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 assistant 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, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press in September 2020. It argues that debates among Central American and U.S. Catholics over the Church’s direction influenced Ronald Reagan’s policies toward Central America. The flash-point for these intra-Catholic disputes was the December 1980 rape and 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 work has also appeared in Diplomatic History, Catholic Historical Review, U.S. Catholic Historian, and Gender & History. Her next project, Suffer Little Children: Health, Harm, & U.S. Foreign Policy, examines how U.S. citizens, often together with people outside of the United States, challenged U.S. foreign policy by emphasizing its negative impacts on the health of children abroad. She has received support for her research from the Society from Historians of Foreign Relations, the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, the Center for the United States and the Cold War, and the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, among others.

Recent Publications


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


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


“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


“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
Modern, 20th century, 21st century
Expertise by Topic
Diplomacy, Gender, Human Rights, Law, Religion