Catholicism, Central America, and United States Politics During the Cold War, 1943-1988

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation explores how religion shaped United States foreign policy on Central America during the second half of the twentieth century. Historians have convincingly shown how ideological considerations acquired a primacy over practical matters in the making of United States policy on Central America during the Cold War. However, discussions about ideology have overlooked how the religious commitments and affiliations of policy elites informed their positions on Central America. The dissertation argues that the Catholic missionary enterprise, in particular, shaped the discourse on United States relations with Guatemala. From the 1940s until the late 1960s, the United States Catholic Church and the United States government shared an anticommunist mission in Central America and collaborated on development projects. Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, a subset of Catholic missionaries and their advocacy networks in Washington, D.C. took a more critical stance on United States military interventions and development programs. Some former missionaries led mass protests of United States policy that they saw as antithetical to Catholic teaching. Others engaged in traditional political advocacy and proposed alternative development strategies. Both groups lobbied politicians and were crucial players in the grassroots movement that opposed President Ronald Reagan’s Central American policy. At the same time prominent Catholic conservatives challenged missionaries who opposed United States foreign policy. Thus, the dissertation explains the increasing politicization of the United States Catholic Church after World War II in regard to development in Central America and the role of the Catholic Church in the conservative shift in United States politics during the same period.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12092011-022341

Author Charles Thomas Strauss
Advisor John T. McGreevy
Contributor R. Scott Appleby, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Christian Smith, Committee Member
Contributor Mark A. Noll, Committee Member
Contributor John T. McGreevy, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Edward (Ted) Beatty, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2011-08-15

Submission Date 2011-12-09
  • United States of America

  • Guatemala

  • Catholicism

  • religion

  • Cold War

  • missionaries

  • Central America

  • United States history

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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