Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City

A Book Presentation by Joseph Sciorra

Thur. Feb 23, 6:00-8:00pm, Cohen Lounge
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Over the course of 130 years, Italian American Catholics in New York City have developed a varied repertoire of devotional art and architecture to create community-based sacred spaces in their homes and neighborhoods. These spaces exist outside of but in relationship to the consecrated halls of local parishes and are sites of worship in conventionally secular locations. Such ethnic building traditions and urban ethnic landscapes have long been neglected by all but a few scholars. Joseph Sciorra’s Built with Faith offers a place-centric, ethnographic study of the religious material culture of New York City’s Italian American Catholics.
Sciorra spent thirty-five years researching these community art forms and interviewing Italian immigrant and U.S.-born Catholics. By documenting the folklife of this group, Sciorra reveals how Italian Americans in the city use expressive culture and religious practices to transform everyday urban space into unique, communal sites of ethnically infused religiosity. The folk aesthetics practiced by individuals within their communities are integral to understanding how art is conceptualized, implemented, and esteemed outside of museum and gallery walls. Yard shrines, sidewalk altars, Nativitypresepi, Christmas house displays, a stone-studded grotto, and neighborhood processions—often dismissed as kitsch or prized as folk art—all provide examples of the vibrant and varied ways contemporary Italian Americans use material culture, architecture, and public ceremonial display to shape the city’s religious and cultural landscapes.
Written in an accessible style that will appeal to general readers and scholars alike, Sciorra’s unique study contributes to our understanding of how value and meaning are reproduced at the confluences of everyday life.

Program

  • Introductory remarks: Teresa Fiore (Inserra Chair, Montclair State University)
  • Greetings by Mary Ann Re (Coccia Institute, Director, Montclair State University)
  • Book Presentation by Joseph Sciorra, author of: Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City (University of Tennessee Press, 2015)
  • Moderator: Nancy Carnevale (Department of History, Montclair State University)

Joseph Sciorra is the Director for Academic and Cultural Programs at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College (City University of New York). He conceptualizes and implements scholarly research and public programs including symposiums, the Institute’s annual conference, the monthly Writers Read author series, the Documented Italians film and video series, and the “Philip V. Cannistraro Seminar Series in Italian American Studies,” as well as curates exhibitions. Sciorra received his Ph.D. from the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania. As a folklorist, he researches and publishes on vernacular culture, including religious practices, cultural landscapes, and popular music, among other topics. He is the editor of Italian Folk: Vernacular Culture in Italian-American Lives and co-editor of Embroidered Stories: Interpreting Women’s Domestic Needlework from the Italian Diaspora. He is the author of  Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City (University of Tennessee Press, 2015) and R.I.P.: Memorial Wall Art (Henry Holt & Co., 1994; Thames and Hudson, 2002).

For more on the book, click here.

Resources
Italian Décor Rooted in Pottery (New York Times, June 11, 2014)
Away in a Manger in the South Bronx (New York Times, Dec. 17, 2008)

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