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Self-immolation as a religious act: The contested martyrdom of Roger Allen LaPorte, Catholic Worker

 

Millions of people, most of them civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War. Almost 58,000 of the war’s victims were American citizens. While most of the physical and technical conflict took place overseas, political and ideological battles were waged within the United States.

Some of these Americans died, as it were, by their own hand. In 1965, Roger Allen LaPorte, a member of the Catholic Worker, self-immolated in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. While LaPorte himself described his act of protest as a specifically religious act, the validity of this description would soon be—and remain—contested, finding opposition among the Catholic hierarchy. The attention of U.S. media gave the contestation of martyrdom a public arena.

In this interview, postdoctoral researcher of U.S. Catholicism, Francesca Cadeddu, shares some of her reflections on LaPorte, whose contested martyrdom by self-immolation is the topic of her present postdoctoral project.

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Francesca Cadeddu is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Institutional Sciences in Cagliari in Italy. She is also a fellow researcher at the Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, Italy. She wrote her PhD dissertation on the Jesuit priest and theologian John Courtney Murray, an important figure in U.S. Catholicism who featured prominently in the development of the the Second Vatican Council’s draft of Dignitatis Humanae (which the interviewer learned is pronounced “humaneh” rather than “hoomanay” shortly before the interview, hence the interviewer’s hesitation).

Having researched at two of the most prominent institutions for Catholic Studies in the U.S., Georgetown and Notre Dame, Cadeddu visited Notre Dame by means of a research grant from Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame in the spring of 2015.