April 14, 2020

Good fortune is happiest when it is shared, as two colleagues on the Catholic University faculty, Julia Young and Chelsea Stieber, can attest. Both were recently awarded individual fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies.

“This is wonderful news, because we’re friends as well as colleagues,” says Young, associate professor of history. “Our projects are also related thematically.”

Broadly speaking, Young and Stieber, assistant professor of French and Francophone studies, will concentrate in the coming academic year on researching integralist movements in Mexico and the Caribbean, respectively.

“Integralists,” Young explains, “are essentially people who advocate for the integration of church and state, who believe that the proper role of the state is to be subordinate to the church. You might think of it as a movement made up of people who think that the liberal idea of the separation of church and state is the wrong direction for society.”

Stieber has been awarded $40,000 for her project, Caribbean Fascism: Antiliberalism and Integralism in the Twentieth Century. Depending on what she uncovers during her research, she expects to write a book containing comparative studies of three or four Caribbean countries.

“I’m challenging a tendency in scholarship to want to focus more on liberatory or anticolonial ideologies and struggles in the Caribbean,” Stieber says, “when, in reality, those struggles were defining themselves against forces of global fascism and antiliberalism that weren’t just coming out of Europe, but were homegrown, as well.”

Young was awarded $63,000 for her project, The Revolution Is Afraid: Mexican Catholic Nationalism and the Unión Nacional Sinarquista. The National Synarchist Union was an organization that developed in Mexico and attracted thousands of adherents, both in Mexico and in immigrant communities in the United States.

“The Sinarquistas in Mexico argued that the Mexican government, which had tried to enforce the separation of church and state, needed to be replaced with a new Catholic social order,” Young says. “They advocated for the restoration of the Catholic Church to its ‘proper’ place at the helm of society, and for the rejection of the reforms of the Mexican Revolutionary government.”

Her project’s title is borrowed from an article in a Synarchist newspaper proclaiming the desire to “overthrow” the government. The organization surged in the 1940s and had chapters throughout the country and in Mexican communities in the United States. It established utopian communities in hopes that they would appeal to other Mexicans.

Ultimately, those communities collapsed.

“Today, the global Catholic community is divided,” Young says, “between — simply put — progressives and conservatives. There aren’t equal numbers, but the folks on the more conservative side are very vocal and active, and there’s been a kind of resurgence of traditionalist, integralist, and even monarchist movements in the contemporary period. This informs my interest in the Sinarquistas.”

“Both of our projects end up focusing on the ways in which dominant historical narratives have obscured local histories,” Stieber says. “In my case, the resurgence of antidemocratic ‘strong man’ leaders in the Caribbean today suggests that it would be useful to go back and look at certain moments in the 20th century.”

“This history and these ideas continue to shape the ways that people think,” Young says. “I’m really grateful for the funding and the freedom to continue to think more deeply about this subject. At a time when many people are arguing against the usefulness of the humanities, this is just a really nice validation that this history is important.”