Interview: Amanda Summers


Temple University

Areas of Interest/Research:

History, Spanish Empire, Spanish Inquisition

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I really love researching Inquisition cases from the Spanish colonies. They are a treasure trove of human complexity. For Spain, as for so many other locations, religion was interwoven into everything from the day-to-day life of a common colonial citizen to political relations with other empires. In Inquisition cases, historians can find evidence of the role religion played in interpersonal relationships, in class structuring, in market economy, in politics, and in control over and autonomy of the individual body. It can be a fascinating glimpse into human behaviours, concerns, and conflicts. They are full of drama on the level of a telenovela.

One thing I am really excited about right now is religion and body care in Inquisition prisons. This one location brings together practitioners of Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and indigenous religions. Religious practice, or the perceived failure to properly perform religious practice, made space for expression, rebellion, and struggle. The archive has trial files, but also really interesting letters and records detailing lived experience in the prisons, and I find that to be a very exciting path for research right now.

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

My big ideas have to do with how empires are built upon women’s bodies. The Spanish empire, as a Catholic empire, required control of women’s place in the public sphere by controlling their religious practice and the influence they had over kinship groups and communities. For me, this evidence is located in imprisonment, trial, and punishment of women who influenced their communities through religious leadership, be that through covert preservation of Judaism, Islam, or indigenous African and Native American practices. The control of women’s bodies was the control of the religious empire. The exciting flip of that, of course, is women’s bodily and religious autonomy as the site of resistance.

What is your current research about?

I’m currently preparing for my dissertation research, to start later this year. I recently put together an article which I hope will inform that path. The article addresses the largest auto de fe ever held in the colony of New Spain, present day Mexico. Over 200 Portuguese Jewish merchants were put on trial. In that article I examine gender and punishment alongside the discourse around Portuguese Jewish merchants as they were a threat to the Spanish empire both religiously and economically. Judaism and Catholicism came into conflict in Spanish-Portuguese relations in the mid seventeenth century, and that conflict was evident in the Mexico City Inquisition prisons. Misunderstanding and religious-based abuse were evident in the dietary offerings and ritual performances at the end of the life of one prominent female leader of the Jewish community in that trial.

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

I have been heavily influenced by the work of Maria Elena Martinez, whose best-known work was probably Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico. Her writing style was approachable while she brilliantly wrote transnational histories incorporating cultural, gender, and critical race theories. Her arguments on blood purity intersecting with race and religion are central in my thoughts when I research.

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

This could be a long list! Of course, Genealogical Fictions (mentioned above). Also, Martha Few and Ruth Behar have a few books and articles which I consider foundational to my interests and how I think about religion, power, and gender. Luis Corteguera’s Death by Effigy, Nora Jaffary’s False Mystics, and Martin Nesvig’s Ideology and Inquisition have shaped how I think about gender, religion, and Inquisition in New Spain specifically. Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert’s A Nation Upon the Ocean Sea has really brought Spanish-Portuguese relations and the connections of religion, market, and empire into focus for me as well.

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

So far, I only have an article in my undergraduate institution’s liberal arts journal. My master’s thesis, “The Insidious Case of Ignacia Gertrudis de Ochoa: Gender, Personal Relationships, Ethnicity, and Diabolism in the Late Eighteenth-Century Diocese of Guadalajara” is available through ProQuest Dissertations and Theses at some fine tuning, I hope to submit the article I’ve been working on as my first real publication later this year.

Where can we follow you online?

My Twitter is @spacey_lords where you can see my hot takes on grad school life, reading for comps exams, teaching, and roller derby. And the occasional political anxieties, of course.

If we ran into you at a conference and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

I could talk your ear off about roller derby (I’ve been playing for 12 years), animals, my cat, travel, mountains to climb, homesteading, and literally any outdoors activity.

What research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

Right now, I am working on my comprehensive exams. It’s actually pretty great because I’m reading for the fields I am most interested in. For the next few months, I’m not researching, but I’ve applied for some exciting fellowships for fall.

>> Thank you so much, Amanda, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.

Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.


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