholic perspectives on American religious history have often been invisible, and Catholics have come across as powerless against anti-Catholic prejudice. Thus this thesis helps recover historical Catholic voices, making one prominent piece of their perspectives on American religious history and their coordinated and cogent critique of American anti-Catholicism visible.



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