Call for papers: Catholic Modernity in the Americas

Author: Shane Ulbrich

Cushwa Center 50th Anniversary Conference

University of Notre Dame · April 10–12, 2025

Women and children in front of a mission church, black and white photo.

Catholic Modernity in the Americas: Land, Culture, Politics

During the past half century, a broad array of scholars have explored Catholicism’s relationship to modernity, recasting along the way crucial parts of the story from the Reformation to Pope Francis. Today nearly half of the world’s 1.37 billion Catholics inhabit the Americas. Scholarly and demographic trends alike invite deepening our consideration of Catholic modernity not simply as a product of European culture, but rather as a global reality shaped and constituted by the Church’s former peripheries—not least South and North America. This conference will examine Catholic modernity in a hemispheric frame through fine-grained historical and empirical analysis, while also taking up Charles Taylor’s question of “A Catholic Modernity?” (1996) with a view to pressing contemporary concerns including climate change, wealth inequality, and political polarization.

How have Catholics and other Christians in the Americas expanded, challenged, and reformulated modern configurations of land, culture, and politics? How have their communities imagined and negotiated being in the modern world, but not of it? Between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, the complex history of modernity (in the West) emerges amid religious entanglements with colonialism, slavery, liberal capitalism, and political revolution. Over the course of five centuries of missions and migration, an American story of Catholic modernity proceeds by way of dramatic institutional growth and decline; intra- and inter-ecclesial controversies; crises and reforms; cultural ascendancy and marginalization; and moments of intellectual, artistic, and theological genius.

With an eye to exchange across academic disciplines and faith traditions, conference panels will consider a variety of subtopics, including:


economy · indigeneity · migration · nation, race, and ethnicity · environment and climate · agrarian reform · built environment and urban history · food sovereignty


the arts and architecture · education · family, gender, and sexuality · popular devotions · pluralism · science, technology, and medicine · disenchantment and re-enchantment


democracy, populism, and authoritarianism · (neo)colonialism, empire, and decolonization · self-determination and human rights · social organizing and labor movements


Commemorating the founding in 1975 of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, this conference welcomes proposals from all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Funds are available to assist graduate students, early career scholars, and contingent faculty in attending.

Proposals for individual papers or multiple-paper panels should include, for each paper, a one-page abstract (title and 250-word description) and a one-page curriculum vitae for each author. Submissions should be made electronically by September 15, 2024, using the appropriate form linked below.

Individual paper proposal

Multi-paper panel proposal

Image: Indigenous women and children in front of the mission church of Santa Teresita de Kavanayén in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana, c. 1955. Pictorial Parade via Getty Images.