The relationship between religion, imperialism, and national identity can be quite complex. At the same time, nationalist readings of history, particularly when they are combined with other ideological perspectives, can easily provide reductionist narratives that do not due full justice to these complicated realities. The history of Catholicism in Vietnam is a case in point, as nationalist and Communist histories tend to present the Catholic Church as the friend of French colonialism with Catholic apologists defending their Church’s role in Vietnamese history in accordance with nationalist standards. In his book, Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation (University of California Press, 2012), Dr. Charles Keith challenges such overly simple narratives by tracing the transformations in the Catholic Church in Vietnam from the pre-colonial, through the colonial, to the post-liberation periods (ending in approximately 1954). For instance, through his careful, rich, and detailed study, Keith shows how Vietnamese Catholics could remain Catholic while being at times pro-colonial, anti-colonial, pro-left, anti-Communist, and other places within and without these labels as their community transformed from a colonial to a national Church. Thus, Keith’s study is well worth a read for anyone interested in Vietnamese history or the history of Christianity.
A Church from Empire to Nation
University of California Press 2012
June 6, 2016 Franklin Rausch