Dr. Kate Kingsbury, D.Phil. has lived in the UK, France, Belgium, and Senegal, moving to live permanently in Canada in 2017. More recently she spends much time in Mexico doing fieldwork. She received her B.A. in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and an M.Phil and D.Phil in Anthropology from the University of Oxford. She has taught at McMaster University, and at the University of Alberta, where she was Adjunct Professor of Anthropology and awarded the Arts Instructor Teaching Award for her pedagogic achievements in 2020. She is a recipient of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion’s Jack Shand Grant, and also received Bryan-Gruhn funding for her fieldwork on the fastest growing new religious movement, the Mexican female folk saint of death, Santa Muerte. She has published on the two titans of religion, Christianity and Islam in their vernacular forms, and has written on magic, witchcraft, ethnomedicine including folk healing, faith-healing and curanderismo. She is a leading authority on Santa Muerte. Her current research on the female followers of Santa Muerte has led to being a regular guest in the press, on podcasts and as a consultant for media productions related to the folk saint, such as Hollywood films like Will Smith’s Bad Boys for Life.
Santa Muerte, Death, Magic, Religion, Folk faith, Spirituality, Witchcraft, Brujeria, Curanderismo, Folk-Healing, Faith-Healing, Ethnomedicine, Gender, Power, Mexico, West Africa
My scholarship explores the interplay between religion, magic, power, gender, death, life and healing in the post-colony, and the diaspora. My fieldwork in Latin America, West Africa, and Europe has granted me the opportunity to develop a comparative view of cultural phenomena, especially of the two titans of religion, Christianity and Islam, in their vernacular forms in which they incorporate magic and witchcraft. I have written on Sufism in Senegal and the diaspora, exploring how adherents of the Mouride movement, living in marginalized spaces, assert agency creating counter-hegemonic discourses around identity and power through their healing religious praxes. I have also researched the role of spirit possession and exorcism as modes of disrupting gendered and racist stereotypes, encoding histories of violence, decolonising self-knowledge and creating therapeutic spaces through alternative epistemologies and sources of power in the spiritual realm.
My current research focuses on the female followers of the Mexican folk saint of death, Santa Muerte, and this is the topic of my forthcoming book “Daughters of Death: Female Followers of Santa Muerte” under contract with Oxford University Press. In the press, the folk saint of death has been depicted as satanic, associated with black magic, male delinquents and drug dealers. While Santa Muerte is turned to for black magic (among other things) and by some narcos, this is a reductionist, racist, sexist and neocolonial depiction which my work seeks to correct and counterpoise. I examine women’s central role in Santa Muerte, exploring the question of how and why women are worshipping a Saint of Death in a space where they face a surfeit of struggles, including poverty, disease, drug violence, femicide and violent death. My research documents how through Santa Muerte rites involving prayer, curanderismo and brujeria (witchcraft) women create spaces of both mental and physical healing as well as avenues of self-expression that hearken to Indigenous ontologies. They subvert gendered and racialised stereotypes through their praxes and beliefs contesting patriarchal power systems and Western epistemologies. My work illustrates how in spaces of danger, disease and distress, by casting death as an omnipotent female folk saint, women re-work the relationship between gendered identity, power, life and death.
‘Daughters of Death: Female Followers of Santa Muerte’ under contract with Oxford University Press
‘Doctor Death and Coronavirus: Supplicating Santa Muerte for Holy Healing’. Anthropologica, 63 (1), pp 32-52
‘Death in Cancun: Sun, Sea and Santa Muerte’. Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 6 (1), pp. 1-22
‘Disrespecting Death: The Trials and Tribulations of Santa Muerte Internacional and the Martyrdom of Comandante Pantera’. Small Wars Journal, El Centro: September pp. 1-13.
‘Syncretic Santa Muerte: Death and Religious Bricolage’, Religions 12(3), pp. 220-232.
‘Holy Death in Times of Coronavirus: Santa Muerte, the Salubrious Saint of Mexico’. International Journal of Latin American Religions, pp. 1-24.
Also featured on the US National Institute of Health, NCBI, Nature Public Health Emergency Collection for COVID-19 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7485595/
‘Santa Muerte: les Femmes, l’Amour et la Mort au Mexique’. Anthropologica, 62 (2), pp. 25-50
‘Death is Women’s Work: the Female Followers of Santa Muerte’. International Journal of Latin American Religions, 5 pp.1-23
‘Not Just a Narcosaint: Santa Muerte as Matron Saint of the Mexican Drug War’. International Journal of Latin American Religions, 4, 25-47.
‘Staging Touba: The Performance of Piety’. Journal of Religion in Africa, 48 (4) pp. 312-346.
‘In Her Own Image: Slave Women and the Re-imagining of the Polish Black Madonna as Ezili Dantò, the Fierce Female Lwa of Haitian Vodou’ International Journal of Latin American Religion, 3 pp. 212-23.
‘The Knights Templar Narcotheology: Deciphering the Occult of a Mexican Narcocult’, Small Wars Journal, El Centro: November edition, pp. 1-10
‘Modern Mouride Marabouts and their Young Disciples in Dakar’. Anthropologica, 60(2) pp. 55-101.
“Images of Death, Santa Muerte and the Reaper” in Christina Welch Eds. Death and the Senses (Religion and the Senses Series). Equinox Publishing.
“Morte Santa nos Tempos do Coronavirus: Santa Muerte, a Santa Salubre” in Fabio Py Murtada de Almeida Eds. A pandemia de Covid-19 e as religiões, Vozes Publishing.
‘No solo es una narcosanta: La Santa Muerte como Santa Matrona y Madre de la Guerra contra las Drogas en México’ in colección Antropologías hechas en América Latina de la Asociación Latinoamericana de Antropología (ALA).
‘Danger, Disease, Distress and Death: Female Followers of Santa Muerte’ in D. Kirkpatrick and J. Bruner Eds, Global Visions of Violence: Persecution, Media, and Martyrdom in World Christianity, Rutgers Press.
‘Touba: Time-Spaces of Religious Urbanization’ in Religious urbanization and moral economies of development in Africa, edited by David Garbin, Simon Coleman and Gareth Millington. Bloomsbury Press.
‘The Narcotheology of the Knights Templar: Deciphering the Mexican Narcocult’ in R. Bunker and A. Keshawarz Eds, Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán: Imagery, Symbolism, and Narratives, Bethesda, Maryland: El-Centro
‘Pentecostalism in Brazil,’ Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, Oxford University Press, 2019.
2020 Arts Instructor Teaching Award, University of Alberta
2019 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Jack Shand Travel Grant
2019 Bryan-Gruhn Research Grant