Sonia Velázquez

Position title: Solmsen Fellow (2018-2019)

Religious Studies; Comparative Literature, Indiana University-Bloomington

Portrait image of Sonia Velázquez wearing a black shirt in front of white book shelf

Promiscuous Grace: Reimagining Beauty and Holiness with Saint Mary of Egypt

In Promiscuous Grace: Reimagining Religion and Beauty with St. Mary of Egypt I study the immensely popular story of Mary of Egypt’s conversion from promiscuous twelve-year old to venerable anchorite as mediated by her interaction with an image of the Virgin Mary. This figure, though rarely studied from a theoretical perspective, emerges in this project as a productive transhistorical vehicle for reflecting on the role of beauty and appearances in works that are ostensibly about asceticism and Christian doctrine. Through the study of three instantiations of the legend from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries, I show how these works—on the page, on the stage, and on canvas—engage openly with questions of generosity and promiscuity, belief and appearances, mediation and immediacy, feminine charm and the grotesque. Examining how the legend of this saint mediates the presence of the divine in this world, I ultimately seek to recuperate for grace its double meaning as the gratuitous gift of salvation (holiness) and the allure of the senses (beauty) as well as to challenge our contemporary understandings of hagiography as synonymous with uncritical acclamation, of belief as the static acceptance of dogma, and of beauty as that which “one does not have to work at” (Arthur Danto).

Sonia Velázquez has a joint appointment as Assistant Professor in the departments of Religious Studies and Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research focuses on the intersection of aesthetics and religion, especially in the medieval and early modern periods in Europe. She has co-edited a volume on pastoral and the humanities with Mathilde Skoie (Exeter/Bristol Press, 2007) and a Critical Cluster on Giorgio Agamben and early modern Spanish poetry for MLN in 2017. Her publications include articles on Pascal’s wager and theatrical stagings of conversion; on style as a vehicle of political and ethical engagement with questions of politics and anthropology in Cervantes’ Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda; on poetry and hospitality in Théophile Viau’s La maison de Sylvie, and on the fallacy of secularization in Alexandre Hardy’s stage adaptation of Cervantes’ short story La fuerza de la sangre. Her article, “Didacticism and the Ends of Storytelling: Walter Benjamin’s Medievalism and Forms of Knowledge in Sendebar” received the Allen and Judy Shoaf Award for the Best Essay Published in Exemplaria (2013).