Matthew Dowd

Graduate Student

I am an historian of the political, religious, and social history of Europe from the French Revolution to the late 20th century, with a particular interest in French history, Catholicism, and secularization. 

My dissertation explores how the globally influential French Catholic world worked out ideological, theological, and institutional responses to the twin challenges of capitalist transformation and mass politics in the 19th century. Questioning scholarly interpretations of the period that emphasize the singular hostility of Catholics to European modernity, I underscore the debates Catholics had amongst themselves over whether and on what terms to engage with an increasingly secular society. While some Catholics adopted the more familiar "intransigent" position, utterly rejecting any compromise with liberal modernity, others - especially among the Catholic professional classes - pioneered creative and conciliatory institutions, theologies, and political strategies to the challenges of their age. Only by understanding these mid-century debates and their political ramifications can the later 19th- and 20th century histories of Catholic antiliberalism, "Catholic modernity", and Christian Democracy come into focus. My work, by attending to intra-Catholic disagreements and zeroing in on institution-builders, offers a fresh and dynamic view of the Catholic world at a pivotal moment of political and economic change, when it felt like the future of the Catholic faith was at stake. 

My teaching experience spans diverse geographical and thematic realms across 19th and 20th century history, including modern European politics and culture, the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Soviet Empire. I have also taught remotely with Princeton's Global History Lab. In this capacity, I instructed students from around the world in oral history research methods and ethics, and oversaw students' original research projects.

I received a BA in International Relations and French Language and Literature at Tufts University and an MA in modern European history through New York University/Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, where I won the Prix Amiel Van Teslaar for the best Masters thesis. From 2021-2022, I was a visiting scholar at Sciences Po in Paris. My research has been supported by the Center for Culture, Society, and Religion at Princeton, where I serve as a fellow this year (2023-2024).

Outside of scholarship and teaching, I enjoy playing basketball, tennis, and softball, and writing music.

Photo credit: Sameer Khan

Year of Study
Eighth Year
Area of Interest
History of Capitalism
Political History
Social History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century