Toward a "Human Relations" Approach: The Sin of Sociology in Mid-Twentieth Century Catholic Interracialism

Justin Poche, College of the Holy Cross

Using primarily Catholic Louisiana as a case study, this paper investigates how the social science of “race relations,” popularized after the second World War, shaped the work of Catholic interracial councils in the 1950s and early 1960s. Combined with postwar growth of a Catholic middle class and Cold War political pressures, mainstream sociological and psychological studies of race prejudice fostered a profound shift in Catholic social reformism. Moving from labor-based focus on economic rights, reform-minded clergy and a nascent class of professional lay leaders embraced the “race question” and as a critical proving ground for the influence of Catholic social teaching in American life. Gunnar Myrdal’s optimistic and fundamentally moralistic appraisals of racial tensions in An American Dilemma converged with Catholic interracialists’ own optimism and eagerness to underscore the distinctly “Catholic” philosophical roots of American ideals. Catholic interracialism nonetheless reflected the deficiencies of postwar liberal epistemologies of race and social injustice. The rise of direct action and violent confrontations of the 1960s would expose these deficiencies while paving the way for a critical reassessment of Catholic interracial strategies.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 114. Religion and Culture