Robert Orsi, who has taught in the department of religious studies at Indiana University for the past 12 years, has accepted Harvard Divinity School’s invitation to become the Charles Warren Professor of American Religious History. He will join the Divinity faculty in September 2001.
“Professor Orsi’s established reputation as a scholar and teacher assures the continuation of the tradition of excellence in American religious history at the Divinity School,” said J. Bryan Hehir, head of the Divinity School.
At Indiana, Orsi has taught graduate and undergraduate courses on religion and social theory, urban religion in the United States, religion and politics, religion and healing, and children’s religion.
“Modern and contemporary American religions are the main focus of my work,” Orsi says, “and within this broad rubric I have been concerned mainly with urban religion, religion and immigration, the cult of saints in American Catholicism and the saints’ role in alternative healing practices, Catholic devotionalism, and, most recently, the religious worlds of children. My research has been oriented by theoretical questions about gender, social power, and the nature and limits of religious creativity and freedom in specific social and political contexts. Methodologically, I think of my work as the historical anthropology of religion – I usually proceed through a combination of fieldwork and archival research when I prepare my projects.”
His most recent research includes a cultural, historical study of growing up Catholic in the United States in the 20th century and work on the poetics of Catholic memory over the past 20 years. His publications include three books: “The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950” (Yale, 1985); “Thank You, Saint Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes” (Yale, 1996); and “Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape” (Indiana University Press, 1999).
Before arriving at Indiana, where he has also served as a department chair and associate dean, Orsi taught at Fordham University. He received a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1982, and was an undergraduate at Trinity College.