Inhabiting the Ruins of the Past: Willa Cather's "Death Comes for the Archbishop" and the Appropriation of Roman Catholicism


Often the religious space one is born into proves unwelcome or even hostile. As a result, one may seek to find spiritual meaning within the room or house or another faith. In a literary study of Willa Cather’s novel “Death Comes from the Archbishop,” this paper first explores how Cather literally and metaphorically leaves patriarchal Protestantism and appropriates the Roman Catholicism practiced on the New Mexican frontier. Second, it considers how the novel serves as a religious space within which Cather fashions her own religious selfhood and identity. Third, it examines how the construction of her identity and narrative impinges on the individual and communal subjectivity of Native and Colonial New Mexicans and their descendants. Ultimately, the paper posits that movement from one religious space and narrative to another proves complex, and it prods the listener to consider how the religious space one occupies and the religious narratives one tells influences others, especially those outside of one’s own sacred space and narrative.


Kelly Van Andel
Lecturer, Religious Studies, University of New Mexico, New Mexico, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2024 Special Focus—Spaces, Movement, Time: Religions at Rest and in Movement


Movement, Narrative, Identity, Interdisciplinary

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