Dr Ottavia Paternò

Dr Ottavia Paternò

Visiting Fellow

Department of Anthropology

English, French, Italian, Spanish
Key Expertise
Argentina, Christianity

About me

Ottavia is a social anthropologist specialising in the ethnography of intimacy, religion and everyday life in urban Argentina. Her research focuses on domestic Christianity through the study of ritual practice, life histories and local cultures of relatedness. She completed her PhD at the EHESS in Paris in 2021 and is is currently a Visiting Fellow at LSE, funded by a Fyssen Foundation Postdoctoral Grant. 

Her doctoral research was grounded in 18 months of fieldwork in Salta, Argentina, where she worked with a group of rural-to-urban migrant women studying the close relationship they established with the Virgin Mary. In particular, her work highlighted how the Virgin Mary is perceived as an idealised mother contributing to the production of family life on the basis of a local kinship model based on reciprocal action and care. Through the observation of two different devotional practices – the daily rosary and the cult of the Bolivian Virgen de Urkupiña­ – she was able to show how this intimate relationship with the Virgin Mary allows people to overcome the conflicts of the unstable and contested religious domain they live in.

Her thesis, entitled “Living with the Virgin Mary. Domestic relations to the Virgin Mary in a contested Christianity (Salta Capital, Argentina)” is the basis of her current book project. 

At LSE, Ottavia is developing a postdoctoral project on the Catholic rosary and the religious use of imagination to build an intimacy with the divine and shape a moral self. In Salta, Argentina, the rosary is used as a ritual tool to establish an personal relationship with the Virgin Mary. Its practice is based on an exercise of the imagination that generates the creation of an inner image of the Virgin endowed with intentionality and agentivity, and on a sharing of emotion with this figure that produces the formation of a Christian feminine ethos. Proposing a methodology centred on the inner experience of meditation and a relational approach to ritual actions, this project focuses in particular on the ritual use of imagination, the formation of visionary mental images and the learning of religion, in order to reveal the mechanisms at work in the meditated rosary leading to the imputation of the presence of the Virgin Mary and the creation of an affective bond with her.

Expertise Details

Argentina; anthropology of Christianity; ritual; kinship; reciprocity; gender; imagination

Selected publications

Selected Publications

Forthcoming : You Have to Enter the Scene. Ritual Imagination and Memory in the Catholic rosary. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics. 79-80.

Forthcoming : Le miracle au quotidien. La relation rituelle à la Vierge d’Urkupiña en Argentine.InA.L. Gutierrez Choquevilca (ed.) Christianismes Autochtones, EPHE.

Book Project

(Manuscript in Preparation) Living with the Virgin Mary. Intimacy, miracles and the problem of orthodoxy in urban Argentina.