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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Alexander Nachaj, Religion

The Celibate Celebrity: Intersections of masculinity, stardom and sanctity in mid-century American Catholicism and the body of Fulton J. Sheen.

Friday, October 15, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was a bestselling author and a mid-century Emmy award-winning television personality. For a major American Catholic figure of the twentieth century whose presence continues to impact American Catholicism and whose ongoing canonization cause continues to grab headlines in the Catholic press, he is remarkably understudied within academia. Using Sheen as a case study, this dissertation proposes a new rubric for examining modern religious figures and demonstrates how the overlapping fields of celebrity and masculinity studies complement the study of mid-century North American Catholicism. By examining these intersections of the sacred and the secular in Sheen’s autobiography, afterlife, television series and body, I argue that for figures like Sheen modern notions of sanctity cannot be understood without also understanding their celebrity.

Few studies examine, much less acknowledge, the intertwined and ambiguous nature of modern religious celebrities – of which America has produced no shortage over this past century. This has led to a lacuna in the field where religious studies scholars have shied away from examining the complications and theoretical implications of fame intertwined with sanctity. My approach in this work is thus interdisciplinary, involving not just the lens of religious studies but also the overlapping fields of celebrity studies as well as critical gender studies. My chapters are structured thematically, with a recurrent emphasis on the intersections between mid-century celebrity and sanctity, and the interplay between then-contemporary norms of religious and secular masculinity.

Ultimately, I aim to demonstrate that the connections between these aligned fields and mid-twentieth century American religion extend far beyond the life of the figure under examination. It is my hope that scholars of religious can begin to implement similar rubrics in their examination of modern American Catholic figures.

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