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Thomas F. O'Dea papers

Identifier: MSS 1417

Scope and Contents

The Thomas O'Dea papers span the full breadth of his professional career. There are a few newspaper clippings and other papers concerning his activities as a young communist leader in 1940 but the substantial portion of the collection begins in the late 1940's with O'Dea's education at Harvard.

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 There is also a draft copy of what appears to be an unpublished book on the Catholic Church.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.


  • 1929-1974


Conditions Governing Access

For the first twenty years (1976-1996), the access rights to this collection were controlled by a committee of selected individuals who were personally acquainted with Thomas O'Dea during his career. Following this twenty-year period, and with the now availability of the collection to researchers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections controls use of the papers. Because of the private and sensitive nature of several of O'Dea's journals, permission to consult them must be obtained from the Board of Curators, Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.

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.

Biographical History

Thomas F. O'Dea (1915-1974) was an American sociologist, author, and teacher.

Thomas F. O'Dea was born December 1, 1915, in Amesbury, Massachusetts to father Patrick J. O'Dea and mother Mary Quinn. 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 Amesbury and Amesbury High School, after which he studied printing at the 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. In 1966 he authored the book "The Sociology of Religion." He was a member of the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1951-1956), The University of Utah (1959-1964), and Columbia University (1964-1966). He completed his teaching career at the University of California, Santa Barbara as a professor of religious studies and sociology. He married his wife Gertrude Stillman on June 5, 1936 in New York City. He died on November 12, 1974 in Santa Barbara, California.


44 boxes (22 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



The Thomas O'Dea papers span the full breadth of his professional career. There are a few newspaper clippings and other papers concerning his activities as a young communist leader in 1940 but the substantial portion of the collection begins in the late 1940's with O'Dea's education at Harvard. The papers end in 1972.


Arranged in ten series: 1. Thomas O'Dea biographical materials, 1938-1971. 2. Thomas O'Dea correspondence. 3. Thomas O'Dea research materials (chronological), 1929-1971. 4. Thomas O'Dea writings and lectures (chronological), 1946-1974. 5. Thomas O'Dea university work materials, 1951-1974. 6. Thomas O'Dea conference and lecture activities (chronological), 1952-1972. 7. Thomas O'Dea sound tapes, 1968-1971. 8. Writings of authors other than O'Dea (by author), 1943-1972. 9. Thomas O'Dea miscellaneous, 1949-1971. 10.Thomas O'Dea journals, correspondence, and other personal papers, 1960-1973.

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed finding aid is available in print in the repository.

Other Finding Aids

File-level inventory available online.

Custodial History

The papers and documents in the Thomas F. O'Dea Collection were created by O'Dea during his career as a teacher and author in the field of the Sociology of Religion. At the time of his death they were located in his office on the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and were perused to a limited extent by Janet O'Dea shortly thereafter. They were also reviewed by Robert Michaelsen, then Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies. Some materials of a confidential nature were separated from the other papers by Dr. Michaelsen but left with the collection. Otherwise, the papers of the collection remained largely in the same condition they were in at the time of O'Dea's death.

In January, 1975, the Department of Religious Studies at UCSB was contacted by Brigham Young University, and, after nearly two years of negotiations, the O'Dea papers were released by all concerned parties to the Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU. Dennis Rowley, Curator, personally packed and transported the collection at UCSB to BYU in November, 1976.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Department of Religious Studies, UCSB; November 1976.


19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.

Related Materials

See also O'Dea photographs (MSS P 225).


A. Selected Works by Thomas O'Dea

This bibliography is organized chronologically. Also, unpublished manuscripts that are part of this collection are not included in this bibliography.

"A Study of Mormon Values." Laboratory of Social Relations, Harvard University, 1949.

"A Comparative Study of the Role of Values in Social Action in two Southwestern Communities." Co-authored with Evon Z. Vogt. American Sociological Review 18 (December 1953): 645-654. Also published as section of the book, Society and Self. Edited by Bartlett H. Stoodley. (New York, Free Press of Glencoe, 1962).

"Mormonism and the American Experience of Time." The Western Humanities Review 8 (Summer 1954): 181-190.

"The Sociology of Religion." The American Catholic Sociological Review 15 (June 1954): 73-92.

"Mormonism and the Avoidance of Sectarian Stagnation: a Study of Church, Sect, and Incipient Nationality." The American Journal of Sociology 60 (November 1954): 285-93.

"The Effects of Geographical Position on Belief and Behavior in a Rural Mormon Village." Rural Sociology 19 (December 1954): 358-364.

"The 'Residues' of Pareto: An Operational Definition of Natural Law." The American Catholic Sociological Review 16 (October 1955): 170-182.

"The Sociology of Mormonism: Four Studies." Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Humanities, 1955. Publications in the humanities (Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Humanities); no. 14. These 4 studies are reprinted from the American Journal of Sociology, The Western Humanities Review, The American Sociological Review, and Rural Sociology.

"The Secularization of Culture." The Commonweal 64 (April 20, 1956): 67-69.

"The Catholic Immigrant and the American Scene." Thought: Fordham University Quarterly 16 (Summer 1956): 251-270.

The Mormons (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957).

