Accepted Paper:

How to read Catholic kitsch  

Author:

Leonard Norman Primiano (Cabrini University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will specifically examine Catholic kitsch, defining the term, discussing its sources in Catholic devotionalism, and highlighting its energetic use and importance within the vernacular religious lives of contemporary Catholics.

Paper long abstract:

The recent special issue of the journal Material Religion on "Key Words in Material Religion" (March 2011) contained discreet essays on such terms as "Sign," "Thing," "Icon/Image," and "Display," but no separate consideration of a most significant expression of religious imagery in the lives of many Catholics and Christians: religious kitsch. This paper will specifically examine Catholic kitsch, defining the term, discussing its sources in Catholic devotionalism, and highlighting its energetic use and importance within the vernacular religious lives of contemporary Catholics. While religious illiteracy in terms of content knowledge of religious traditions is on the rise, an equally significant visual religious illiteracy is leaving especially younger Catholics with the ability to locate images on their digital conveniences, but with little knowledge of the context and meaning of the images they find. Mass produced and reasonably priced, items of iconographic kitsch become for some the only link they have to Christianity's abundant material and visual past. Critiques of Catholic kitsch involving cultural, aesthetic, and ethical approaches will be noted, ethnographic work with contemporary Roman Catholics highlighted, and the presentation profusely illustrated.

Panel P20
Fluidity, mobility and versatility of the sacred