My teaching philosophy rests on: 1) teaching both content and skills; 2) in an active and varied environment that is attentive to different levels of learning; 3) at a level of intensity and engagement that is both rigorous and accessible with the possibility of success; and 4) in such a way that I model lifelong enthusiasm for learning and respect for the dignity of other human beings.
In general, my courses are about the role religion plays in two major areas of life: 1) the construction and maintenance of ethnic identity, especially Latinx identity; and 2) health, sickness, and healing. In what I think of as a two-course sequence, REL 217 Latino/a Religions and REL 232 Religions in Latin America, students are introduced to both primary and secondary readings about the religious history and the experiences of practices of Latinx and Latin American people throughout the Western Hemisphere. My course REL 350 Religions on the Move takes this kind of inquiry to the next level in a graduate-style reading seminar where students read several monographs about religious movements in the Americas and carry out their own research on related topics. Since information literacy is one of my major foci, these courses incorporate library research, reading analysis, and opportunities for written argumentation. My course REL 223 Religious Healing and Health surveys various religious healing traditions in the first part of the course. Later portions of the course help students, especially those who are considering health professions, to consider how religious beliefs and practices influence health outcomes in clinical settings. For me, REL 223 is a great example of Lafayette’s core strengths in both humanistic inquiry and the STEM fields—students get to think critically about religion, culture, and history in relation to health care.
Finally, I also frequently teach REL 102 Contemporary Religious Issues. In this intro course, students are exposed to primary source material that expresses religious viewpoints and convictions about various hot-button contemporary social issues, including abortion, the environment, racism, and immigration. My goal with this class is to help students grow their understanding and form their own judgments about the role of religion in our public life.
Latinx religious history and the study of religion and health care/medicine are very important. Latinos/as are the largest racial/ethnic minority in the United States and, in some parts of the country, make up the majority of the population. Large parts of the U.S. West and Southwest used to be parts of Mexico, and before that, the Spanish Empire. Our national heritage identity is and should be recognized more as Latino/a; given that fact, it is essential that our students know the Latinx history of the United States and the important role that religion plays in that history. Studying that history invites students to consider the ways that imperialism and racial prejudice continue to shape our contemporary national life. Likewise, understanding the cultural and religious aspects of health and healing not only promotes Lafayette College’s overall goals of critical engagement with cultural, religious, ethnic, and viewpoint diversity, it also better prepares those of our students who plan on pursuing careers in the health professions.
My Research Interests
Most of my research to date has been focused on Mexican American religious and traditional healing. Combinations of Spanish Catholic Indigenous traditions over several centuries of imperialism, colonization, and evangelization have led to a rich set of healing and medical practices throughout Latin America often called curanderismo. Mexican Americans’ experience as a minority community in the United States has impacted many facets of their religious lives, including the ongoing and evolving practice of curanderismo.
My research methods are both historical and ethnographic. This means that I do a lot of my research in historical archives that gather printed and other sorts of material about the past. I also spend time at sites of religious healing observing and talking with participants and stakeholders.
I have been especially interested in understanding the importance of Mexican American religions in the United States in general. My first book, Border Medicine (NYU Press, 2014), explores Mexican American curanderismo and shows how this tradition has had an influence not only on Latinx communities, but also among many Anglo Americans. My second book, The Healing Power of the Santuario de Chimayó (NYU Press, 2017), looks at an important site of Catholic pilgrimage in northern New Mexico that is known for miraculous healing. My book tells the history of this place and shows how various populations have made meaning and found healing there. My third book, Mexican American Religions: An Introduction (Routledge, 2022), relates the historical development of Mexican American religion from the colonial period to the present.
I am currently working on two new projects. The first is a book of essays that I am co-editing tentatively titled Empire and Care: Religion in the American West since 1848. This book will likely be completed and available to the public by the end of 2024 or early in 2025 and, as the title indicates, examines religion in the American West from a variety of perspectives. Overall, the book argues that the U.S. West has been a multifaceted place where the situation of U.S. imperial expansion necessitated various kinds of religious caregiving and caretaking. My second project is for what I hope will become another monograph sometime down the road. In it, I return to my core interest in Mexican American religious health and healing by analyzing the role that 20th-century public health initiatives had on Latinx religious healing traditions. This book will allow me to think and write about the intersection of science and religion and also about how the ways the spread of scientific health care played a part in the racialization of Mexican Americans and others. (In this case, ‘racialization’ means the process by which a group of people comes to be considered to have distinct and indelible racial characteristics.)
I was a Latin American studies major in college and was able to spend two years working and living in Argentina. I’ve also lived for many years in states with large Mexican American populations: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas. A lot of people don’t realize this, but there are 37 million Mexican Americans in the United States—roughly 11% of the national population. It is my conviction that knowing Mexican American history and understanding aspects of Mexican American culture, including religion, is absolutely necessary for responsible and engaged contemporary citizenship in this country. Likewise, understanding religious approaches to health and healing is necessary for public and individual health.
Lafayette has supported my research with generous research leaves and sabbaticals, as well as with a few small grants for research travel to archives. Historical and religious studies research and writing is typically done alone, but I have had the opportunity to work with two exceptional EXCEL Scholars who have both helped me with my projects and learned about the ins and outs of humanities research and writing. I have grown at Lafayette as a one-on-one mentor for student researchers and enjoy helping students do in-depth religious studies research.
Awards and Honors
Distinguished Teaching Fellowship, award by the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship, Lafayette College (2019-2020)
Paul J. Foik Award for Best Book on the Catholic Southwest, Texas Catholic Historical Society (2019)
Marquis Distinguished Teaching Award, Lafayette College (2017)
Young Scholars in American Religion Fellowship, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI (2014-2016)
My Personal Interests/Community Work
I enjoy reading, cooking, hiking, and knitting.
2022Mexican American Religions: An Introduction. Routledge.
2017The Healing Power of the Santuario de Chimayó: America’s
Miraculous Church. New York University Press.
Winner: 2019 Paul J. Foik Award, Best Book on the Catholic Southwest
2014Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American
Curanderismo. New York University Press.
Peer-Reviewed Articles/Book Chapters
Forthcoming“Supporting All Mentees through Inclusive Mentorship.” Co-authors: Tracey Marcella Addy, Nie Antie Addy, and Khadijah
A. Mitchell. New Directions for Teaching and Learning.
“Crucifix and Dirt: Catholic and Indigenous Origins of the Holy
Earth of the Santuario de Chimayó.” In Landscapes of Christianity: Destination, Temporality, Transformation, edited by James S. Bielo and Amos S. Ron. London: Bloomsbury, 60-76.
“The Shifting Catholicism of the St. Patrick’s Battalion.” American
Catholic Studies 132, no. 3: 35-51.
“Competing Polities of Church and State in Mexican Texas.”
Journal of Church and State 62, no. 4: 671-689.
“Owning the Church: The 1929 Sale of the Santuario de Chimayó.”
Western Historical Quarterly 48, no. 1: 23-42
“The Interweaving of Pilgrimage and Tourism at the Santuario de
Chimayó.” U.S. Catholic Historian 34, no. 3: 127-145.