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Representations of “the Jew” in English Catholic Discourses, 1850-1945

Supported by an AHRC grant, my PhD project examined how Jews and Judaism were represented in English Catholic discourses from 1896 to 1930. After my PhD, and with the help of two research grants from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, I extended my original PhD investigation to include a more complete picture of how Jews were represented in English Catholic discourses during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As little has been written about English Catholic representations of “the Jew” during this time frame, the primary aim has been to excavate layers of discourse which, with the exception of the published works of a few prominent individuals, have hitherto remained largely unexamined. A wide range of sources have been examined, including:

  • Published works (books, booklets and pamphlets) of prominent and obscure authors
  • Pastoral letters and sermons of cardinals, bishops and priests
  • Articles and editorials in English Catholic newspapers and magazines (such as the Catholic Herald, the Catholic Times and the Tablet)
  • Personal correspondence
  • Letters to the editors of newspapers
  • Unpublished documents
  • Oral testimonies

In these discourses, Jews were often stereotyped as greedy, cowardly, unpatriotic, secretive, anti-social and revolutionary villains, and assigned roles derived from biblical and medieval myths. Jews were cast in the role of the intransigent Pharisee, the Christ-killer, the ritual murderer, the sorcerer, and the Jewish Antichrist. Jews were frequently portrayed in conjunction with Freemasons and Bolsheviks, and together vilified as secretive anti-Christian revolutionaries and conspirators, or diabolized as Satanists and Luciferians.

Conversely, Jews and Judaism were sometimes defended or praised. For example, the Catholic Worker, a newspaper which was founded in 1935, consistently rejected myths and stereotypes about Jews, and condemned antisemitism. Furthermore, whilst antisemitic myths and stereotypes were at times a pervasive feature of certain English Catholic newspapers and books during the latter decades of the nineteenth and the early decades of the twentieth century, it is likely that these texts represented the views of a vocal minority, and that such narratives were rarely internalised by the majority of ordinary Catholics in England.