"Crisis en la cristiandad (II)." Mensaje 78 (May 1959): 131-135. [Published in Chile]

"Technology and Social Change: The Challenge East and West." The Western Humanities Review 13 (Spring 1959): 151-161.

"The Ideologists and the Missing Dialogue." Catholic Mind 57 (September-October 1959): 392-398.

"The Secularization of Culture." The Commonweal 71 (October 30, 1959): 118-119.

"Catholics at the Crossroads." The Commonweal 70 (November 11, 1959): 493-495.

"The New America." Pulpit Digest 40 (November 1959): 29-34.

"Mormons." Encyclopedia Americana, 1959.

"Anomie and the 'Quest for Community': The Formation of Sects among the Puerto Ricans of New York." The American Catholic Sociological Review 21 (Spring 1960): 18-36. Co-authored with Renato Poblete.

"American Catholics and International Life." Social Order 10 (June 1960): 243-265.

"Human Freedom and its Cultural Repression." Thought: Fordham University Quarterly 35 (Summer 1960): 204-222.

"Five Dilemmas in the Institutionalization of Religion." Social Compass (1960): 61-67. Reprinted in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 1 (October 1961): 30-39.

"The Mormons--Strong Voice in the West." Catholic Church in American Life (March 1961): 15-20.

I Moroni [The Mormons, Italian] G.C. Sansoni, Firenze 1961.

American Catholic Dilemma: an Enquiry into the Intellectual Life. (New York: New American Library, 1962).

"Mormonism Today." Desert Magazine 26 (June 1963): 23-27.

"Sociological Dilemmas: Five Pardoxes of Institutionalization." From Sociological Theory, Values, and Sociocultural Change: Essays in honor of Pitirim A. Sorokin. Edited by Edward A. Tiryakion, 1963.

The Sociology of Religion. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966).

"The Adequacy of Contemporary Religious Forms: An Area of Needed Research." Review of Religious Research 7 (Winter 1966): 85-94.

"The Brave New World of Roman Catholicism." Columbia College Today 14 (Fall 1966): 29-35.

"The Changing Image of the Jew and the Contemporary Religious Situation: An Exploration of Ambiguities." In Jews in the Mind of America. Edited by Charles H. Stember, et al, 1966.

Foreword to Desert Saints: The Mormon Frontier in Utah by Nels Anderson. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).

"Mormonism and the Avoidance of Sectarian Stagnation: a Study of Church, Sect, and Incipient Nationality." Religion, Culture, and Society, 1964: 651-661.

"The Crisis of Contemporary Religious Consciousness." Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 96 (Winter 1967): 116-134.

The Catholic Crisis. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968).

"Can Catholicism Make It?" The Christian Century 86 (February 26, 1969): 283-287.

"Return to Relevance." Guide 237 (April 1969): 11-16.

Alienation, Atheism, and the Religious Crises. (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969).

"Three Faces of Western Man." The Center Magazine, 1969: 67-78.

"The Church as Sacrementum Mundi." Concilium 8 (October 1970): 36-44.

"The Sociology of Religion Reconsidered." Sociological Analysis 31 (Fall 1970): 145-152.

Sociology and the Study of Religion; Theory, Research, Interpretation. (New York ; London: Basic Books, Inc., 1970).

"Youth in Protest: Revolution or Revelation." Salt Lake City : [Distributed by Sociology Dept., University of Utah], 1970.

Readings on the Sociology of Religion. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973). Co-authored with Janet K. O'Dea.

"Pathology and the Renovation of the Religious Institution." Concilium 19 (January 1974): 125- 133. (French and Spanish translations)

"Mormonism and the Avoidance of Sectarian Stagnation." In Religion in America. Edited by George C. Bedell. 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1982): 196-204.

The Sociology of Religion. 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, c 1983). Co-authored with Janet O'Dea Aviad.

B. Works About Thomas O'Dea

Bradford, Miles Gerald. "The Loss of Transcendence : Reflections on the Contemporary Religious Crisis." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 6 (Spring 1971): 81-85. [Personal subject: O'Dea, Thomas F. Alienation, atheism, and the religious crisis.]

Donigan, Robert W. The Mormons by Thomas F. O'Dea : critical review and commentary. Paper for Graduate Religious Instruction 542, BYU, 1964.

Empey, Lamar Taylor. Book review of The Mormons by Thomas F. O'Dea. Brigham Young University Studies 1 (Winter 1959): 69-71.

Fife, Austin E. Book review of The Mormons by Thomas F. O'Dea. Pacific Historical Review (1958): 188-192.

Garrison, W. E. "Mutual Aid." Christian Century 175 (March 19, 1958): 343-344.

Michaelsen, Robert S. "Enigmas in Interpreting Mormonism." Sociological Analysis 38 (Summer 1977): 145-153.

_____. "Thomas F. O'Dea on the Mormon retrospect and assessment." Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 11 (Spring 1978): 44-57.

Processing Information

Processed; David J. Whittaker, Mauri Liljenquist & Jonathan Capps; Revised June 2004.

Register of the Thomas F. O'Dea papers
David J. Whittaker, Mauri Liljenquist & Jonathan Capps
Revised June 2004
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States