Questions For Studying The Work of Dorothy Day


Next week we will be discussing Dorothy Day's LONG LONELINESS, but I also want to use this as a basis for a wide-ranging discussion of the distinctively Catholic tradition in social activism, pacifism, social justice movements etc. We have already looked briefly at some of these issues in the context of McGreevy's PARISH BOUNDARIES). The following list of questions is meant to provide some avenues of approach to Day and her influence: it is absolutely not meant to be exhaustive, just illustrating some of the questions we will use as our starting points


Why was she converted to Catholicism? Tell me about the process of conversion? Does this seem psychologically convincing? If she was making a case for conversion, what would she say?


Tell me about her anarchism. How did it differ from her Christianity? Look especially at the story of Sacco and Vanzetti on pp 146-47


During her Marxist/anarchist phase, how familiar was she with the intellectual, as opposed to moral, roots of those traditions? Did she ever in her life cease being a radical Christian?


Where does she fit in the broader Catholic tradition?


Why is the “back to the land” scheme so fundamental a part of the CATHOLIC WORKER vision? What does this tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of Catholic radicalism?


Why, in the conclusion, does she emphasize community so much as her pivotal doctrine? Again, what does this idea tell us about the peculiarities of Catholic radicalism?


Some people find it odd that she combined deep social radicalism with highly conservative theology and devotional practice. What do you think? Is there a paradox here? Concentrate on reading pp 243-263, the chapter on RETREAT. I think this would make odd reading for a leftist or feminist who was attracted to Day as a heroine of social activism: why is she going on so much about religion. But as WE members of the Durkheimian in-group know (!) the religion is an integral part of her social vision. Why and how?


The book is presented as a confessional. Why? In what sense? She explicitly draws on St Augustine's CONFESSIONS - why?


How did her work in the 1930s differ from that of any other secular radical or activist?


What does she think of Communism, as practiced by the Communist party?


For Day, how does sexuality relate to her Catholicism?


On page 152, she notes the criticism that one could find little of Christ in her writings, but much of self. True?


After her conversion, does she bend Catholicism to suit herself, or does she genuinely find things in the religion that fitted what she had always been?


How do notions of sin and original sin form her writings?


How does she try to root herself in Catholic history and tradition? How much of her new Catholic identity was new? What did she bring with her from her old MASSES days? What does she retain from the middle class Protestantism of the late Victorian era?


What attracted her about socialist radicalism?


Why does she tell us so much about her childhood?


How unusual was she for her time in the kind of religion she was absorbing in her earliest years?


Explain "Personalism". How does this idea hold up today?


Why are they called "Houses of hospitality"?


How are Day's followers influenced by medieval romanticism?


Explain the book's title!


What sort of impact would this book have had on its appearance in 1952? What were the conditions of the time that might have affected this?


How far was her own curse of spiritual and political development unique to her, and how far could other people draw from it?


How does Catholic social activism differ from all the other activist movements of her day? What made it distinctively Catholic?


Why should Catholics have different attitudes to poverty and social welfare from other Americans?


What dilemmas did she face with her absolute pacifism? Is absolute pacifism a possible doctrine, then or now? Alternatively, how do Christians justify war? Do you think she saw all later wars in the mold of the first world war? What was the basis of her own pacifism?


Why should or should not she be canonized?


What difference did it make to Catholic radicalism that American Catholics were part of a global community.


There have been several periods when Catholic radicalism has been a major force in US political debate, including the nuclear debates of the 1980s, and the controversies over intervention in Central America. Tell me about some of these. I will also discuss the influence of other major figures in the social justice tradition, including Michael Harrington; Raymond Hunthausen; and the Berrigan brothers. Try finding what you can about these folk: they're important!


On the environment article I distributed, the same question. How do Catholic debates on this issue differ from secular approaches? Think of some of the approaches that I have listed above in approaching Dorothy Day.