Professor of History and Sterling M. McMurrin Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utah, Colleen is one of the foremost experts of religion in the United States and its effect on American life. Her most recent book, published by Basic Books, is The Spirit of Vatican II, and uses her own mother's life as a way of tracing the impact of Catholic changes on the American faithful. Her book Material Christianity urged scholars to look at the "stuff" of religion for new evidence on how people live their faith. Picturing Faith: Photography and the Great Depression was Professor McDannell's third book with Yale University Press. Funded with a Guggenheim Fellowship and a three-year Lilly Foundation grant, Picturing Faith discusses American religion as captured through the lenses of some of greatest photographers of the twentieth century. Professor McDannell has also curated a four year travelling exhibition of photography related to the book and lectured extensively on religion throughout the county. Professor McDannell has also recently completed an edited volume, Catholics in the Movies published by Oxford University Press.
Religion in America has always been much more than church on Sunday. People interact on a daily basis with objects that reflect their faith and religious lives. Americans like stuff, we like signs of abundance, and homes that are colorful and diverse. This is as true in our spiritual lives as in our secular pursuits. So, what does material religion encompass? Everything from a lamp shaped like the Virgin Mary to a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet.
The visual depiction of religion in America is no less rich. In 1938, the Spencer Tracy film Boys Town helped bring Catholics into the mainstream of American life. The recent blockbuster The Passion has reignited debates about the secular versus religious in our nation's life. The Farm Security Administration's photographs of average Americans engaged in spiritual pursuits was designed as propoganda to support the New Deal. In short, our history revolves around religious objects in an unique and ever-evolving way.
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