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Built with Faith

Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City

Joseph Sciorra (author)

ISBN: 9781621903833

Publication Date: May 2018

Format: Paperback

Also available as: Hardback  

Offers a place-centric, ethnographic study of the religious material culture of New York City's Italian-American Catholics, revealing how they use expressive culture and religious practices to transform everyday urban space into unique sites of ethnically infused religiosity.

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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 neighbourhoods. 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 immigrants and US-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 conceptualised, implemented, and esteemed outside of museum and gallery walls. Yard shrines, sidewalk altars, Nativity presepi, Christmas house displays, a stone-studded grotto, and neighbourhood 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.


"Sciorra has vividly demonstrated why the study and practice of such material culture is important and how individual human creativity informed by a spiritual and cultural core becomes an act of both personal and community identity." – Journal of American Folklore

"Built with Faith makes a fine contribution to the literature on landscape, material culture, immigration, ethnic studies, and urban studies. It offers important information on the kinds of approaches Italian American New Yorkers have taken toward shaping the built environment of New York through their religious and cultural practices. Sciorra documents and offers wonderful thick descriptions of Italian American material culture. And he leaves analytical space for other scholars to take these objects and rituals seriously and analyze them from a variety of disciplinary standpoints." – Buildings and Landscapes Journal
Pages 277
Dimensions 229 x 152
Date Published 30 May 2018
Publisher The University of Tennessee Press
Subject/s Social & cultural anthropology   Folk art   Sociology: customs & traditions  
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). Sciorra received his Ph.D. from the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania. As a folklorist, he has published on religious practices, material culture, and popular music, among other topics. He was the editor (2009-2016) of the social science and cultural studies journal Italian American Review. He has conceptualized and curated several exhibitions, including "Evviva La Madonna Nera!: Italian-American Devotion to the Black Madonna." Sciorra is an invited blogger of "Occhio contro occhio," at http://www.i-italy.org/bloggers/occhio-contro-occhio.

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