Jennifer Scheper Hughes is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Riverside. A historian of religion, her work gives special attention to the spiritual lives of Mexican and Mexican American Catholics. Hughes’s first book, Biography of a Mexican Crucifix: Lived Religion and Local Faith from the Conquest to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2010), traces the history of a single, sculpted image of Jesus on the cross over five centuries to explore the affective bonds that join devotional communities to vital and agentic objects of material religion.
At Radcliffe, Hughes is completing a monograph, titled “Contagion and the Sacred in Mexico,” that explores the religious dimensions of the collapse of the indigenous population in the 16th century. Based on close reading and analysis of archival ecclesial manuscript sources relating to the 1576–1581 epidemic of hemorrhagic fever in central Mexico, the project probes the ambivalent origins of Christianity in the Americas. Hughes offers theoretical (and sometimes theological) reflections on demography, landscape, ritual practice, church, and death in this particular cultural-historical moment.
Hughes holds an MDiv (1996) from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in the interdisciplinary study of religion from the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley. She has received research grants from the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame and the Henry Luce Foundation. She was a University of California President’s Faculty Research Fellow in the Humanities in 2010–2011.