Feb. 16, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 11

Stephen Schloesser, SJ

Bilder, Fr. Schloesser Land Book Awards

By Reid Oslin
Staff Writer

Two Boston college faculty members have won national awards for their recently published books.

Prof. Mary Bilder (Law) is the recipient of the American Historical Association's Littleton-Griswold Prize for her work, The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire. Assoc. Prof. Stephen Schloesser, SJ (History), has been awarded the American Catholic Historical Association's John Gilmary Shea Prize for his book, Jazz Age Catholicism: Mystic Modernism in Postwar Paris, 1919-1939.

The Littleton-Griswold Prize, established in 1985, is given annually for the best book in any subject on the history of law and society. "I certainly didn't expect to win an award," Bilder said. "I am just terribly honored that the committee thought that the book was worth awarding this prize. It has been given in the past to a lot of people whose work I just enormously admire."

Fr. Schloesser's award, the John Gilmary Shea Prize, is presented each year to the North American author who has made the most original and significant contribution to the historiography of the Catholic Church.

"There were many solid contributions to the history of the Catholic Church published in 2005," said Fr. Schloesser, "and I realize that the competition was strong. I am honored that the scholarly panel judged my own study so generously and graciously."

Bilder's book "brilliantly challenges the orthodoxy that until 1763 English authorities ignored American colonial law," the AHA prize committee stated in the award citation.

"I think that for the last 50 years or so people have tended to ignore the colonial period and have tended to think that the British authorities paid no attention to the American colonies until the eve of the Revolution," Bilder explained.

Mary Bilder

"My book argues that is not accurate. The English and American colonists were engaged in lots of disputes over law that were very important to the growth of the empire.

"I think my book also gives some explanation for why important ideas like federalism and judicial review were so quickly accepted after the Constitution," she said.

"It has a lot of 'fun stuff,' too," she noted, "about women and people suing for land and suing their family members and fights over the Church."

Jazz Age Catholicism considers the subject of the Catholic Church's engagement with the modern world through its focus on an academic community of philosophers and practitioners of art, literature and music in post World War I France.

Fr. Schloesser's work "is a useful book for historians of France, of intellectual life, and of the 20th century, and also for those who study theology and those seeking a case study of how good minds tackle the great questions," according to the award text.

"I also have a strong sense of satisfaction about the award," said Fr. Schloesser, who this year holds the LoSchiavo Chair in Catholic Social Thought at the University of San Francisco. "A number of people over the years said that it would be impossible to write this book. They doubted its central claim - namely, that there existed in Paris an 'imagined community' of Catholic Revivalism that linked together intellectuals and artists who work in area that we tend to isolate from one another.

"One of the things that distinguishes history from memory is perspective," Fr. Schloesser continued. "We can see from a distance what players in another era could not themselves see about their own situation. Rather than looking at four individuals within their particular disciplinary spheres, I approach them as expressing one tendency, formulating traditional Catholic ideas in a modernist guise."

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