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UD American studies scholar named American Catholic Historical Association president

By Kassidy Lammers ’24

University of Dayton American studies scholar Anthony Smith is bringing his expertise in film, cultural studies and Catholic history into the spotlight as 2024 president of the American Catholic Historical Association.

The association was established in 1919 to promote the study of Catholicism and the formation of professional and personal relationships among scholars of Catholic history. Smith was approached in 2022 about running for president after more than 20 years of involvement with the organization.

“I was asked if I were willing to run, and the reason I agreed to it was because ACHA is a very dynamic and special organization,” said Smith, associate professor of religious studies. “It’s a place where there is a lot of creative work being done in the study of Catholicism, there’s a really great and vibrant community of scholars.”

Smith hopes to be a good shepherd of the organization as president and to make the association an attractive place for young scholars and graduate students, who are the future of Catholic research.

“I am stepping into a position to which there were many esteemed and highly regarded predecessors, and hopefully there will be many more after me,” Smith said. “My first and foremost goal is to be a good steward of the association and its long history and tradition of being a place for the serious professional study of Catholic history.”

Smith also plans to bring his expertise in film and cultural studies to the forefront of the association throughout this year.

In March, he announced an initiative called “Catholicism Around the Movies,” which will explore the intersections between Catholicism and cinema. The initiative will consist of virtual roundtable discussions led by Catholic scholars to explore how Catholicism shapes specific films. The first meeting will be held in late April, where attendees will discuss Rose Glass’ 2019 film Saint Maud.

Smith has written a number of publications on the topic of Catholicism in popular culture, including The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War, published in 2010.

“Catholicism Around the Movies is an effort to use my time as president to facilitate and help promote Catholic studies and film studies in dialogue with one another,” Smith said. “It’s all about trying to have conversations about the ongoing presence of Catholicism in one form or another, broadly construed, in film and around film.”

Smith said his ACHA position will influence his own research in the study of Catholicism and is a testament to the involvement of the Department of Religious Studies in the ongoing conversation about Catholic history.

“I think being president of the ACHA demonstrates the way UD’s Department of Religious Studies is very outwardly focused,” he said. “I think my being president of ACHA really reflects how the department is active in the study of Catholic history.”

Jana Bennett, professor and UD Department of Religious Studies chair, said Smith’s ACHA position is representative of the strengths he demonstrates in his work at the University.

“Dr. Smith's appointment as president of ACHA highlights his own tremendous accomplishments as a scholar in Catholic history, as well as his leadership abilities,” Bennett said. “In addition, his appointment throws a spotlight on his work within the context of our department. Some of our most popular courses at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels are in American Catholic studies. Indeed, our doctoral program specifically offers a theology PhD with a focus on US Catholic intellectual experience. We would be unable to offer these courses and this unique focus without Dr. Smith's work.”

An affiliate of the American Historical Association, ACHA hosts academic conferences and supports Catholic research through grants and awards that are given to graduate students and scholars of Catholicism. Additionally, the organization publishes a quarterly academic journal, the Catholic Historical Review, which contains various scholarly articles pertaining to church history.

Smith previously served as a member of the executive counsel from 2012 to 2014, and as a chair of the association’s program committee for 2020 and 2021. Though his tenure as president is only for 2024, the position is essentially a three-year appointment. After being elected in 2022, Smith served as vice president of the association in 2023 and will serve as past president in 2025.

His tenure as ACHA president allows him to make even greater contributions to the community of Catholic scholars, he said.

“I was honored to be elected by my peers into this position,” Smith said. “It was a way for me to give back a little bit, to contribute to the ongoing life, to that vitality and sense of academic community amongst scholars of Catholic studies.”

For more information, visit the UD Department of Religious Studies website.

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