Robert Orsi is Professor of Religious Studies and History and Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies at Northwestern University. He researches, writes, and teaches about religion in the United States, int he past and in contemporary contexts, with a particular focus on American Catholicism. He is also interested in how “religion” developed as a subject of inquiry from early modernity to the present and in questions of method and theory in the study of religion. His scholarship draws on history, ethnography, religious studies, and psychological theories of imagination and of intersubjectivity to study the religious practices of men, women, and children.



November 24, 2019 — Response, “Beyond Reductionism: Applying and Adjusting Robert Orsi’s ‘Metric of Presence’ Across Religions,” American Academy of Religion, San Diego   (Link to paper: Beyond Reductionism AAR 2019)

October 15, 2019Kirk Lecture, “The Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis in Global Perspective” University of Denver



October 3-4, 2019 — Keynote Speaker, Ethnographies of God conference, University of Toronto





September 25-26, 2019 — Keynote Lecture, “The Sexual Dynamics of Modern Catholicism,” Luther and Sex Workshop, Helsinki Col­le­gium




“Painted into a Corner by the Blood of the Lord,” Contending Modernities, University of Notre Dame, April 29, 2020






“Joliet Priest Accused Of Sex Abuse Moves Next To Catholic Charities Office,” CBS Chicago, September 27, 2018.


“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something dead,” The Immanent Frame, September 21, 2018.

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, which opened this past spring and will soon close, comes in the middle of the worst crisis in the history of modern Catholicism. … Yet, nowhere in the exhibition is any of this acknowledged. The exhibition’s curator, Andrew Bolton, seems to have wanted to quarantine Heavenly Bodies from the crisis raging around it. ‘There will always be viewers,’ he preemptively cautioned readers of the New York Times, ‘who want to reduce [an exhibition] to a political polemic.'” Read more here.


Catholics in the Vatican II Era: Local Histories of a Global Event. Edited by Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Timothy Matovina, and Robert Orsi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Debates about the meaning of Vatican II and its role in modern Catholic and global history have largely focused on close theological study of its authoritative documents. This volume of newly commissioned essays contends that the historical significance of the council is best examined where these messages encountered the particular circumstances of the modern world: in local dioceses around the world. Each author examines the social, political, and domestic circumstances of a diocese, asking how they produced a distinctive lived experience of the Council and its aftermath. How did the Council change relationships and institutions? What was it like for laymen and women, for clergy, for nuns, for powerful first-world dioceses and for those in what we now know as the global south? A comparative reading of these chapters affords insights into these dimensions of Vatican II, and will spark a new generation of research into the history of twentieth-century Catholicism as both international and local.


“What is Catholic About the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis?” In The Anthropology of Catholicism: A Reader, edited by Kristin Norget, Valentina Napolitano, and Maya Mayblin, 282-292. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017.

Aimed at a wide audience of readers, The Anthropology of Catholicism is the first companion guide to this burgeoning field within the anthropology of Christianity. Bringing to light Catholicism’s long but comparatively ignored presence within the discipline of anthropology, the book introduces readers to key studies in the field, as well as to current analyses on the present and possible futures of Catholicism globally. This reader provides both ethnographic material and theoretical reflections on Catholicism around the world, demonstrating how a revised anthropology of Catholicism can generate new insights and analytical frameworks that will impact anthropology as well as other disciplines.


“Every Question is Open: Looking for Paths Beyond the Clearing.” Critical Research on Religion, 4 no. 3, (November 2016): 260-266.