Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
University of Louisville
Website URL
U.S. foreign relations, human rights, U.S.-Central America relations, religion, Catholicism, gender
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Personal Info

About Me

Theresa Keeley is an associate professor of U.S. and the World at the University of Louisville. She was previously a visiting assistant professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the School of Foreign Service and History Department. Her work focuses on religion and U.S. foreign relations. Her teaching and research draw on her experience as a human rights activist and attorney.

Keeley’s first book, Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict Over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America, published with Cornell University Press, won the 2020 Duke Human Rights Center’s Juan E. Mendez Award for Human Rights in Latin America. The book argues that debates among Central American and U.S. Catholics over the Church’s direction influenced Ronald Reagan’s policies toward Central America. The flashpoint for these intra-Catholic disputes was the December 1980 political murder of four American Catholic missionaries in El Salvador: Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan.

Keeley’s work has also appeared in edited volumes and in publications including Diplomatic History, U.S. Catholic Historian, Gender & History, and the Washington Post. Her next project, Suffer Little Children: Health, Harm, & U.S. Foreign Policy, examines how secular and faith-inspired activists used medical aid for children to challenge U.S. foreign policy on moral and religious grounds. Her work is being funded by a sabbatical grant for researchers from the Louisville Institute in 2021-2022.

Her previous work has been supported by the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Cushwa Center at the University of Notre Dame, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and NYU’s Center for the United States and the Cold War.

Recent Publications


Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict over Cold War Human Rights Policy (Cornell University Press, 2020)


“Transnational Activism and U.S.-Central America Relations,” in A Companion to U.S. Foreign Policy, 1776-Present, vol II, chapter 49, ed. Christopher R.W. Dietrich (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2020)


“Clothes Make the Nun? Feminism, Fashion, & Representations of Catholic Sisters in the 1980s,” Gender & History, 31, no. 2 (2019): 480-499

“Not Above the Fray: Religious and Political Divides’ Impact on U.S. Missionary Sisters in Nicaragua,” U.S. Catholic Historian, Special Issue on War & Peace, 37, no. 1 (2019): 147-166

“Reagan’s Real Catholics vs. Tip O’Neill’s Maryknoll Nuns: Gender, Intra-Catholic Conflict, and the Contras,” Diplomatic History 40, no. 3 (2016): 530-558

“Medellín is ‘Fantastic’: Drafts of the 1969 Rockefeller Report on the Catholic Church” The Catholic Historical Review 101, no. 4 (2015): 809-834


Joe Biden’s Harshest Critics are Likely to Be Some of His Fellow Catholics,” Washington Post, November 30, 2020

Thirty-Five Years After Deaths of Cleveland Churchwomen in El Salvador, US. Policy Still Devalues Human Rights,” Cleveland Plain-Dealer, November 29, 2015


“Landlord Sexual Assault and Rape of Tenants: Survey Findings and Advocacy Approaches,” 40 Clearinghouse Review 441 (Nov/Dec 2006)

“An Implied Warranty of Freedom from Sexual Harassment: The Solution for Harassed Tenants Where the Fair Housing Act Has Failed,” 38 University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 397 (2005)

Comment, “Good Moral Character: Already an Unconstitutionally Vague Concept and Now Putting Bar Applicants in a Post 9/11 World on an Elevated Threat Level,” 6 University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 844 (2004)

Media Coverage
Country Focus
United States
Expertise by Geography
United States
Expertise by Chronology
7, 8, 9
Expertise by Topic
Diplomacy, Gender, Human Rights, Law, Religion