Writings of authors other than O'Dea, 1943-1972
Thomas O'Dea taught at five universities during his career. With each move it seems that these papers were pared down. The major exception to this is an extensive set of notes and interviews related to his doctoral research on the Mormons conducted from 1950 to 1953. Other papers that remain from his early career are basically typescripts and reprints of scholarly papers, lectures, and articles. There is also a draft copy of what appears to be an unpublished book on the Catholic Church. Teaching materials and correspondence related to his professional activity are incomplete until his move to the University of California at Santa Barbara. The greatest volume and diversity of papers are from the years that he spent at this institution.
Along with his professional papers, there is a significant series of personal papers. These consist of a typescript journal and correspondence which have been kept interfiled in the same manner that they were maintained by O'Dea. Significantly, O'Dea kept carbon copies of all of his outgoing personal correspondence. The journal and correspondence begin in 1960 when O'Dea was at the University of Utah. Journal entries become sparse in 1963 and finally cease to appear before the year's end. Journal entries do not reappear until late in his career at Santa Barbara. The personal correspondence is apparently very complete from 1960-1963 but seems to become more scattered in 1964. No correspondence remains in the collection for the years 1965 and 1966, but a substantial amount covers the years 1967-1972.
The collection has been divided into filing units, each related to an institution in which Dr. O'Dea was employed. The units are arranged chronologically. Within each unit research and writing is filed first, followed by professional correspondence, teaching materials, and finally miscellaneous files. O'Dea's personal correspondence and journal have been kept separate.
Thomas O'Dea's career began with the writing of several papers and articles on the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The papers from the Harvard years include such titles as "Catholic Ideology and Secular Pressure" and "A Study of Mormon Values." A majority of the papers from this period are related to his doctoral thesis on the Mormons.
There are several scholarly papers and reprints of articles from the time that he spent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as teaching materials and a limited series of correspondence.
O'Dea's papers from his years at Fordham University include a major paper entitled "American Catholicism and the Intellectual Life" which foreshadows the several books that he later wrote on Catholicism. The papers of this period also include several guest lectures given at different universities, including the University of Utah.
O'Dea's work on Mormonism was probably a significant factor in his acceptance of a position at the University of Utah. The papers from this period are quite limited. However, there is a resource file of materials on Mormonism at this juncture which includes items from the early 1950's to the early 1960's.
O'Dea's work in Saudi Arabia consisted of interviewing and other methods of sociological research. Hence, a majority of the papers consist of field notes and typescript interviews. Photos and other memorabilia are also included.
O'Dea's tenure at Columbia is represented in the collection by several papers and articles as well as an extensive set of lecture notes. In addition, there is more professional correspondence extant here than in earlier filing units.
The papers from O'Dea's years at University of California at Santa Barbara are much more extensive than those from any other period. He served there as a professor of religion and as the Director of the Institute of Religious Studies. In spite of his administrative position, there are few papers related to administrative responsibilities. The majority are drafts and reprints of papers and articles written during this period, including a draft copy of an unpublished book, Handbook of Sociological Theory. As part of his professional activity, O'Dea attended many conferences. Included in this period are notes from conferences such as the "Conference on the Culture of Unbelief" held in Roje in 1969, and the "Conference on Intellectuals" held in Israel in 1971.
Correspondence with colleagues and publishers for the UCSB period is arranged in two types of files. The first is a general file arranged chronologically for some years and alphabetically by correspondent for others. The second type of file is collected correspondence with a colleague or publisher that ranges over a long period of time. Correspondence can also be found along with some of his UCSB articles. This arrangement reflects the original order of the collection.
Other items from the UCSB period include teaching materials, syllabi, tests, and reading materials. O'Dea also kept files on individual students, particularly if he wrote recommendations for them. A number of subject files deal with Mormonism, Catholicism, and Marshall McLuhan. Reviews of O'Dea's publications that he clipped and compiled from journals and magazines have been filed at this point, though they cover material published throughout his career. A few miscellaneous files deal with such things as O'Dea's involvement in the "Committee of 50," a campus pressure group of UCSB professors active in 1969.
