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Title: Formations of death : instrumentality, cult innovation, and the Templo Santa Muerte in Los Angeles
Author: Panfalone, Anthony Vincent
ISNI:       0000 0004 5369 4755
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis examines the Templo Santa Muerte in Los Angeles, a small, loosely organized spiritual group dedicated to the veneration of La Santa Muerte, or the Holy Death. Although originating in the urban barrios (neighborhoods) of Mexico City, Santa Muerte is now venerated in the southwestern United States as well, primarily among working-class Mexican Americans. Although Santa Muerte has been condemned by the Catholic clergy and vilified in mass media and popular culture for its ties to crime and gang violence, my fieldwork at the Templo Santa Muerte demonstrates that not all devotees of Santa Muerte can be characterized in this way. For Templo members, Santa Muerte is foremost a supernatural instrument whose appeal is in large part derived from her singular commitment to satisfying their corporeal needs and material wishes. While this quality is also attributed to many Catholic saints, Santa Muerte is believed to operate independently of Church orthodoxy and is viewed to be more powerful because of this. The Templo Santa Muerte, on the other hand, incorporates some features of formal Catholic liturgy while simultaneously organizing its services around the individual petitions of its members. In doing so, the Templo’s founders maintain an effective balance between liturgical features familiar to their mostly Catholic members and the fundamentally instrumental relationship they have with Santa Muerte. I argue that this balance is central to the appeal of the Templo and to the logic of its founders, who took advantage of the tolerant and diverse cultural atmosphere of Los Angeles to establish a spiritual enterprise that is truly the first of its kind. My methodology and theoretical approach acknowledges this, favoring an ethnographic examination grounded in respondent testimonies, direct observations, and relevant ethnohistorical interpretations of the symbolism and ritual behavior associated with Santa Muerte. At its most general, my analysis of the cult and Templo of Santa Muerte is framed around three separate but mutually interactive and informative dimensions: the instrumental and social manifestations of the cult and Templo, respectively, and the structuring influence that Catholic soteriology and cultural materialism exerts over both.
Supervisor: Parkin, Robert J. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Latin America ; Modern spiritual movements ; American studies ; Social anthropology ; Ethnographic practices ; Urban Studies ; Santa Muerte ; Cult of the Saints ; Folk Catholicism ; Mexico ; Syncretism ; Death