Steve's Midterm Project

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Posted on 12 Apr 2013 16:18

Stephen Erickson
Journey to the Center of the Catholic League: Becoming an Insider in a Discourse Community
April 12, 2013


The purpose of this report is to focus on the Catholic League as a discourse community, and to breakdown the insider/outsider aspects of the organization. Basically, I want to show that the Catholic League is in fact a discourse community, and at the same time, I would like to provide some information about how members’ perspectives about who qualifies as an insider or outsider of their league. My prior knowledge from being a member of the League gave me some idea of where to start my research, and, in addition, I read articles issued by the Catholic League newsletter, Catalyst, and I interviewed another former member of the organization. After researching the Catholic League and recalling my past involvement with members, I came to the conclusion that the organization should qualify as a discourse community (as defined by Swales) because it very nearly meets the six points set forth for discourse communities. Another major point that I finally arrived at after an interview with a former participant was that the Catholic League is very open to members, in the way that inactive members would gladly be welcomed back into the organization in a moment. A reader of this paper might also be interested in the goals and actual views of the Catholic League. For more information about the goals and successes of the Catholic League, the website [] has information about the mission and aims of the members.


From Swales’ research on the topic, there are six criteria that a group must fulfill in order to be classified as a discourse community. For an organization to be a discourse community, it must: have a broad set of common goals, include a form of communication among members, use participation to provide feedback and information to members, utilize one or more genres to convey information, set some sort of agreed upon lexis, and have a threshold level of members in the group (Swales, 1990). Studying these communities gives an insider perspective to group dynamics in a particular organization, and it can let people see what makes some groups successful compared to others.

For my research, I chose to study a group in which I have participated in the past, the Catholic League. Having only been introduced to the League three years ago, I am still a fairly new member and interested as to mechanisms that drive the Catholic League to the point where it is a force to be reckoned with. As I will show in my findings, the Catholic League can be described or observed in such a way that it meets all of the criteria for a discourse community as set forth by Swales.

Besides following the example set forth by Swales for discourse community, I also am interested in the insider vs. outsider aspect of the Catholic League. For example, I was curious as to how former members viewed themselves in relation to the organization, and if there was a point when they would no longer be able to consider themselves “insiders” of the League. This idea is more of an interactive way of observing the insider vs. outsider dynamic. To dive even further into the topic, I read articles and genres from Catalyst, the newsletter sent out by the Catholic League to its members and available online to anyone interested to see how the high-ranking officials of the League address their audience. By figuring out exactly how their articles address the readers, one can infer who the expected audience of the article is and whether or not the League is accepting of new, prospective members.


My research involved reading some typical articles of the Catholic League to get a grasp on the perspective of insiders as opposed to the outsiders. I scanned the website and online newsletter for interesting topics, and I extracted points from them. Again, the actual viewpoints being held were not the topics I cared about researching; rather, I wanted to divulge how the formatting and subtle use of pronouns and other technicalities in the writing could have contributed to the inclusiveness of the Catholic League among its members.

I had already completed a great deal of the research that was necessary for the qualifying of the Catholic League as a discourse community through my involvement in the club in high school and through past experience at Catholic League events. I recalled how meetings at my high school operated, who led each meeting of the organization, which students were involved etc. Much of this information proved to be extremely relevant to the question of whether or not the League is indeed a discourse community.

In addition, I also held an interview with a former active member of the organization. The member, Richard DeMarco III, was an avid participant during Catholic League meetings at my school, where he brought in documents for discussion, assisted with events, and served as treasurer for the organization chapter. I interviewed him recently and asked him what his views were on the insider vs. outsider perspective, including if he viewed himself as an insider, despite his recent inactivity with the organization. I also questioned him about whether or not he believed the Catholic League to be an open, accepting community to people who are not currently members. Among other questions, I was able to uncover many answers during my interview, which allowed me to round out my research and draw some final conclusions.


When my research was completed, I determined that the Catholic League is a type of discourse community. Judging from Swales’ outline and requirements for a discourse community and applying them loosely at some times, I would say that the League meets all the requirements in one way or another.

First of all, the group does have a set of common goals which is to protect the religious and civil rights of all Catholics (from Our Mission), something which can be easily found on the group’s website. There is also very much communication among members. For example, email is very popular among heads of chapters or sections of the organization to spread word about upcoming events, workshops, etc. On numerous occasions, email will be used against someone who slanders Catholics or says something anti-Catholic. For instance, an article from Catalyst about inappropriate billboards poking fun at abortion (2007, August) gave the email address of the company sponsoring the billboard so other Catholic League members could fill their mailbox with angry complaints. This is just one of the times when the organization has used email to reach its goals. Members also use less formal means to communicate, such as texting, which was the prevailing manner of communication used by League members outside of meetings to verify times and speak about any other relevant items.

In terms of communication to provide feedback, members of the club fulfilled this requirement for a discourse community during the weekly meetings. Members would participate by reading articles issued by the Catholic League and then others would respond to these, an activity which often led to debate and discussion in order to calculate exactly what views each person held in regards to some Church or state issue.

