Religious Festive Practices in Boston's North End

Ephemeral Identities in an Italian American Community

By Augusto Ferraiuolo

Subjects: Italian American Studies, Cultural Studies, Anthropology Of Religion, History, American Studies
Series: SUNY series in Italian/American Culture
Paperback : 9781438428109, 307 pages, July 2009
Hardcover : 9781438428093, 307 pages, July 2009

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. The North End
2. Diasporas, Ethnic Enclaves, and Transnational Perspectives
3. The Societies of Saints
4. The Festive Practices
5. Ephemeral Identities

A comprehensive cultural and historical portrait of Italian American identities in Boston’s North End.


In this lively and accessible book, Augusto Ferraiuolo examines the many religious festivals in the Italian American community of Boston's North End. Using interviews, participant observation, and visual data, Ferraiuolo creates a vivid picture of how, over the course of a summer season, a number of religious festive practices are organized by multiple, overlapping, and, to some extent, competing voluntary organizations. The central argument that emerges is that the community uses these festivals, in part, to help maintain and establish a variety of identities, and that these identities are multistranded, complex, shifting, and negotiated—and thus ephemeral. In addition, Ferraiuolo shows in detail how individuals negotiate and construct identities as Italian Americans, Scaccianesi, Neapolitans, Catholics, and others, within the context of these celebrations. He also introduces a creative and original metaphor for understanding the ways in which selfhood is constructed, arguing that contemporary identities function as hypertext, in the manner of web-based technologies, linking to one another and building upon each other as constantly evolving "technologies of the self. "

Augusto Ferraiuolo is Lecturer and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at Boston University.


"…this ambitious work provides critical research to scholars and Italian Americans … Ferraiuolo's observations capture the human story of how North Enders, despite the loss of traditions transported at the turn of the century from rural southern Italian villages, remained faithful to their distant ancestry … The story Ferraiuolo brings to light … is a human one. " — Journal of American Ethnic History

"…Ferraiuolo explores the complex and vibrant community life of Italian Americans living in Boston's North End. Although he focuses on the cycle of religious festivals that spans every weekend of the summer, Ferraiuolo persuasively demonstrates the far-reaching effects of these performances beyond the periods of their enactment … the book is a contribution to the anthropological literature on ethnic identity and festive practices. " — Italian American Review

"This book is well written, well organized, and meticulously researched, with great attention to historical, political, and contextual factors. Not since Robert Orsi's The Madonna of 115th Street has a scholarly work captured so much of the Italian American experience in such depth and detail. " — Sabina Magliocco, author of The Two Madonnas: The Politics of Festival in a Sardinian Community