Michael GrazianoApr 22, 2022
Errand Into the Wilderness of Mirrors
Religion and the History of the CIA
University of Chicago Press 2021
Michael Graziano’s intriguing book fuses two landmark titles in American history: Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness (1956), about the religious worldview of the early Massachusetts colonists, and David Martin’s Wilderness of Mirrors (1980), about the dangers and delusions inherent to the Central Intelligence Agency. Fittingly, Errand Into the Wilderness of Mirrors: Religion and the History of the CIA (U Chicago Press, 2021) investigates the dangers and delusions that ensued from the religious worldview of the early molders of the Central Intelligence Agency. Graziano argues that the religious approach to intelligence by key OSS and CIA figures like “Wild” Bill Donovan and Edward Lansdale was an essential, and overlooked, factor in establishing the agency’s concerns, methods, and understandings of the world. In a practical sense, this was because the Roman Catholic Church already had global networks of people and safe places that American agents could use to their advantage. But more tellingly, Graziano shows, American intelligence officers were overly inclined to view powerful religions and religious figures through the frameworks of Catholicism. As Graziano makes clear, these misconceptions often led to tragedy and disaster on an international scale. By braiding the development of the modern intelligence agency with the story of postwar American religion, Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors delivers a provocative new look at a secret driver of one of the major engines of American power.
Allison Isidore is the Assistant Director for the American Catholic Historical Association and is an Instructor of Record for the Religious Studies department at the University of Alabama. Her research interest is focused on the twentieth-century American Civil Rights Movement and the Catholic Church’s response to racism and the participation of Catholic clergy, nuns, and laypeople in marches, sit-ins, and kneel-ins during the 1950s and 1960s. Allison is also a Video Editor for The Religious Studies Project, producing videos for the podcast and marketing team. She tweets from @AllisonIsidore1.