At a glance

James T. Fisher, 44, until this summer held the Danforth Chair in Humanities at St. Louis University. He is now the Will and Ariel Durant Professor of Humanities at St. Peter’s College, Jersey City, N.J. Fisher earned his bachelor’s and doctorate from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N. J. He and his wife, Kristina Chew, a translator and teacher of Greek and Latin, have a three-and-a-half-year-old son, Charlie.

Whether at the movies, on the street or looking out the window, Fisher sees an American Catholicism that may be as fragmented as many contend. Yet he also discerns the presence of Catholic energies in places that once might have been viewed as unlikely or inappropriate, especially in the popular culture. Perhaps this interest is rooted in his experience. Fisher attended parochial school and served as an altar boy in Cheshire, Conn., alongside Eddie “Legs” McNeil, the icon and embodiment of punk rock as it emerged in the mid-1970s.

His next book, his third, is on the classic 1954 film “On the Waterfront.” The movie, Fisher maintains, offers the most stirring portrayal of Catholic social doctrine in action ever witnessed in any medium -- yet the film was written, directed and produced by non-Catholics. It was, however, inspired by the work of a Jesuit labor priest.

Convinced that Catholics and African-Americans are most responsible for the development of an urban popular culture that transformed the nation in the 20th century, Fisher argues that the pervasive Catholic presence in American popular culture should be more openly acknowledged, though not uncritically celebrated.

--Arthur Jones