Thomas O'Dea maintained a personal library of books, some of them autographed. He also had a collection of tapes, recording the proceedings of various professional gatherings that he attended. Only selected materials form these personal collections that added to the research value of this collection were preserved in it. The same criteria was used in selecting items from an extensive collection of manuscripts written by O'Dea's colleagues.
The above description of the O'Dea papers show it to be a valuable research repository for those interested in the sociology of religion and the contributions made by Dr. Thomas O'Dea to this field.
- Other: 1943-1972
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Permission to publish material from the Thomas F. O'Dea collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the Special Collections Board of Curators.
*Thomas F. O'Dea — sociologist, author and teacher — was born December 1, 1915, in Amsbury, Massachusetts. Historically, his life bridged the period from World War I to the Vietnam War. During his youth he attended Saint Joseph's Parochial School in Amsbury and Amsbury High School, after which he studied printing at Wentworth Institute in Boston. After serving in the United States Army Air Force during World War II, he entered Harvard University and graduated summa cum laude in 1949. He continued at Harvard, earning an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology, in 1951 and 1953 respectively.
O'Dea's early life was a combination of the Roman Catholic faith, an Irish immigrant background, and a zeal for social justice stimulated by the influence of New England Protestant social reformers and the Socialist and Communist movements of the 1930's. He possessed some of the passion of the leaders of the Irish Rebellion, such as Padraic Pearse and James Connolly, whom he idolized. In fact, he met his first wife, Georgia Stillman, at a commemoration of the 1916 Irish Easter Week Rebellion, organized by the Communist Party in Boston in 1936 where he gave one of the major addresses. He also had some of the spirit of the Irish Labor leaders of the late nineteenth century, men like Terrence Powderly and M.P. McGuire, rebellious, turbulent men with a fierce loyalty to their past and to their people, who had difficulty understanding why the Church which had inspired so much of the Irish drive for liberation was not more directly involved in movements for social justice in the United States. O'Dea, too, was always puzzled as to why the Irish, who had lived in rebellion for two centuries, were resistant to revolutionary movement in their new land.
Though O'Dea grew up in an Irish-Catholic family, the small New England town in which he lived gave him a gentle introduction to the pluralistic society of America. There were non-Catholic teachers at the public high school he attended. He was attracted by the individualism and the spirit of reform of some New England Protestants. His early reading of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and Whittier, the latter a fellow townsman of Amsbury and an early champion of abolition, prepared him to be open to the good and the true outside the Catholic Church, and to examine the insights of other religious faiths with equanimity.
Another hero who strongly influenced O'Dea was his fellow townsman, George E. McNeill, a labor leader and organizer who championed the eight-hour work day and was one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.). O'Dea worked in various trades as a young man and became a labor activist. Like many Irishmen of the 1930's, he was affiliated with the Socialist Party and was an organizer for the Young Communist League. He broke with the Communist movement after the Hitler-Stalin pact and the subsequent invasion of Russia by Hitler. His refusal to disclose the names of students involved to the Dies Committee investigating un-American activities resulted in long years of serious conflict with that committee.
Another major influence in O'Dea's life was his experience in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II. He spent most of his war years in China, and the list of his reading during this period is impressively broad and sophisticated, equal to a challenging reading list in a graduate course in Chinese culture. Along with his reading, he was able to establish contact with scholarly persons in the area in which he served who provided him with the insights into foreign cultures and eastern religions that enriched his later studies in the sociology of religion. These experiences helped him understand the difference between faith as an abstract factor in the life of man and its incarnation in a given religious system.
