Previous Page

An Image of God: The Catholic Struggle with Eugenics

University of Chicago Press
Place of Publication: 
Chicago, IL

During the first half of the twentieth century, supporters of the  eugenics movement offered an image of a racially transformed America by  curtailing the reproduction of “unfit” members of society. Through  institutionalization, compulsory sterilization, the restriction of  immigration and marriages, and other methods, eugenicists promised to  improve the population—a policy agenda that was embraced by many leading  intellectuals and public figures. But Catholic activists and thinkers  across the United States opposed many of these measures, asserting that  “every man, even a lunatic, is an image of God, not a mere animal.”

In An Image of God, Sharon Leon examines the efforts of  American Catholics to thwart eugenic policies, illuminating the ways in  which Catholic thought transformed the public conversation about  individual rights, the role of the state, and the intersections of race,  community, and family. Through an examination of the broader questions  raised in this debate, Leon casts new light on major issues that remain  central in American political life today: the institution of marriage,  the role of government, and the separation of church and state. This is  essential reading in the history of religion, science, politics, and  human rights. (Publisher)