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Seeking input for a book project on the US political divide

Seeking input for a book project on the US political divide July 19, 2021

Hi everyone. I am asking for some input.

I am writing a book about the liberal/conservative divide in US politics through the lens of the Catholic Church. I was first inspired to do this after the 2020 US Presidential Election, when a mentor commented offhandedly to me that “someone should make a documentary about US families who aren’t on speaking terms due to politics.” I decided to run with his idea, and I wrote an article for the National Catholic Reporter on the topic.

I had such a positive experience that I’ve decided to keep going. This book is journalistic narrative nonfiction, grounded in personal interviews with people. The focus will be on everyday Catholics negotiating this divide in families, friendships, parishes, schools, colleges, vowed religious communities, cultural organizations, and social movements at the interpersonal micro-level. I am seeking to interview a wide range of US Catholics – devout and non-practicing, urban and rural, young and old, from a wide range of cultural, racial, class and gender backgrounds if possible.

The intended audience for this book is a general one. I want it to be a book that progressive-minded theology students can read and that my mother’s Trump-voting friends who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine can read. I’m focusing on Catholicism because it’s what I know, because many current US political leaders self-identify as Catholic, and because the Catholic Church is a purple organization – it officially does not allow schism (even though some argue we are de facto in schism). The goal is to explore contexts where this dialogue happens and to explore how people maintain their relationships even in the presence of major disagreements around facts and values.

At this point I have interviewed 40 people. Some of my favorite interviews have been with a brother and sister who maintain a close bond despite having voted in opposite directions, a member of the American Solidarity Party (a small, new-ish political party based on Catholic Social Teaching), a student who runs a Young Republicans chapter at a mostly liberal Catholic college, and a catechist involved with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

I am open to speaking with anyone who finds this project interesting and who’d like to talk to me. However, as I am beginning to outline and shape the book, there are some specific perspectives I’d like to get that I am missing. These include (but are not limited to) the following):

– priests who serve ideologically diverse parishes. Though this book if focused on the laity, I thus far have interviewed no clergy at all, and that is an important piece I’m missing (I’ve tried reaching out to more than one priest, but most seem too busy to answer their emails!)

– vowed men and women religious who negotiate political/ideological barriers within their communities, at the local level or the national level.

– staff or freelance journalists who work for conservative Catholic media – anything in the EWTN group, Catholic radio, First Things, etc.

– teachers or administrators in K-12 Catholic education who navigate ideological divides among students (and parents)

– inter-political Catholic marriages – I’d really love to speak to a conservative Catholic married to a liberal one, or a liberal one married to a conservative one.

– “Ginsburg/Scalia friendships” in any age group – I’d really like to talk to someone who has maintained a close friendship across political difference, particularly one where the two friends are in frequent communication (at least weekly).

– US Catholics of non-European descent. The US Catholic Church is ethnically and racially diverse. Right now, my book seeks to represent this diversity but is not doing it adequately.

– Young people, which in the Church means anyone under 40, but I’d like to speak to more people under 30, including youth of high school age with their parents’ permission.

– Catholics who identify as working class or who live below the poverty line. Right now, my book is skewed toward representing a wealthier demographic than what is represented by the reality of the Church.

– Catholics whose formal education ended with high school or trade school. Right now, I’m quite sure that everyone I’ve interviewed has at least a Bachelor’s degree. That does not reflect the reality of our Church.

I’d like to speak to as many people as I can between now and Labor Day. I welcome help from anyone who cares to give it! If you would be willing to speak to me about this, please reach me at jpitas[at]dbq.edu. Thank you!


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