Beatrice Marovich is the author of Sister Death: Political Theologies for Living and Dying (Columbia University Press, 2023). She teaches in the Department of Theological Studies, at Hanover College. Her work offers provocative reflections on the way that strange and ancient religious figures and ideas remain at work in our cultures, in our politics, and in our bodies in both beautiful and deeply unsettling ways.
What I study (and how)
I am a writer and a scholar, who studies religious and philosophical ideas. I come at this work from an irreverent position. This means that I don’t identify with, or defend, any particular religious viewpoint. But I also recognize that as an American, religious traditions (especially Christianity) are at work in our cultures, our politics, and the way we understand who and what we are in subtle and often subterranean ways. These are relics of a deep past that have been buried in habit and convention. They have become part of a social and cultural underworld, you might say. And this underworld is at work in the biggest stories we tell about ourselves, our bodies, our human nature, our relationships with other animals, our sexuality, our dreams: in our biomythologies.
I think there’s a lot of power in recognizing, and understanding, what’s at work in these underworlds. This kind of understanding can give us the power to critique, or disconnect from, their influence. But I also believe that the contents and inhabitants of underworlds are often unjustifiably demonized. While there is certainly much that’s coercive and oppressive in religious traditions such as Christianity, there’s also a wealth of poetry and spiritual empowerment left behind by the countless human imaginations that have produced it. Rather than simplistic arguments that force us to choose sides (either religion or science, for instance), I believe we deserve forms of thinking that are as complex, ambiguous, mysterious, and uncertain as we are.
My writing marks the struggle to see, understand, and critique the impact that religious ideas can have, while also struggling to appreciate their poetry and imagination. My first book Sister Death: Political Theologies for Living and Dying is a reflection on how a dominant strain of Christian political theology has convinced many that life and death are enemies. Against this view, I adapt the figure of Sister Death from Francis of Assisi to suggest that life and death might, instead, be more like family.
I'm currently working on two new books: one on the afterlives of theology, and another on underworlds.
Life and death are commonly seen as representing the starkest of binaries: death is the ultimate adversary of all that lives. Beatrice Marovich argues that such understandings of mortality have been deeply influenced by a strain of Christian political theology that has left its mark on both religious and secular narratives. Adapting the figure of "Sister Death" from Saint Francis of Assisi, she calls for a recognition that life and death are family.
Drawing on a wide range of sources - from Toni Morrison to Jacques Derrida, psychoanalysis to grassroots "death positive" movements - Marovich critiques a racialized political theology that pits life and death against one another in a state of endless war. In a time of extinctions, it is necessary to disrupt this dominant story in order to apprehend death as a collective, multispecies event. Sister Death proposes an alternative view in which life and death are not mortal enemies destined for mutual destruction. Instead, they are engaged in a contested, tense, and sometimes mutually empowering form of connection - a sisterhood.
Eloquent and approachable, this book deftly integrates the insights of a number of disciplines to provide a profound reconsideration of the relations between life and death. Sister Death also features a series of original works by the artist Krista Dragomer that stage an ongoing conceptual conversation with the text.
Learn more about the artwork, in Sister Death, and order prints!
Praise for Sister Death
"Few of the countless books written about death are written with such brilliance, imagination, and grace. An exemplary collection of attentive, intelligent, and generous readings, Sister Death offers a rethinking of much of the history of the Christian West's affective and reflective, martial, and spiritual - and violent - rapport with death."
Author of Blood: A History of Christianity
podcasts & Interviews
“I see death as part of our human experience here on Earth,” she says. “I don’t want to be resentful of a basic element of our human experience. I want to try to make sense of it on some level, or at least find ways of coping with it, so in a lot of ways that’s the motivation behind the book.”
A few links to other essays I've written and published.