A Comparative Historical Categorisation of Anti-Catholicism

Wolffe, John (2015). A Comparative Historical Categorisation of Anti-Catholicism. Journal of Religious History, 39(2) pp. 182–202.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9809.12182


A balanced understanding of anti-Catholicism requires an appreciation of its diverse and multifaceted nature. This article draws on the author's extensive research on anti-Catholicism in the English-speaking world to propose a four-fold categorisation: constitutional-national, theological, popular and socio-cultural. Each category is illustrated by historical examples drawn primarily from nineteenth-century Britain and the United States, but also ranging more widely across time and space. They are fluid and interlinked but nevertheless provide a useful basis for analysis. It is shown how an awareness of the diversity of anti-Catholicism enhances understanding of its widespread influence, and also of its long-term patterns of fluctuation, persistence, and decline. In particular, whereas since the later nineteenth century theological anti-Catholicism has become marginal and popular anti-Catholicism highly localised, the relative resilience of constitutional-national and social-cultural anti-Catholicism is explained by their mutation from a primarily Protestant to a primarily secular ideological foundation.

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