- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (March 29, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674047893
- ISBN-13: 978-0674047891
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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History and Presence Hardcover – March 29, 2016
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A fiercely inquisitive book on the heart of Roman Catholicism…The bulk of History and Presence concentrates on…the perception phenomenon at the back of worldwide cults of saints’ relics, holy shrines, saints’ cults, apparitions of Mary, and the like. Through very nimble and wide-ranging research, Orsi lays bare the complex intermingling of faith and psychology that has been a key element of Catholicism for five hundred years. One of the persistent strengths of the book is its keen awareness of the day-to-day meaning of its mysteries for the ordinary people involved. (Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly)
With reference to Marian apparitions, the cult of the saints, and other divine–human encounters, Orsi constructs a theory of presence for the study of contemporary religion and history. Many interviews with individuals devoted to particular saints and relics are included in this fascinating study of how people process what they believe. (Catholic Herald)
This book is classic Orsi: careful, layered, humane, and subtle… If reformed theology has led to the gods’ ostensible absence in modern religion, History and Presence is a sort of counter-reformation literature that revels in the excesses of divine materiality: the contradictions, the redundancies, the scrambling of borders between the sacred and profane, the dead and the living, the past and the present, the original and the imitator… History and Presence is a thought-provoking, expertly arranged tour of precisely those abundant, excessive phenomena which scholars have historically found so difficult to think. (Sonja Anderson Reading Religion)
[A] brilliant, theologically sophisticated exploration of the Catholic experience of God’s presence through the material world…On every level―from its sympathetic, honest, and sometimes moving ethnography to its astute analytical observations―this book is a scholarly masterpiece. (A. W. Klink Choice)
Orsi recaptures God’s breaking into the world through stories that range from tales of saints, such as Bernadette, to common people who directly experienced divine intervention… The book does an excellent job of explaining both the difficulties and values inherent in recognizing God in the world. (Publishers Weekly)
This is a meticulously researched, humane, and deeply challenging book. It concerns the people and the groups for whom heaven and earth, life and death are not separated by absolute boundaries. ‘Gods’ (to use Orsi’s term) cross these boundaries. Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints, and the beloved dead remain real presences to many, in a modern world that finds no place for them. The story is set against the background of postwar American Catholicism. It has searing moments of desperate hope and unexpected comfort. It also has moments of sheer horror―as when Orsi explores what sexual harassment by priests means to those who saw in priests human gateways to heaven. The men and women studied in this book do not belong to ‘a world we have lost.’ They belong to a world we have lost sight of. (Peter Brown, Princeton University)
Orsi’s evoking of the full reality of the holy in the world is extremely moving, shot through with wonder and horror. Speaking of the sanctuary at Chimayo―which the present reviewer has also visited―Orsi rejects trauma theory. The well of earth is not a ‘metaphor for suffering,’ a ‘hole in the mind’ where suffering spills out; instead, ‘the seeming emptiness is in fact full’; the hole is paradoxical; Christ is present in the dirt…There is much that is specifically Catholic about the horrors and glories that Orsi sets out in such carefully researched detail. His argument in a short epilogue that we should see all religious history through a matrix of presence is, nonetheless, convincing. (Caroline Walker Bynum Common Knowledge)
Perhaps the heart of [Orsi's] genius for writing about religion lies in his deft balance of the individual person and the encompassing dynamics of national and international history…Many, I suspect, will applaud Orsi’s effort at pushing back on the epistemological presumptions of modernity, in part at least because doing so opens the way for a fuller recognition of materiality, of the troubling bodies and substances, images, and efficacious things that act on devotees with a force to be reckoned. (David Morgan Material Religion)
About the Author
Robert A. Orsi is Professor of Religious Studies and History and Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies at Northwestern University.
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Over the years, I took five English courses from Fr. Ong at Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, and I have written about his thought extensively. Perhaps I should also say that my entire formal education, including my post-doctoral studies of philosophy and theology when I was in the Jesuits for about eight years, was in Roman Catholic educational institutions.
Before Ong proceeded to Harvard to undertake his doctoral studies in English, almost all of his formal education had been in American Catholic educational institutions, except for one year in a public elementary school in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Nevertheless, Ong did not grow up in what certain American Catholic sociologists have characterized as the “ghetto” culture of American Catholicism (their term), because his father and his father’s family were all white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). His Ong family ancestors left East Anglia on the same ship that brought Roger Williams to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. (However, at that time, their family name was spelled “Onge”; it is probably related to the English name “Yonge.”)
In his new book History and Presence (Cambridge, MA; and London, UK: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), Robert A. Orsi in history at Northwestern University says in an endnote, “This chapter [chapter four] also takes inspiration from Walter J. Ong, SJ, The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967)” (page 292). So Orsi is not entirely unfamiliar with Ong’s thought, but he does not in his text work with Ong’s thought. No doubt Orsi is free to choose not to work with Ong’s thought.
But Ong’s multivariate account of our Western cultural history is deeply relevant to Orsi’s interest in the Roman Catholic theological doctrine of presence. For a study of that doctrine, see Fr. Robert Sokolowski’s book Eucharistic Presence: A Study in the Theology of Disclosure (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1993).
Where to start? Because Orsi discusses the view of comics expressed certain American Catholics, let me start with Ong’s article “The Comics and the Super State: Glimpses Down the Back Alleys of the Mind” in the Arizona Quarterly, volume 1, number 3 (Autumn 1945): pages 34-48. Ong’s article was twice written up in Time (Oct. 22, 1945, pages 67-68; and Nov. 5, 1945, page 23).
From the early 1940s onward, Ong regularly published pieces about popular culture in the Jesuit-sponsored magazine America and elsewhere. In Orsi’s bibliography of primary sources, he lists eight articles in America, but none by Ong. Between 1939 and 1996, Ong published twenty-three pieces in twenty-five issues of America, including twelve essays (including two two-part essays), nine book reviews, one poem, and one letter.
Granted, for understandable reasons, Orsi had to delimit his study and be selective in choosing which sources to use. But his selectivity strikes me as problematic.
Next, I want to mention that I took Ong’s course Practical Criticism: Prose at SLU in the spring semester of 1966. Among other works on the list of required readings was the American Jesuit classicist William F. Lynch’s The Image Industries (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1959) – in addition to the Canadian Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan’s book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951) and The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962). At the time, I was impressed with Lynch’s 1959 book, and to this day I remain impressed with it.
But I want to note that Orsi does not mention any books by Lynch or McLuhan. Lynch published seven books. In the main titles or subtitles of five of them, the words image, images, and imagination appear seven times. In the new book Building the Human City: William F. Lynch’s Ignatian Spirituality for Public Life (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications/ Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2016), John F. Kane in religious studies at Regis University, the Jesuit university in Denver, reports that Lynch’s books were written up in 1960 in Time and in the New York Times Book Review (pages 6-7). Surely Lynch’s work is relevant to certain themes Orsi discusses.
But enough! Suffice it to say that there are various other points in Ong’s extensive body of work that can deepen our understanding of the inner experience of presence.