Reason and Faith: A Study of Interwar Chilean Eugenic Discourse, 1900-1950

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This dissertation examines how social reform discourse that rationalized gender difference allowed Chilean Catholics to play a critical role in the development of eugenic science between 1900 and 1950. Building on scholarship relating to the development of a modernized, patriarchal system during the 1920s and 1930s and the rise of eugenics among scientists during the same period, this dissertation posits that eugenic science in Chile was the result of a complex interaction between Catholic and secular intellectuals vying for dominance in the reconstruction of the modern Chilean social order. Political liberals characterized the Catholic Church as a dogmatic monolith that was antithetical to social progressivism and disconnected from the realities of modern life. At the same time, Chilean Catholics used the social disruptions caused by capitalist industrialization to assert their social, moral, and scientific superiority. The dissertation asserts that anti-clerical discourse popular among progressive actors served to obscure the scientific and social contributions, both conservative and progressive, of the Catholic Church and its supporters in Chile. Each chapter in this dissertation examines how Catholics responded to secular efforts to oust them from their traditional places of social influence - hospitals, orphanages, schools, charities, and family life - through the application of eugenic science. Secular reformers contrasted their own presumably rational, scientific responses to social problems while feminizing religious practice and Church or Catholic perspectives. Chilean Catholics responded by asserting the compatibility of science and religion, particularly in the field of eugenics. Catholic scholars suggested, for instance, that they had to be involved in eugenic practices to ensure the most ethical application of scientific principles.