Charles Keith sheds light upon the role of the Vietnamese Catholic Church in the rise of Vietnamese nationalism and a ‘modern’ identity. As the first comprehensive, English language study of the twentieth century Catholic Church in Vietnam, Keith rejects the current historiography of Vietnamese Catholics as simply supporters of French colonialism and in opposition to Vietnamese nationalism. Instead, Keith instills a sense of political and cultural agency for Vietnamese Catholics and indigenous religious organizations to critique the French colonial state. Keith demonstrates how a ‘national’ Catholic Church emerged in Vietnam after World War I through print culture and connection with global Catholicism. Keith reveals how the Vietnamese Catholic Church strategically identified with global Catholic movements and Vatican political stances on national self-identity and human dignity. Through this relationship with Rome and missionary political structures, Vietnamese Catholics were able to reposition themselves as a modern political and religious institution.
Keith also demonstrates how Vietnamese Catholics contributed to a new, ‘modern’ political consciousness and nationalism. In other parts of Catholic Vietnam, Keith describes Catholic political consciousness as tied to the rise of a modern national culture. Writers contrasted the often ambiguous and all encompassing adjective ‘modern’ with ‘traditional,’ as a way to make social and cultural critiques. Keith demonstrates how the formation of the national Vietnamese Catholic Church coincided with debates on modernity and political identities, or within a phenomenon Keith terms as ‘religious modernity.’