The Catholic Studies Reader

By James T. Fisher; Margaret M. McGuinness | Go to book overview

16
Cultural Studies Between
Heaven and Earth:
Beyond the Puritan Pedagogy
of The Scarlet Letter

THOMAS J. FERRARO

American literature is distinguished by the number of dangerous and
disturbing books in its canon—and American scholarship by its abil-
ity to conceal this fact.

Leslie A. Fiedler

When the North American Studies section of the American Academy of Religion asked me to respond, in November 2005, to Robert A. Orsi’s book Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them, I cast about for a way of revealing, in concentrated but also prismatic form, what is at issue in Orsi’s work for American Studies at large.1 Surely, Orsi has succeeded in mainstreaming Italian American social history, ethnicizing American Catholic historiography, and challenging the Protestant-centeredness of U.S. religious history, and just as surely the religious-studies wing of our profession does not need me—a literature-and-arts guy—to tell them that. On the other hand, U.S. cultural studies came of age in the 1990s confident not only of the basic irrelevance of religious phenomena—there was not a single panel on religion at the 1994 American Studies Association (ASA) convention in Nashville, where Routledge editor Bill Germano told me to “forget about it, they are just not interested”—but also of the secular inviolability of its methods and commitments, certain stirrings of the spirit in Native American, Latino/a, and Black Atlantic studies notwithstanding. But we now are most definitely thinking otherwise—evidence the recent ASA formation of the Working Group in American Religion and its widely acclaimed special issue of American Quarterly.2 As neglected issues and scholarship are brought to the common table under rubrics such as “religion and politics,” what

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