The Madonna of 115th Street Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950 Third Edition Robert A. Orsi

Publication date:
28 Sep 2010
Yale University Press
368 pages: 197 x 127 x 24mm
19 b-w illus.
Sales territories:


“An impressive fusion of the inner histories of immigrant social and religious life.” —John W. Briggs, American Historical Review
“An in-depth historical study of the Italian-American community and its religion, without sentimentalizing values and perceptions.”—Kirkus Reviews
In a masterful evocation of Italian Harlem and the men and women who lived there, Robert Orsi examines how the annual festa of the Madonna of 115th Street both influenced and reflected the lives of the celebrants. His prize-winning book offers a new perspective on lived religion, the place of religion in the everyday lives of men, women, and children, the experiences of immigration and community formation, and American Catholicism. This edition includes a new introduction by the author that outlines both the changes that Italian Harlem has undergone in recent years and significant shifts in the field of religious history.

Robert A. Orsi, Warren Professor of American Religious History at Harvard University, is the author of Thank You, St. Jude, also available in paperback from Yale University Press.

"[Orsi] convey[s], at times movingly, the sense of loss that is part of the immigrant experience and the tensions that it produces in the immigrant family."—Vincent Crapanzano, Times Literary Supplement

"An imaginative and subtly written account of the development of Italian community life in New York. . . . It is an excellent analysis of a complex religious and domestic experience."—Sunday Times

Awarded the Alpha Sigma Nu National Book Prize for outstanding book in the humanities sponsored by Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States

Winner of the 1986 John Gilmary Shea Prize given by the American Catholic Historical Association

"A superb piece of work. Orsi makes a major contribution toward our understanding of popular religion, the experiences of immigration and community formation, and American Catholicism."—David O'Brien, College of the Holy Cross

"By showing the intimate relationship between home and devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Orsi demonstrates the unique role Italian American women played in creating a sense of community in the Harlem of the 30's and 40's. The different ways men and women adapted old tradition, including popular religion, to meet new needs proves beyond question that gender is an essential category of historical analysis."—Temma Kaplan, Historian, Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, Barnard College, Columbia University

"This story is as quintessentially American as it is Italian—of a basement madonna whose adoration long symbolized the hopes, realities, and sorrows of a vibrant immigrant people. It is stunning achievement, not only for its author, but for a powerful new union of social history and religious studies."—Jon Butler, University of Illinois at Chicago

"The demand is for studies of popular religion. Long popular in France, it has arrived in America. Orsi has done the best job of it I have read thus far. He understands the need for, but also the limitations of institutional history. This tale of the village church of Italian Harlem, focusing on 'la mamma della casa,' the image of the Madonna del Carmine, is a breakthrough, a significant contribution not only to understanding the innermost levels of Italian American religion, but to the American urbanization of rural Italian villagers. It is vivid and it is intimate in its picture of the Italian concept of 'family,' in its sympathetic yet scholarly understanding of the relationship of a people's religion to institutional forms. This is 'people history' at its best."—James Hennesey, S.J., Professor of the History of Christianity, Boston College

"In his new introduction to The Madonna of 115th Street, Robert Orsi brilliantly chronicles the twisting course of American religious studies since the book was first published in 1986. Here he defends a distinctive ethnographic approach to religious history, while exposing generic uses of 'history' and 'religion' as much abused sources of power and arrogance. He relates the inward searching prompted by his archival and relational research and examines the changing features of the festa since the book was first published. It is a dazzling addition to one of the most influential analyses of religion in our time."—R. Marie Griffith