Robert Orsi is a professor of religious studies and history and the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair of Catholic Studies at Northwestern University. A native of New York City, where he grew up in an Italian American working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, Orsi taught at Fordham University, Indiana University, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard University, where he chaired the Committee on the Study of Religion, before coming to Northwestern in 2007. His work draws on historical and ethnographic theories and methods, and he is the author of several prizewinning books, among them The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950 (3rd edition, 2010), Thank You, Saint Jude: Women's Devotions to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes (1996), and Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them (2005). Orsi has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is currently completing a historiographical study, "History and Presence."
New York City's architecture (the Empire State Building), neighborhoods (Greenwich Village, Harlem, and others), and cultural styles have long been emblematic of the global modern. For other Americans, the city has been, at different times, simultaneously both the object of desire and of fear and loathing, and much of the desire and fear have centered on religion. The city has been seen as religiously alien, a threat to the virtue of the American heartland, or as the epitome of the evils of modernity. But, in fact, religion has been central to the making of New York, and New York to the religious history of the modern U.S. This lecture takes a neighborhood level view of NY's religious history, with an eye to its broader national and international significance.