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Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint Paperback – January 3, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0199764655 ISBN-10: 0199764654 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


"Devoted to Death is an illuminating account of a lively, vibrant, multihued personification of death in Santa Muerte. Chesnut's text offers a unique and very personal portrait of Mexican culture... His expansive examination is interdisciplinary, involving diverse topics and methodologies. As such, this book has much to offer to scholarship in a variety of disciplines, such as Mexican anthropology, American anthropology, cultural studies, and
sociology, among others." --Journal of Religion and Culture

"Vividly written and cleverly organized, this wonderful book provides the most comprehensive and balanced account of Mexican and American devotion to this controversial folk saint." --Thomas A. Tweed, author of America's Church: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation's Capital

"Chesnut provides a much-needed analysis of the meteoric rise in devotion to La Santa Muerte, the saint of death whose appeal has attracted the attention of immigrants, jilted lovers, journalists, drug dealers, clergy, the infirmed, and a host of needy petitioners. This first book-length study of the devotion will be a foundational reference point for future researchers as the Santa Muerte phenomenon continues to evolve." --Timothy Matovina, author of Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America's Largest Church

"...intellegent, responsible, and sympathetic (although not uncritical) account of a significant and rising movement." --Books & Culture

"Chesnut's book is readable and accessible. Like one of the Santa Muerte-inspired films the author describes--indeed, like the kidnapper and murderer who first brought Saint Death into the public eye-- Devoted to Death is engrossing in a pulp fiction kind of way." --Wilson Quarterly

"This chatty, anecdotal work provides a basic introduction to the rapidly expanding cult of the Mexican folk saint Santa Muerte...Recommended>"--CHOICE

"Devoted to Death is fascinating, and a continuous revelation. The Skinny Lady may look sinister, and she's certainly not to be trifled with, but something about her is terribly human. As demigods go, she is the salt of the earth. Devotees feel a special intimacy with her because she is, as one of them told Chesnut, 'an old battle-axe, like us.' She also has appetites. Lighting a candle will get her attention, but she gets thirsty, and while water is acceptable, she prefers something stronger. She enjoys tobacco, but won't turn down marijuana." --Inside Higher Ed

"Andrew Chesnut's comprehensive survey of Mexican folk saint Santa Muerte is a detailed and highly entertaining read. Organized by the colors symbolizing her various powers, the book neatly encapsulates the themes significant to devotees. As a researcher with a keen interest in vernacular religion and folk saints in particular, I found this book strongly appealing and an informative, engaging excellent companion to Graziano's Cultures of Devotion and a very relevant read for scholars and students interested in Mexican druglore, faith healing, and vernacular religion." --Journal of Folklore Research

"Andrew Chesnut offers a comprehensive view of the cult to Saint Death, also known as the White Sister or the White Girl. ... Devoted to Death unpacks the meaning and origin of Saint Death's following. ... Consequently, anthropologists, sociologists of religion, criminologists, and immigration scholars would all benefit from reading Devoted to Death to get a full understanding of the breadth of Santa Muerte's cult." --Contemporary Sociology

"Chestnut contributes the first book-length study of Santa Muerte, Mexico's skeletal patroness of death... No doubt, this initial study has set the bar high for more research even while providing a book that is accessible to students and readers of all levels." --Religious Studies Review

