Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Article excerpt

Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City. By Joseph Sciorra. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 2015. Pp. xlii, 262. $65.00. ISBN 978-1-62190-119-8.)

One of Joseph Sciorra's goals in Built with Faith was to examine Italian American "Catholic expressive culture" and "religious artistry" with "seriousness and attention to detail" (p. 196). The University of Tennessee Press has boosted Sciorra toward that goal with this handsome publication: well sized for the photographs it contains, with in-text source citations and explanatory endnotes proper to Sciorra's academic discipline, an extensive bibliography, and a detailed index. Still, the production does not seem to justify the cost of the book.

Sciorra's research is comprehensive. He read widely in Italian- and Englishlanguage primary sources such as early accounts of Italian immigrant devotions; in the scholarship in his own specialty, folklore; and in many other disciplines as well. The most significant sources, however, are Sciorra's interviews with devotees and his reports on participant-observer fieldwork. The research is conveyed in prose that makes theoretical analysis as clear as descriptions of Italian American religious activities. Built with Faith may become a primar)' source for information on Italian-American religious practices in New York City from the 1970s to the 2010s.

Sciorra researched lawn and sidewalk religious displays, presepi (Nativity scenes), Christmas lights, Staten Island's grotto of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and processions near his home in Brooklyn's Greenpoint/Williamsburg section. He makes the case that these are religious artworks testifying to beliefs. Lawn statues proclaim their owners' faith that saints do watch over them. Presepi-builders demonstrate their understanding of the Christian message; Sciorra gives the example of the woman who added extra sheep to her display as a reminder to "have reverence for animals" (p. …

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