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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Mark Massa, S.J.


Photo of Mark Massa, S.J.

Mark Massa, S.J., is the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, where he is also professor of Theology. Massa received his Ph.D. in American religion from Harvard University, and is the author of seven books. His most recent book, The Structure of Theological Revolutions: Catholic Debates About Natural Law, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His monograph published in 1999, Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team, received the Alpha Sigma Nu Award for Best Work in Theology for 1999-2000. His ongoing area of research is American Catholic faith and culture of the past century. 

As first holder of the Karl Rahner Chair in Theology at Fordham University, Massa also directed the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. From 2010 to 2016, he served as dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. He also served as board chair for the Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of nine divinity schools, seminaries, and a rabbinical college in greater Boston. Massa has appeared on a number of programs in the "American Experience" series on PBS, including"Religion in America," and most recently, "An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story."

Areas of Interest

For the past decade my research interest has focused on the Catholic experience in the United States since World War II. Catholics and American Culture sought to provide a non-“master narrative” approach to understanding how Catholics left their secure ghetto after 1945 to enter the verdant pastures of middle class affluence, with somewhat mixed results. And precisely because of those mixed results, I utilized Reinhold Niebuhr’s rich category of “theological irony" to tell my tale. Anti-Catholicism in America mined David Tracy’s protean distinction between “analogical” and “dialectical” pre-conceptual languages to explain how and why Catholics and other Americans actually do see the world differently, a difference that has contributed significantly to “prejudice” against Catholics in the U.S. And I use that term in neutral sense (and not in its more usual pejorative) sense: prejudice comes from two Latin words that mean “prejudgment.”  I thus attempted an ideologically neutral approach to anti-Catholic “prejudice.” My latest book, The American Catholic Revolution (Oxford 2010) examines what happened after Vatican II when historical consciousness (i.e., the awareness that everything in history changes) was let loose in the American Catholic community. The book starts with Vatican II, and examines the reception of Humanae Vitae, the "Catonsville Nine" anti-Vietnam War protest, the reform of women's religious orders, and Avery Dulles' classic work, Models of the Church.


Fr. Mark S. Massa, S.J. was born and raised in Ohio (a public school kid for 12 years), and educated at the University of Detroit, the University of Chicago, and Harvard. He received his M.Div. from the Weston School of Theology in 1980. After ordination he lived for a year in North Cambridge (St. John the Evangelist). At Fordham, Fr. Massa was the Karl Rahner, S.J. Professor of Theology, and directed the American Studies Program for 12 years. In 2001 he founded and directed the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies.