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Do Catholic Historians Need to Define Catholicism?

Historians of evangelicalism are very interested in defining evangelicalism. It would seem obvious that scholars of a certain field would be dedicated to defining their object of study, but historians of evangelicalism go about this task with an admirable gusto. The act of defining is central to the field. Historian David Bebbington’s famous definition, the Bebbington Quadrilateral – evangelicalism as biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism – has framed the conversation since 1989. As I listened to the excellent papers delivered by historians at the Noll Conference in March 2018, I began to wonder why Catholic historians do not seem so interested in defining their object of study, Catholicism.

Certainly we do not have quadrilateral. But should we have one?

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