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Roman Catholic Studies Unit

Call for Proposals

The Roman Catholic Studies Unit invites submissions on diverse subjects in Catholic Studies. We are interested in proposals that are attentive to the ways in which history and theory relate to one another within the field of Roman Catholic Studies. Co-chairs are happy to consult with those who are developing individual papers, paper sessions, roundtable proposals, or other creative formats.
The Unit encourages proposals on the following topics for the 2020 meeting in Boston, Massachusetts:

Catholic Men and Masculinities – A joint session of the Roman Catholic Studies Unit and the Men, Masculinities, and Religion Unit invite historical and ethnographic papers that explore gender, masculinities, and the making of men in Catholic spaces. We seek papers that think explicitly about the processes of Catholic formation, power, materiality, and gender together to examine the lives of clerics, priests, seminarians, and lay men. We especially invite papers that explore transnational and global Catholic masculinities and papers on the following topics:
(1) sexual abuse, masculinity, and power;
(2) clerical masculinities and the lives of priests;
(3) masculinities in/and seminarians;
(4) the materiality of Catholic masculinities (vestments, costumes, objects, rituals, devotions);
(5) lives of lay men (religious organizations, ritual, parish life, masculinities and the family); and (6) the practice of gay, queer, trans, and non-binary Catholics.

Catholicism in 10 Objects – Roman Catholicism is known for its material and physical paraphernalia. From sacramentals and relics to statues and rosaries, the lives of Catholics are filled with meaningful things. But alongside such obviously Catholic stuff, there are many “ordinary” objects that demarcate Catholic identities or are associated with Catholic experiences. We invite scholars to identify one object (big or small, two dimensional or three dimensional, past or present) that captures the materiality of Catholicism in specific social and cultural contexts. Presenters will be expected to provide visual representations of the object and to speak for approximately 3-5 minutes about the Catholic-ness of the object (whatever that means). Taken together, the presentations of the objects are meant to foster a larger discussion about the material culture of Catholicism and the diversity (gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, nationality) of Catholic experiences and perspectives as witnessed in material form.

Media Representations of Clerical Sex Abuse Before and After Spotlight – Spotlight, the 2015 film that profiled the investigative work of The Boston Globe, brought considerable attention to clerical sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston and throughout the United States. Thirty years earlier, a local investigative reporter in the Diocese of Lafayette (Louisiana) did the same, exposing national audiences to the serial molestation of children by a priest and the systematic coverup by a bishop. Given the decades of exposure, we seek papers that critically examine media representations (journalism, documentaries, dramatic portrayals) of clerical sex abuse and the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and around the world. What kinds of questions have guided reporting on clerical sex abuse? Are there questions left unasked or unanswered? With the recent disclosures of lists of “credibly accused” priests by dioceses and religious orders, what is the current state of media representations of sex abuse by Catholic priests, deacons, and women religious? What work is still to be done? What role have survivors of sexual abuse played in past and present representations? What has been the role of scholars of Catholic studies in such representations, and how might they continue to participate into the future?

Classics Revisited – Texts that were once considered classics often end up exposed in the light of new forms of critique, fresh ideas, and new perspectives. But sometimes older works that have long been considered faded remnants of a bygone era continue to provide their own light in the secrecy of individual hearts and minds. We invite scholars to confess these affinities, by bringing our attention to a single classic work that has been inspiring, compelling, powerful, or even irreplaceable (even if secretly) in their scholarly writing about Catholics and Catholicism. Even if you must chasten or revise the work in light of subsequent scholarly developments, papers should focus primarily on what the work offers in the way of positive, generative, and exciting possibilities. Proposals should name the text, explain its value in specific and detailed ways, and outline a plan for a five minute “pitch” for why their fellow scholars should revisit this work.

50th Anniversary of the National Office for Black Catholics – 2020 marks the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the National Office for Black Catholics, an organization endorsed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (USA) and serving for many years as an umbrella group for the National Black Clergy Caucus, the National Black Sisters Conference, and the National Black Lay Catholic Caucus. In honor of this history of Black Catholic institution building, we invite proposals for papers or panels that will explore the legacy of Black Catholic institution-building not only in the U.S. but in hemispheric and diasporic perspectives. In the fifty years since this organization’s founding, how have Black Catholic organizations fared in their mission? How have hemispheric and diasporic perspectives challenged or changed the meanings of Black Catholicism and its structures, possibilities, and relationships with the wider church?

Formation of Conscience – The “formation of conscience” has long been a special preoccupation of Catholic theologians, pastors, and teachers. For much of modern Catholic history, this discourse has elevated issues of reproduction as areas of primary or even sole concern. As a consequence, many have tuned out Catholic “conscience talk” as irretrievably narrow or myopic. But Catholic thinking about conscience in fact extends beyond issues of reproduction and may in fact offer resources for contending with contemporary problems of the most basic significance, including racism, sexism, and the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems. With these and other possibilities in mind, we invite proposals for papers or panels on Catholic ideas and disciplines related to the “formation of conscience” in areas exceeding the familiar terrain of sex and sexuality. We seek work that explores the very idea of “formation” and opens up thinking about the moral, personal, and theological meaning of conscience in light of contemporary threats to human solidarity, opportunity, and existence.

We urge all paper and panel proposals actively to address questions of format and timing. It is the Roman Catholic Studies Unit’s preference to have individual papers never exceed 12 minutes in length and for every panel to include well-planned allotment of time for audience involvement. We strongly encourage proposals that include innovative, interactive, and dynamic formats.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit provides a scholarly forum to study the global Roman Catholic community. We welcome critical studies, cultural, ethical, historical, and theological perspectives. We seek to mirror the subject community’s diversity in pursuing equally diverse methods to study that community.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposals are anonymous to chairs and steering committee members during review, but visible to chairs prior to final acceptance or rejection

Review Process Comments

In an effort to guide the selection process toward maximum diversity, chairs do review proposers' names prior to final acceptance or rejection.