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David Kertzer

David Kertzer

David Kertzer

Faculty Fellow
Paul Dupee University Professor of Social Science
Professor of Anthropology and Italian Studies


David I. Kertzer has been the Dupee University Professor of Social Science since coming to Brown, in 1992. He is also professor of anthropology and Italian studies.

His books include Comrades and Christians: Religion and Political Struggle in Communist Italy (Cambridge University Press, 1980); Ritual, Politics, and Power (Yale University Press, 1988); Sacrificed for Honor: Italian Infant Abandonment and the Politics of Reproductive Control (Beacon Press, 1993); Politics and Symbols: The Italian Communist Party and the Fall of Communism (Yale University Press, 1996); The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (Knopf, 1997) (finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction); The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism (Knopf, 2001) (published in Italian, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Brazilian, Polish, Hungarian, and other editions); Prisoner of the Vatican (Houghton Mifflin, 2004); Amalia's Tale (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), and the forthcoming The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (Random House, Feb. 2014).

In 2005 Kertzer was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is past president of the Social Science History Association and the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, and served as provost of Brown University from 2006 to 2011.



The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. New York: Random House, in press, publication date February 2014. Italian edition Rizzoli; Romanian edition Editura Rao.

"The United States, the Holy See, and Italy's racial laws," (with Alessandro Visani). Pp. 327-41 in Charles Gallagher, David Kertzer, and Alberto Melloni, eds., Pius XI and America. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2012.

"Italy's Path to Very Low Fertility: The Adequacy of Economic and Second Demographic Transition Theories," (with Michael White, Laura Bernardi, and Giuseppe Gabrielli). European Journal of Population 25(1): 89-115, 2009.

"Social Anthropology and Social Science History." Social Science History 33:1:1-16 (2009).

"An imperfect contraceptive society: Fertility and contraception in Italy." (with Alessandra Gribaldo, and Maya Judd). Population and Development Review, 35(3): 551-584 (2009).

Amalia's Tale: A Peasant's Fight for Justice in 19th Century Italy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Italian edition Rizzoli (La Sfida di Amalia, 2010); Brazilian edition by Rocco (A Historia de Amalia, 2010).


Anthropology 1900: History of Anthropology/Anthropological Theories

Fall 2013
An examination of the history of anthropology and an exploration of the major contemporary controversies in the field. The first half of the course examines the major theoretical strands that marked anthropology as it developed from the nineteenth through the twentieth century. The second half looks at a series of heated controversies in the field dealing with central questions of theory, method, ethics, and politics.

Italian Studies 2220: New Perspectives on Fascism

Fall 2013
This graduate seminar examines the new light shed by recent research on Italian Fascism. In doing so it places Italy's Fascist ventennio (1922-45) in a larger European context, intellectually, socially, culturally, and politically. Among the questions to be addressed are: What explains Mussolini's rise to power and his ability to stay in power? To what extent did Italians become Fascist? What was the role of cultural hegemony as opposed to the use and threat of force in ensuring popular allegiance to the regime? What role did the Church play in supporting Fascist rule in Italy? Could the Fascist regime be properly understood as clerico-Fascist? Attention will be paid to the role of journalists and the media, writers, intellectuals, and the arts. We will also examine new understandings of the ways in which Fascism reconceptualized gender and altered gender roles. In dealing with these questions, comparisons with the German Nazi case will be pursued, and the direct links between Italian Fascism and Nazism examined. Students who do not read Italian will be expected to utilize materials in German or other relevant languages in their research paper for the seminar.

Anthropology 1910G: Senior Seminar: Politics and Symbols

Spring 2014
It is impossible to understand politics without understanding the key role played by symbols, myth, and ritual. This seminar provides the theoretical background – drawing heavily on anthropology, but also on a variety of other fields – to examine how political actors manipulate symbols and devise and utilize myths and rituals to win support. Through such symbolic activities, political reality is created and political groups formed, whether aimed at defending the status quo or overthrowing it.

News|Recent News

Kertzer book to be made into Spielberg film.

April 21, 2014

David Kertzer talks about his excitement at the announcement that Steven Spielberg plans to make a film based on his 1997 nonfiction book “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.”


Conference Planned on Vatican's Impact on World in the 1920s and '30s; Call for Papers

April 8, 2010

The Vatican's opening in 2006 of its archives for the period of the papacy of Pius XI (1922-1939) has prompted a burst of historical research which is not only shedding new light on the role of the Holy See and the Church in this period of extraordinary political and social turmoil, but also on some of the major world events of this period. In an effort to bring scholars from the many different countries who are working in these archives together and to highlight this emerging work to the broader scholarly community, a number of institutions have come together to create a research network. The principal sponsors of this initiative are the Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose Giovanni XIII in Bologna; the University of Münster; the École Française de Rome; the Biblioteca Ambrosiana of Milan; and Brown University (USA). Following a June 2009 conference in Milan and a March 2010 conference in Münster, a conference is planned for October 28-30, 2010 at Brown University.