Sunday, January 03, 2021

Pg. 99: Theresa Keeley's "Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns"

Featured at the Page 99 Test: Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America by Theresa Keeley.

About the book, from the publisher:
In Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns, Theresa Keeley analyzes the role of intra-Catholic conflict within the framework of US foreign policy formulation and execution during the Reagan Administration. She challenges the preponderance of scholarship on the administration that stresses the influence of evangelical Protestants on foreign policy toward Latin America. Especially in the case of US engagement in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Keeley argues, the bitter debate among US and Central American Catholics over the direction of the Catholic Church shaped President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy.

The flash-point for these intra-Catholic disputes was the December 1980 political murder of four American Catholic missionaries in El Salvador: Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan. Liberal Catholics described nuns and priests in Central America who worked to combat structural inequality as human rights advocates living out the Gospel's spirit. Conservative Catholics, by contrast, saw them as agents of class conflict who furthered the so-called Gospel according to Karl Marx. The debate was an old one among Catholics, especially after Vatican II and liberation theology's growth. But, as Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns contends, the intra-Catholic debate intensified as conservative, anticommunist Catholics played instrumental roles in crafting U.S. policy to fund the Salvadoran government and the Nicaraguan contras.

Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns describes the religious actors as human rights advocates and, against prevailing understandings of the fundamentally secular activism related to human rights, highlighting religious-inspired activism during the Cold War. In charting of the rightward development of American Catholicism, Keeley provides a new chapter in the history of US diplomacy and shows how domestic issues such as contraception and abortion joined with foreign policy matters to shift Catholic laity toward Republican policies at home and abroad.
Learn more about Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns.

--Marshal Zeringue