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A twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Robert A. Orsi’s classic study of popular religion in Italian Harlem. In a new preface, Orsi discusses significant shifts in the field of religious history and calls for new ways of empirically studying divine presences in human life.
"The Madonna of 115th Street has over the last quarter century become a classic of American religious history. There are few books that I have enjoyed teaching more over the years and even fewer that have taught me as much about American Catholic history."—Leigh E. Schmidt, author of Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment
|Introduction to the Second Edition|
|Introduction: Popular Religion and Italian Harlem|
|1||The Days and Nights of the Festa||1|
|3||The Origins of the Devotion to Mount Carmel in Italian Harlem||50|
|4||The Domus-Centered Society||75|
|5||Conflicts in the Domus||107|
|6||Toward an Inner History of Immigration||150|
|7||The Meanings of the Devotion to the Madonna of 115th Street||163|
|8||The Theology of the Streets||219|
|A Note on Abbreviations||233|
Posted November 15, 2003
Robert Orsi's Madonna of 115th Street is a brilliant multi-dimensional research on the meaning of 'popular religion' in the Italian community of Harlem in New York. However, to be just, Orsi himself is rather cautious about labeling his study by the term 'popular'. It is 'religion in the streets,' Orsi says, that is in the center of his examination: 'This study began in a sense of the limitations of the meaning of popular religion and a desire to broaden and deepen our understanding of this phenomenon' (Orsi, 1985:xiv). Robert Orsi raises pertinent and engaging questions regarding the melding of ethnicity, religion, and community values which have implications beyond the scope of the present work. The study of Italian American religion begins with the people themselves as a story of suffering, conflict, and hope intimately related to Mary. The men and women of Italian Harlem, the Sicilian refugees brought to the United States along with their modest material goods their incredibly rich religiosity and devotion to the Marian cult. The latter, unlike in the case of Polish Catholics (Orsi, 1985:xvi), was hardly controlled by the Church structures. This unique feature of the Southern Italian Catholicism defined people's religion as the totality of their ultimate values, their most deeply held ethical convictions, their efforts to order their reality, their cosmology: 'This also could be called their 'ground of being', but only if this is understood in a very concrete, social-historical way, not as reality beyond their lives, but as the reason that, consciously and unconsciously, structured and was expressed in their actions and reflections' (Orsi, 1985:xvii). Orsi's analysis resembles Durkheim's research on 'The Elementary Forms of Religious Life' who believes that religion is 'a fundamental and permanent aspect of humanity'. The reality of religious forces is to be found in the real experience of social life, according to Durkheim (Durkheim, 1995:36). Interestingly enough, in the same way as Durkheim finds the birth of that idea in rites, as moments of collective effervescence, Orsi finds the annual festa of the Madonna of Mount Carmel in the 115th Street in the heart of the socio-religious dynamics of the Italian Harlem. Symbol, ritual, and myth - the entire experience of Mount Carmel emerged from and referred back to the people's lives; the men and women of Italian Harlem shared and found themselves in the destiny of symbolic meanings when they attended the festa of the Madonna of 115th Street. In turn, their experience of the Madonna shaped their American destiny.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.