September/October 2017: The Faith & the South

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September/October 2017 2017 Table of Contents

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Southern Catholics and Protestant Bias: Bishop John England’s 1839 Debate with Rev. Richard Fuller – Adam Tate

During every election season, articles appear discussing confirmation bias, pointing out that most people read news stories in ways that confirm their existing opinions while discarding pesky facts that challenge their beliefs. Writers realize that powerful narratives shape significantly what people hear and how they then act. Minority groups, however defined, often believe different narratives from the majority in order to make sense of their situation. They often find it difficult to be heard by the majority. Catholics in antebellum South Carolina and Georgia struggled to thrive as a small, poor, traditionally-mistrusted minority within a dynamic society. Largely, but not completely, Irish immigrants, they built churches, schools, and communities in the sprawling Southern landscape, usually in cities and small towns. The enormity of the material challenges combined with anti-Catholic prejudice presented a daunting task. Some historians have portrayed Catholic adaptation to life in the Old South as generally easy, recognizing Catholic collaboration with their neighbors and pointing out that most of the anti-Catholic violence during the antebellum period occurred outside the region.(1) But southern Catholics struggled mightily against deep prejudices. Many southerners believed history demonstrated that Catholicism was so corrupt and depraved that it precluded Catholics from being loyal, republican citizens. One logical response Catholics made, then, was to challenge popular historical narratives held by their non-Catholic neighbors.

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