About the Author

R. Andrew Chesnut is Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of Competitive Spirits: Latin America's New Religious Economy (O.U.P., 2003) and Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty (1997).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199764654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199764655
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 0.7 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By B.L. Phipps on April 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a lively book written by an author who is a renowned expert in Latin American religion with two previous excellent titles to his credit. He goes inside and takes the reader inside the world of those who resort to this popular but clearly marginal cult and its devotions. As in his previous works, the author approaches the world of the marginalized with careful empathy and scholarly objectivity. All who care about the increasingly precarious position of organized Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, would benefit from the increased understanding this book offers as to why those who are spiritually hungry, even desperate, increasingly venture outside the bounds of socially acceptable, traditional beliefs and rituals.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Rocio Rodriguez on April 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is to die for! In a very engaging style Chesnut reveals the reasons for Santa Muerte's mushrooming popularity.I had heard of Santa Muerte in Mexico but always thought she was an evil saint only for narcos and other criminals. After reading the book I now have a good understanding of why her appeal is so broad.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By jules pilgrim on November 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a fascinating read about the origins, cultural context and contemporary resurgence of this intriguing saint. The writing style is very accessible,sources are well documented and personal anecdotes add a human dimension to the research. This is not a how to of Santa Muerte ritual although examples of prayers and offerings are given, but a balanced analysis of the current positioning of the Bony Lady in Mexico and the USA. The Lady's followers and enemies and the reasons for their stances are both critically explored. I first discovered Santa Muerte on a fictional TV show and was astonished at the depth of meaning and rapid development of the Lady's appeal that Chesnut reveals. She's definitely not the one dimensional Hollywood bogey man that I first encountered, but a far more complex being who fills the political and spiritual gaps of official neglect. If you have the slightest interest in religion, politics, sociology or anthropology you will find this a real page turner. If I have a single criticism, and its a very minor one, it would be the repetitive nature of the conclusion but that's probably only because Chesnut writes with such clarity that his prose is totally memorable and absorbing. Oh , and the kindle version photos show up as black and white even on my kindle fire which is disappointing, since colour is very important in this work.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cearan McGrath on December 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint was written by R. Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies, after his discovery & subsequent investigation of Santa Muerte in 2009. Santa Muerte is a Mexican folk saint, first mentioned in an Inquisition document from 1797, not to be again recorded in written history until the late 1940s.
She is considered by most of her followers to be Death personified, generally imagined as a female Grim Reaper of sorts, often dressed as a queen, a bride, the Virgin, or a nun; in medieval robes or bright flowing dresses.
Chesnut shows how Santa Muerte has become boomingly popular, gaining the reputation as being the fastest and most effective miracle worker over any other saint. The author was surprised to find evidence of her burgeoning cultus in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
Her growing popularity has not come without controversy; she is vilified by the Catholic church and Mexican government. Cartel members often rank amoung her devotees. Indeed, it was a news story reporting the Mexican army's destruction of some forty Santa Muerte shrines along the Mexican border with California and Texas where the author first learned of her presence.
There are anecdotes and quotations from different devotees, most notably interviews with whom may be considered the godmother and godfather of the Santa Muerte cultus in modern times; Enriqueta Romero Romero (AKA Dona Queta) and the controversial archbishop David Romo.
Chesnut writes, "one of the main objectives of this book is to consider the saint of death in her totality." Unfortunately, this book doesn't come close to doing that. It is, however, a thorough examination of what he makes mention of as the "much newer public cult of Saint Death.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Scott Pridie on April 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
Dr. Chesnut's latest book is a timely and informative work. The folk religion of La Santa Muerte has crossed the border into the United States with few having any knowledge about it beyond mere assumptions. Chesnut fills this void with updated information. His balanced approach combines research indicative of a trained historian with the sociological approach of interacting with the religion's adherents. Chesnut completes the balanced study by also presenting the concerns of the Catholic Church. Devoted to Death is a must read for students of folk religion and the dynamics of Latin America.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The topic of the cult of Santa Muerte is highly charged. There's a lot of mystery surrounding her, but maybe even more hype and hysteria given her profile in the media. If you wanted facts, or reliable information, it was difficult to find -- until now. Chesnut has created a book that will satisfy the devotee (as he presents her various guises very even-handedly) as well as the curious (he gives in-depth information on her potential origins and the origins and current state of the cult itself). If you want information grounded in scholarly research, this is your book.

Having read the information that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies promote as "fact" about the Santa Muerte cult and her devotees (most of it apparently grounded in hype and half-truths gleaned from social media and urban myth), I would say that they, too, would be well-served by picking up this book and reading it cover to cover.

If you're looking for a how-to manual on becoming a devotee, or how-to petition The Bony Lady, this is NOT your book. BUT, if you want facts and information that are objective and straightforward, this is an excellent place to start.
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