Susan Swetnam

Friends Above: A Humanist Perspective on Catholic Devotion to the Saints

Based on the disciplines of the history and psychology of religion, and on social history, this talk traces the evolution of the distinctive Catholic practice of devotion to the saints, a much misunderstood and resonant aspect of human faith across the centuries.  A local, informal phenomenon in the early church, the practice of honoring saints has evolved in ways that make it a touchstone for larger religious evolution and controversy, evoking questions of central authority and orthodoxy, “folk  Catholicism,” gender issues, twentieth century reforms, and contemporary globalization of Roman Catholicism. Recent scholarship and numerous examples and anecdotes (some of them humorous) illustrate the presentation.  Though the speaker is a liberal Catholic (and the author of a book about the saints that has become a best-seller for Loyola Press, Chicago), the talk takes an inquisitive, research-based, humanities-focused perspective rather than a devotional, sectarian one.

PLEASE NOTE: If a group is interested in a focus on women saints as they relate to gender history in the Catholic church in particular, the author can adapt the talk with advance notice at the time of scheduling.