O'Dea grew apart from the Catholic Church during early adulthood. He returned for a while to the devout practice of his faith (due in some measure to his friendship with a Benedictine Monk, Dom Vincent Martin, who had spent many years as a missionary in China and had been a fellow student with O'Dea at Harvard), but again drifted away from religious activities until shortly before his death. With respect to his religious faith, he was described as a sinner who looked like a saint. As a sociologist of religion, he positioned himself on the periphery of the Catholic community, but, "in spite of obstacles from without and the neurotic's seven deadly devils gnawing at him from within," finally returned to his religious convictions. For O'Dea, however, the tension between the faith of folk Catholicism and the scientific examination of religion was not the primary issue. He was concerned, instead, with the more sophisticated problem of the secularization of culture and its effect on institutionalized religion and the individual. Early in his sociological career, he wrote of the trends toward secularization: "The Catholic cannot but experience a deep historical anguish in the face of such developments. He is moved to say with Pascal, ‘When I see blindness and the wretchedness of man, when I regard the whole silent universe, and man without a light, left to himself, and, as it were, lost in this corner of the university without knowing who had put him there, what he has to come to do, what will become of him at death, and incapable of all knowledge, I become terrified.'" When in later years O'Dea grasped, at least intellectually, Harvey Cox's idea of secular man as one who has no meaningful identity, he understood and empathized more with the rebellious youth of the sixties who had arrived at the "ultimate admission: that life is absurd." Their concern for ultimate reality "seemed to him, in terms of his gut-reaction as a Christian, to make more sense than secular man's apparent lack of capacity for considering questions of ultimate meaning at all."
During his doctoral studies at Harvard and for a time thereafter, O'Dea served on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1951-1956), the last year of which he spent in uninterrupted study in California, as a Fellow at the Center for Advance Study in the Behavioral Sciences. His Harvard years no doubt constituted the intellectually formative period of his life. During this period his native intellectual capacity was given structure and direction. While still involved in graduate studies, he received an invitation to participate in the Harvard research project, "The Comparative Study of Values in Five Cultures," which was conducted in the south-western United States. The study analyzed two Indian cultures, the Navajo and Zuni, and three white cultures: a Spanish-American community, a group of settlers locally called "Texans," who were main-stream Protestants, and a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) community. O'Dea focused his attention on the Latter-day Saint community. Through this project O'Dea came in contact with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and began his studies of the faith and culture of the Mormons. His work, The Sociology of Mormonism (1955) and his book The Mormons (1957) resulted largely from this project, the latter being based upon his doctoral dissertation.
From 1956 to 1959, O'Dea was a member of the faculty of Fordham University. There he found himself in a congenial intellectual environment which was rooted in the Catholic and Irish tradition from whence he came. During this period, his intellectual role began to become clear to Catholics, and he produced a slim but significant volume, American Catholic Dilemma: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Life (1962), in addition to this work on Mormonism mentioned above. At the same time O'Dea began to realize that he needed a much stronger scholarly base if he was to achieve his full potential as a sociologist. As he searched for such a base, he began at the same time to experience marital difficulties that ultimately led to the breakup of his marriage, which was a major crisis in his life.
Having left Fordham in 1959, O'Dea went to the University of Utah, where he continued his study of Mormonism, but also turned his scholarly attention in other directions. In January 1963, he went to Saudi Arabia as a consultant to the Arabian American Oil Company and remained there until the fall of that year. In 1964, he joined the faculty of Columbia University, in the Department of Religion, but he never felt at home there, and he left after two and a half years. Though he published little during this period, he was preparing the material for what were to be significant publications later on.
Dr. O'Dea's scholarly works were impressive. During his undergraduate days at Harvard, he did a study of the controversial Saint Benedict's Center in Cambridge, and his analysis of the situation enabled him to foretell the radical break of the Center from the Catholic Church. His first book on Catholicism, American Catholic Dilemma, was a penetrating analysis of the dilemmas of institutionalized religion. In less skillful hands this could easily have become a bitterly controversial topic, but O'Dea's tact and careful consideration enabled him to produce a work marked by illuminating insight into the inescapable tensions of organized religion. His small text, The Sociology of Religion (1966), has been widely used and has been translated into five languages.
Thomas O'Dea accepted an appointment as Professor of Religious Studies and Sociology and Director of the Institute of Religious Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1967. Shortly after moving there, he married Janet Scheindlin (formerly Janet Losi Koffler), and a son, Michael Thomas O'Dea, was born to them in 1969. O'Dea remained at UCSB until his death in 1974, and those final years were among the most productive of his life. Scholarly projects that he had been working on for years now reached publication. In what is one of the best studies of Vatican II and its impact upon the Church, The Catholic Crisis (1968) carried his analysis of Catholicism beyond his conclusions in American Catholic Dilemma. Meanwhile, he published a number of articles which he later collected and published as parts of his final two books: Alienation, Atheism and the Religious Crisis (1969) and Sociology and the Study of Religion: Theory, Research, Interpretation (1970). He was an Associate Editor of Sociological Analysis from mid-1969 through 1973, and he was a participant in the Association for the Sociology of Religion and its predecessor The American Catholic Sociological Society.
