Appointed As

Division of the Humanities


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of Chicago

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Spanish, University of Virginia

Dissertation Abstract

"Figures of Death: Hybridity and Violence in la Santa Muerte"

Over the last twenty years, la Santa Muerte, or Holy Death, has been identified in the public imagination as a violent folk saint associated with the drug trade and society’s underbelly. This interpretation of la Santa Muerte has been promoted by popular culture and media. Rethinking la Santa Muerte through literary manifestations helps us gain a broader understanding of her history in print and image. My dissertation examines la Santa Muerte and her connections – and disconnections – to representations of death in lettered and visual acts from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries in Mexico. My project also illustrates the fundamental role of the Internet and social media in the construction of a community of followers and the cultural proliferation of la Santa Muerte at the turn of the twenty-first century. As a whole, my project expands on our understanding of la Santa Muerte and demonstrates how she has traversed temporal, literary, and physical borders.
Can we think of la Santa Muerte as more than a narco-saint? What is the relationship between literature, a fragmented body politic, violence, and the emergence of a privately venerated figure in public spaces? Is she a revolutionary figure to institutionalized Catholicism in Mexico and the Southwestern United States? My dissertation offers a diachronic study of la Santa Muerte that demonstrates how this figure of death has become an avatar of “past” religions and histories and questions the very distinction of a separate “past” and “present” in our conception of modern Mexico.