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photo of Mulberry Street, New York, undated (1900 ca.)
History & Politics, Italian American Issues, Literature

The “Discovery” of Religious Freedom

The Italian Immigrants in the United States From the "Confessional Order" to the First Amendment

October 18, 2022
6:30 pm

In accordance with NYU Covid Safety Precautions, in order to attend in person, all audience members MUST:
– show a valid government-issued photo ID
– show proof of being fully vaccinated and boosted (if eligible)

Masks are encouraged, but no longer mandatory

The event will also be broadcast on our
YouTube, Facebook, and website


The “Discovery” of Religious Freedom
The Italian Immigrants in the United States
from the “Confessional Order” to the First Amendment

A lecture by
Massimo Di Gioacchino
Tiro a Segno Visiting Professor in Italian American Studies at NYU


For the millions of Italian immigrants who arrived in the United States between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the religious life of the American metropolis referred to a totally new model of society. As soon as they landed, even the poorest and most illiterate among them would soon become aware of a series of “facts” that characterized the new society in which they lived. Among these, there was first of all the absence in the United States of the “confessional order” based on the monopoly of the Catholic Church and the political role of the clergy, which they had continued to experience, especially in the South, even after the unification of Italy and the breach of Porta Pia (1870). The absence of a political, hierarchical, and clerical church was not filled by another form of confessionalism, but was replaced by the presence of a public and free religious life, the result of “that broad and friendly tolerance that is typical of the American people” (Alberto Pecorini, 1906), where citizens were constantly called to participate and contribute, even financially.

In this lecture, Prof. Massimo Di Gioacchino will explore the confusion, the astonishment, but also the sense of “discovery” that many Italian immigrants experienced in America. By entering a Protestant church in Manhattan or reading the Gospel for the first time, by democratically electing a religious minister, or by attending an evangelical theological school, the Italians progressively abandoned the “confessional order” they had experienced for centuries and fully became part of a “free market” of religious ideas and experiences that New York and other American cities represented at the time.