2020 Book Prize Winner:
Dr. Peter Mena
Utilizing the work of Chicana writer, thinker, and poet Gloria Anzaldúa to consider the descriptions of space and identity in Christian hagiographies, Dr. Peter Mena argues that the ancient desert is constructed as a borderland for Christian ascetics and the negotiation of identities is intrinsically tied to the descriptions of desert space.
Dr. Peter Mena
Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies
University of San Diego
Peter Mena is a historian of Christianity with expertise in Christian Late Antiquity. His interests in the literature and cultures of the late-ancient Mediterranean and in contemporary literary and critical theories have furthered his work in considering Latina/o/x theologies and Chicana/o/x religious identities. He teaches courses in Catholic Theology and Early Christianity at the University of San Diego. Mena uses critical theories (postcolonial, gender and queer theories, and cultural studies) as an approach to studying the past with the goals of considering current political, social, cultural moments. He has written about Christian hagiographies in Late Antiquity and their function as cultural, theological, and historical narratives that preserve ideas about ancient Christian understandings of identity, the body, health, pain, and disease, orthodoxy and heresy, gender and sexuality, and space. His book, Place and Identity in the Lives of Antony, Paul, and Mary of Egypt: Desert as Borderland, (Palgrave MacMillan) utilizes the work of Chicana writer, thinker, and poet, Gloria Anzaldúa, to consider the descriptions of space and identity in Christian hagiographies. He argues that the ancient desert is constructed as a borderland for Christian ascetics and the negotiation of identities is intrinsically tied to the descriptions of desert space.
In this book, Peter Anthony Mena looks closely at descriptions of space in ancient Christian hagiographies and considers how the desert relates to constructions of subjectivity. By reading three pivotal ancient hagiographies—the Life of Antony, the Life of Paul the Hermit, and the Life of Mary of Egypt—in conjunction with Gloria Anzaldúa’s ideas about the US/Mexican borderlands/la frontera, Mena shows readers how descriptions of the desert in these texts are replete with spaces and inhabitants that render the desert a borderland or frontier space in Anzaldúan terms. As a borderland space, the desert functions as a device for the creation of an emerging identity in late antiquity—the desert ascetic. Simultaneously, the space of the desert is created through the image of the saint. Literary critical, religious studies, and historical methodologies converge in this work in order to illuminate a heuristic tool for interpreting the desert in late antiquity and its importance for the development of desert asceticism. Anzaldúa’s theories help guide a reading especially attuned to the important relationship between space and subjectivity.