Santa Muerte is a contradictory, transgressive, immoral saint that is venerated and beloved by millions. Her cult following has mushroomed over the course of the past decade or so. She is unsanctioned by the Catholic Church as well as by the Mexican government. What causes people who claim to be practicing Catholics to continue to venerate her despite the official condemnation of her cult, and what is the cause of her immense popularity? I seek to interpret the cult of Santa Muerte through Georges Bataille’s Theory of Religion. In Bataille’s Theory of Religion, he explains how people are searching for lost intimacy with the sacred. By “the sacred,” he is referring to a state of consciousness in which humans experience a continuity in which they do not distinguish themselves as separate from everything else. People are only able to obtain momentary states of continuous consciousness through sacrifice, ritual, and subverting morality. Although Bataille wrote a complex and fascinating theory of religion, he does not test his theory on any specific real-life religious phenomenon. Through interpreting the cult of Santa Muerte using Bataille’s Theory of Religion, I seek to test his theory on a real-life religious phenomenon in order to explore the utility and limitations of his transgressive theory of religion.
Pinochet gained power in 1973 in a coup that followed a period of rapid democratization that had culminated in Salvador Allende’s socialist democracy. In response to society’s new focus on equality during this period, the Church developed a progressive social doctrine that sided with the oppressed masses who had gained power for the first time. When the military junta took power, the Church suddenly had to choose between its new democratic ideals and its historic Latin American strategy of siding with the group in power. Its indecision resulted in a painfully divided compromise between two clearly opposed sides of the Church hierarchy. The upper echelon of the hierarchy, by remaining generally cooperative with the military regime, ensured institutional survival. The lower echelon of the hierarchy, by opposing the regime, kept the Church relevant to the masses that would someday regain power. The disunity within the Chilean hierarchy allowed for new and necessary flexibility that ensured both the Church’s institutional and popular survival under authoritarian rule. However, it was the careful strategy of Archbishop Silva that maintained the necessary unity that allowed the Church to utilize its internal factionalization to survive both the aggression of the dictatorship and the needs of its congregation, and ultimately maintain a critical degree of unity.
This thesis presents a history of instances of popular Irish rebellion against and co-optation of the Catholic Church along with examples of Catholic influence in “secular” society to argue for a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the Catholic Church. The international shock following the 2015 and 2018 referenda to legalize same-sex marriage and repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, respectively, was in part a product of a tradition of scholastic discourse which relies on mass attendance and clerical participation data to draw conclusions about the state of Catholicism in Ireland. This method erases the tradition of resistance to Catholic Church mandate seen throughout Irish history and collapses allegiance to Catholicism into the act of active participation in the Church. This thesis argues for a distinction between the Church hierarchy’s mandate and allegiance to Catholicism and contextualizes recent progressive movements in an often-ignored history of activism.