One significant development during the time O'Dea was on the faculty of the University of California was his study of Judaism and Islam. Having lectured at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he was invited to return in 1972-1973 as a visiting professor. This contact with the world of Jews, Muslims and Eastern Rite Christians added to the religious insights he had acquired in his study of the Chinese and the Mormons. He began to understand more fully the depths of religious experience and the problems of religious organization. In contact with a number of distinguished Hebrew and Muslim scholars, he began preparing a tri-partite study of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to be carried out by himself and two prominent colleagues in Jerusalem. However, the breakup of his second marriage in the spring of 1973 and an ensuing illness made further publication impossible. He returned to the United States for treatment late that year. The following spring found him again at Santa Barbara, and, despite the handicap of ill health, he began teaching again in the fall of 1974. After suffering a sudden relapse, he died on November 12, 1974, from complications associated with Hodgkins' disease. It has been said that the suffering he experienced during the last months of his life sharpened his sense of relationship to his religious roots and that he struggled to the end to relate his faith and his scientific investigations in a way that satisfied him. The following paragraphs from a memorial statement prepared by three of his UCSB colleagues give insights into his scholarly abilities and reflect the respect that his fellow scholars had for him:
Professor O'Dea was not only an outstanding scholar in the sociology of religion but also an extraordinary and original one. He will be remembered for his participatory and yet not partisan attitude, for the approach that attempts to see religion from the inside and yet maintains the critical and impartial mind of the outsider. He succeeded in entering alien fields, not only with tact and respect, but also with involvement. Mormons, Atheists, Muslims, and Christians alike felt that Thomas O'Dea was in some sense speaking for them and not exclusively about them. Still, his incursions always brought him back to his personal position both intellectually and existentially.
Those who knew Tom O'Dea well, especially his colleagues and graduate students, never ceased to be amazed at the breadth of his learning, the brilliance of his insights, the sharpness of his analytical powers. He had a special capacity to see polarities in human experience and to hold them in dialectical tension: sacred and secular, conservation and breakthrough, tradition and change, individual and community, reason and faith, estrangement and reconciliation. As he described polarities so he himself lived as a scholar in creative tension between distance and involvement, critical analysis and prophetic utterance. Never conventional, he was frequently controversial, a man of passion, fierce pride, and firm convictions; yet he had the capacity to change, a keen ability to absorb new knowledge, and a mature appreciation of commitment to the spiritual life. He lived, he loved, and in deep and penetrating ways, he understood. We are the better for it and are grateful for having had him in our midst.
* Adapted from a presentation by Father Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, Fordham University, entitled "Background notes and Comments," with references from the presentation by Dorothy Dohen of Fordham University entitled "Tensions of the Believer as Sociologist of Religion," printed in the "Symposium on Thomas F. O'Dea," Sociological Analysis XXXVIII (1977), p. 126-130 and 131-136, and a final extensive quotation from the memorial statement of the University of California at Santa Barbara, prepared by Robert Michaelsen, Raimundo Panikkar and Tamotsu Shibutani. This biography was written in consultation with Dr. Michaelsen, Vice Chancellor of UCSB, and Gerald Bradford, at the time Administrative Director of the Robert Maynard Hutchins Center For The Study of Democratic Institutions and Adjunct Lecturer for the Department of Religious Studies at UCSB. (Back)
Other Finding Aids note
- Catholic Church
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.)
- Columbia University -- Faculty--Correspondence
- Communism -- United States -- History -- 20th century
- Fordham University -- Faculty--Correspondence
- Harvard University
- Lecture notes
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Faculty--Correspondence
- O'Dea, Thomas F. -- Archives
- University of California, Santa Barbara -- Faculty--Correspondence
- University of Utah -- Faculty--Correspondence