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I study the religious culture of the early modern Catholic world, with particular emphasis on the Spanish monarchy. My research focuses on saints, sanctity, ritual, and image during the confessional and political upheavals of the 16th and 17th centuries from Spain to Sicily to the American colonies.
My book, Saint and Nation: Santiago, Teresa of Avila, and Plural Identities in Early Modern Spain, offers a much-needed account of national patron sainthood in early modern Europe. It assesses the crucial role that sanctity played in the symbolic representation of the nation through analysis of an extended case study—the controversy that arose in early 17th-century Spain when St. Teresa of Avila was elevated to co-patron saint alongside the traditional patron, Santiago. The widespread interest exhibited by elite Castilians in the choice of a new spiritual representative reflects larger transformations occurring throughout Spain, which was experiencing a profound shift in zeitgeist. The fiscal burdens and moral complications of empire, along with the changing political situation in Europe, created instability of identity and a general crisis amongst contemporary Castilians. I demonstrate that the battle between the saints reveals how understandings of the nation were expressed and experienced by monarch and town, center and periphery.
My new project, Black Saints: Race, Gender, and Sanctity in the Early Modern Catholic World, investigates the rise and circulation of devotion to sub-Saharan African saints in the early modern Catholic world. From Ethiopia to the Catholic Mediterranean and across the ocean to the Americas, black saints had the potential to problematize, or transform, the existing discourse of sanctity as European and white. The story of the progress of black saints throughout the increasingly globalized Catholic world provides a microcosmic look at the multifaceted ways black Africans became a part of Europe and its earliest colonies in Latin America, and reveals the complexity with which Europeans responded and adapted to the black population in its midst. I supply the first comprehensive study of black saints and holy people in the early modern period, focusing on the most-promoted black saints: Moses, Elesban, Ifigenia, Melchior/Baltasar, Benedict of Palermo, and Antonio de Caltagirona. I expand out from these core saints to other holy people of sub-Saharan African descent who developed devotional followings: Teresa Juliana de Santo Domingo, Ursula de Jesús, Martín de Porres, Juana Esperanza de San Alberto, and more. The project makes extensive use of interdisciplinary sources, including hagiographic texts, theater, and sacred art.
Saint and Nation: Santiago, Teresa of Avila, and Plural Identities in Early Modern Spain
2011, Penn State University Press