Marlett, Jeffrey D.

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Marlett, Jeffrey D.


Born in the United States; married; wife's name Roseann; children: three. Education: Wabash College, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1991; Vanderbilt University, M.T.S., 1993; Saint Louis University, Ph.D., 1997.


Home—Albany, NY. Office—Department of Religious Studies, College of Saint Rose, 432 Western Ave., Albany, NY 12203; fax: 518-458-5446. E-mail—[email protected].


Educator, historian, and writer. College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY, joined faculty 1998, associate professor of religious studies, 2004—; previously taught at Lyon College, Batesville, AR.


American Academy of Religion (cochair of Roman Catholic Studies Group, 2001-05), Catholic Theological Society of America (historian), Phi Beta Kappa.


Shambaugh recognition award, State Historical Society of Iowa, 2003, for Saving the Heartland.


Saving the Heartland: Catholic Missionaries in Rural America, 1920-1960, Northern Illinois University Press (DeKalb, IL), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including Religious Studies Review, Theological Studies, U.S. Catholic Historian, National Catholic Reporter, and Newsday.


Jeffrey D. Marlett is a professor of religious studies whose primary interests are American studies, all areas of Roman Catholic studies, and religious histories of rural America. "Story, location, and belief—the particularities of these three elements have always animated my research interests," the author notes in his faculty profile on the College of St. Rose Web site. Marlett has also taught a wide variety of religious studies and philosophy courses, covering topics such as ethics, mysticism, world religions, Biblical studies, and the history of Christianity.

In his first book, Saving the Heartland: Catholic Missionaries in Rural America, 1920-1960, the author "makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Catholic identity as it evolved in rural America and presaged environmental, ecumenical, liturgical, and conservative political developments in the post-conciliar Church," according to Theological Studies contributor Joseph P. Chinnici. The book examines Catholic agrarians in terms of their theology and agendas. Specifically, the author looks at mid-twentieth-century Catholic missionaries bringing their faith to the heartland and their adaptation of liturgical traditions to rural conditions as they sought to make the religious teachings of the Catholic Church compatible to modern life in America. In his book, the author notes that rural Catholics viewed agricultural work as a serious endeavor, and he examines these rural Catholics and their beliefs within the context of work and family.

The author begins his book with a look at how rural Catholics viewed agrarian life as being both a spiritual and social ideal. He explains how organizations such as the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) strongly supported new types of farming practices that were ecologically sound, and coupled these proposals with new approaches to the Mass. In chapter two, Marlett examines the promotion of migration to rural areas by the Catholic Church's hierarchy and various organizations. He also discusses the Catholic Worker movement's development of farming communities in Michigan and other midwestern states as part of a utopian plan put into practice. The author examines why these efforts ultimately failed, pointing to their isolation from the intellectuals behind the movement, who lived in urban areas, and to the distances these rural Catholics lived from their actual neighbors, thus making it difficult for community practices.

Chapter three takes an overall look at Catholics in rural America and profiles Father Charles Coughlin, who had a radio program that promoted the agrarian ideal of life. Marlett also discusses how the realities of rural living were far different from the idealistic aspirations of Catholic agrarians. The author ends by examining how Catholic evangelicals and Catholic priests who were needed to administer the sacraments incorporated motor missions and trailer chapels to navigate the vast distances between rural Catholics, in essence borrowing from the techniques used by Protestants conducting revivals in small towns.

"The larger themes that Marlett addresses transcend his depiction of these institutions and activities," noted Susan E. Gray in Church History. "At its broadest, Saving the Heartland is about, first, the persistence of agrarian dissent from the emergence and consolidation of modern urban America, a dissent with social, spiritual, and ecological dimensions by no means then, or now, confined to Catholic intellectuals." Gray went on to write in the same review: "There are several big stories to be told here, and one hopes that Marlett will go on to tell them." Thomas J. Carty noted in the Michigan Historical Review that the author provides a more comprehensive view of Catholic history in the United States than most historical accounts, which primarily focus on urban Catholicism. Carty also wrote: "Saving the Heartland has provocative and important lessons for graduate students and professional scholars of American Catholicism."



Catholic Historical Review, October, 2002, James F. Garneau, review of Saving the Heartland: Catholic Missionaries in Rural America, 1920-1960, p. 810.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December, 2002, P.W. Carey, review of Saving the Heartland, p. 647.

Church History, March, 2006, Susan E. Gray, review of Saving the Heartland, p. 221.

Journal of American History, March, 2003, Michael F. Funchion, review of Saving the Heartland, p. 1579.

Michigan Historical Review, spring, 2003, Thomas J. Carty, review of Saving the Heartland, p. 147.

Theological Studies, June, 2003, Joseph P. Chinnici, review of Saving the Heartland, p. 443.


College of St. Rose Web site, (May 26, 2008), faculty profiles of author.

H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (May 26, 2008), profile of author.