Current Research

Robert Orsi’s work looks at the lived worlds of American Catholics in the twentieth century, and from this perspective he also frames questions about American religious history and American history broadly and about the study of religion.

His major current projects are:

The Religious/Spiritual Lives of Adult Survivors of Clerical Sexual Abuse

This project begins with the premise that children and adolescents abused by Catholic priests were “abused in a Catholic way,” as one survivor put it in a conversation. It goes on to explore both the religious contexts of abuse in twentieth century U.S. Catholicism and its religious or spiritual consequences in the lives of survivors over three time periods: childhood in American Catholic parishes in the 1930s-1970s; the “years of silence” (1960s-1970s), when survivors kept their abuse secret while contending with its manifold consequences; and 1980 to the present, when the extent of the abuse crisis in global Catholicism became clear and survivors found their voices and began telling their stories. The project, tentatively titled “Violence, Memory, and Religion among Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse,” is based on extensive fieldwork among survivors of clerical sexual abuse, as well as in historical study of Catholic childhoods in the United States in the twentieth century; Catholic theology; the modern histories of “trauma” and “evil”; and of the array of therapeutic modalities available to contemporary Americans.

The Lived History of the Second Vatican Council

The revolutionary transformations in Catholic life in the 1960s and 1970s constituted an epochal era in modern world history. The time is often identified with reference to one of its signal events, the Second Vatican Council. The premise of this project is that the global impact of the Council must be approached from the perspective of how Catholics living in radically different social, political, and cultural contexts around the world took up its challenges and mandates. A volume co-edited with Professors Kathleen Sprows Cummings and Timothy M. Matovina will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.