Between Heaven and Earth explores the relationships men, women, and children have formed with the Virgin Mary and the saints in twentieth-century American Catholic history, and reflects, more broadly, on how people live in the company of sacred figures and how these relationships shape the ties between people on earth. In this boldly argued and beautifully written book, Robert Orsi also considers how scholars of religion occupy the ground in between belief and analysis, faith and scholarship.
Orsi infuses his analysis with an autobiographical voice steeped in his own Italian-American Catholic background--from the devotion of his uncle Sal, who had cerebral palsy, to a "crippled saint," Margaret of Castello; to the bond of his Tuscan grandmother with Saint Gemma Galgani.
Religion exists not as a medium of making meanings, Orsi maintains, but as a network of relationships between heaven and earth involving people of all ages as well as the many sacred figures they hold dear. Orsi argues that modern academic theorizing about religion has long sanctioned dubious distinctions between "good" or "real" religious expression on the one hand and "bad" or "bogus" religion on the other, which marginalize these everyday relationships with sacred figures.
This book is a brilliant critical inquiry into the lives that people make, for better or worse, between heaven and earth, and into the ways scholars of religion could better study of these worlds.
"[Orsi] challenges the human sciences to return to religion the uncertainty and angst it holds when it is actually lived rather than merely studied and theorized. . . . Thoughtful and a pleasure to read, Between Heaven and Earth is a major contribution to religious studies and to the anthropology of religion, and will be of great interest to scholars concerned with subjectivity in the contemporary world."--João Biehl, Anthropological Quarterly
"Religion is 'not benign,' Orsi warns, but is as richly ambiguous, as fraught with complexity, contradiction and tragedy as the lives of its adherents. By its very nature, religion deals with our deepest longings and most bitter frustrations, especially concerning our relationships with others. As a consequence, he argues, it cannot be studied in a merely 'scientific' or 'objective' way."--Paul Baumann, Chicago Tribune
"Between Heaven and Earth documents Orsi's growing confidence in the belief that religion is less about formal ideas or morality than how it structures networks of relationships, most important the relationships between family members, loved ones, their saints and Gods. . . . The result is frequently dazzling. . . . [A] compelling blend of personal narrative and scholarly inquiry."--John T. McGreevy, Commonweal
"Between Heaven and Earth is a classic . . . . Balancing historical, archival and personal evidence in a rare style of historical auto-ethnography to study religious intimacy in fresh and intellectually satisfying ways, Orsi takes readers more deeply into his theoretical and conceptual levels of argument by introducing them to his uncle Sal and his grandmother. . . . This is a memorable book, both for the story of Orsi's family, in which he situates historical and cultural practices, and for the intellectual challenge his work represents to the interdisciplinary study of religions."--Claire Hoertz Badaracco, America
Table of Contents:
INTRODUCTION: Jesus Held Him So Close in His Love for Him That He Left the Marks of His Passion on His Body 1
CHAPTER ONE: "Mildred, Is It Fun to Be a Cripple?"The Culture of Suffering in Mid-Twentieth Century American Catholicism 19
CHAPTER TWO: The Many Names of the Mother of God 48
CHAPTER THREE: Material Children: Making God's Presence Real for Catholic Boys and Girls and for the Adults in Relation to Them 73
CHAPTER FOUR: Two Aspects of One Life: Saint Gemma Galgani and My Grandmother in the Wound between Devotion and History, the Natural and the Supernatural 110
CHAPTER FIVE: "Have You Ever Prayed to Saint Jude?" Reflections on Fieldwork in Catholic Chicago 146
CHAPTER SIX: Snakes Alive: Religious Studies between Heaven and Earth 177