Another criterion Swales set forth for these communities in his work was for the group to utilize one or more genres in its operation. The Catholic League used multiple genres to complete this very task and to maintain well-informed members. Such genres include articles written for the newsletters, annual reports about related topics which can be found on the official website of the Catholic League, ads in large newspapers such as the New York Times, billboards, and of course emails to talk about events. In terms of a lexis, there are certain words and phrases that are very often used in meetings of the organization such as “pro-life” and “atheist propaganda” which might only make sense to someone in the context of a meeting. For the most part, however, the Catholic League does not use many abbreviations or unrecognizable speech in their writings or meetings, a point I will discuss further. In addition to the other criteria, Swales’ community definition has a threshold level of members, which is also true of the League. On a small scale, my high school involvement with the organization gave me some insight. The club meetings were open to anyone including, but there was a limited amount of space in our meeting room, which was the only restriction to the number of participants. Otherwise, for the most part, the Catholic League members were welcoming to anyone who cared to listen to what had to be said at meetings.

I discovered after my interview with Richard DeMarco that former members of the Catholic League are still insiders. For this question, I asked straight out, “Do you think of yourself as an insider of the Catholic League despite the fact that you are not currently involved, and why or why not?” Rich responded that he was still an insider. He explained, “Even though I’m not directly involved, I still agree with their views, and I would help support their events if I were asked to. Most of the communities I am involved in still run parallel to the Catholic League views…” This response hit the point I was curious about, and I think it holds true for any other former members as well.

Basically, if you are not actively working against the Catholic Church or the Catholic League, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to join the League and be swiftly on your way to becoming an insider. The League loves any support it can get, and just because someone hasn’t found the time to show up at weekly meetings does not mean they are removed from the club, or viewed as outsiders.


Not strict with membership levels, the Catholic League would love to muster support from anyone interested in getting involved with its work. Almost every member could be considered an insider of the Catholic League, as seen in the following excerpt from a Catalyst article: “Our side is fed up with attempts to shove a politically correct secular agenda down our throats…” (2013, January/February). Notice how the author never says “the Catholic League,” but chooses pronouns to unite all members. This style of writing was not chosen randomly, but specifically for this group, to include all people who align with the Catholic League views. This type of writing is typical in most Catalyst articles and Catholic League publications.

After reading articles like this and conducting my interview, I began to question if there were any outsiders to the League at all. Of the members, there were very few of whom I would label as “outsiders”, but perhaps the ones that might earn this title temporarily are the first-time participants. At my own first meeting, I admittedly felt intimidated by the very strong opinions the Catholic League had about nearly every topic, but after some time and despite some disagreements, I found that my own views were actually quite similar. A person attending the first weekly meeting would be an outsider because they aren’t familiar with the routine of the Catholic League or with the way members communicate with one another by means of speeches and responses. Experiencing one meeting, however, would give the outsider nearly all of the important knowledge they would need about the organization, and more importantly it would provide them with the ability to take a more proactive role in the following meetings.

An interesting point I noted in my research was actually the lack of abbreviations or a strict lexis used by the League. I was wondering why there are not many acronyms like many other communities use to make their ideas quicker to explain and give the organization more of an insider feel, and I found an answer to this question in my interview. Asking Rich about the lexis, he said: “No, we don’t really have any special words or phrases, because we wouldn’t want to make it any more insider related. Any ideas we have we would want to share with others, so special words of a lexis would make this more difficult.”

This is actually a really good explanation for the lack of lexis; the more encrypted and abbreviated the speech is, the less people will know about the League’s cause, and this goes against the ideas of the Catholic League. Speaking from the perspective of a former member and insider, I can say that we want our work to be known to many so it will prosper and gain support, and the use of “insider-only” terms would be counterproductive.

The Catholic League uses its funds to respond to any slander against the Church or against innocent Catholics. Among other manners of sending a message to the world at large, taking a full-page ad in the New York Times is one means of making a statement so many people (non-members especially) can see it. The Catholic League always responds in one way or another when Catholics or the Church are undeservingly bashed. As Fr. Zuhlsdorf notes in his blog, the Catholic League takes out ads in the New York Times often to respond to rumors and lies about the Church (2010).


The Catholic League does fulfill Swales’ model for a discourse community. Based on my research, I have shown that the league does meet the characteristics of a typical discourse community. I have resolved the issue of who should be able to call themselves insiders of the Catholic League, and I have established who the outsiders of the organization are. Despite some extreme opinions and staunch views, the group is actually accepting of anyone who shares some or all of their common interests, namely, the defending of religious and civil rights of Catholics.

One point that I unfortunately did not get to cover much through my research was the actual views of the Catholic League, especially in regards to some of today’s topical issues. This is undoubtedly an interesting area to look at more in depth, so for more ideas about the type of work they support and the causes they are a part of, the Catholic League website would be the best place to visit. On the website [], one can find the League’s mission as well as links to become a member, articles dating as far back as the Catalyst from 1993, and contact information for some official members of the League.

Works Cited

Admin. (2007, August 15). Crude NYC billboard promotes abortion. Catalyst Online Archive, 2007 August releases. Retrieved

Admin. (2012, January/February). Protest works for seniors; Christmas foes retreat. Catalyst Online Archive January/February Issue 2013. Retrieved from

Our Mission. Retrieved from

Swales, John. "The Concept of Discourse Community." Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Boston: Cambridge UP, 1990. (21-32). Print.

Zuhlsdorf, Fr. John. (2010, April 11). Catholic League’s full page ad in the New York
Times. Retrieved from

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