Jessica Delgado

Ohio State University
Candidate for Vice President (2020)/President (2021)

Candidate statement

I am humbled and honored to be considered as a candidate for Vice President of the American Catholic Historical Association. I earned my doctorate at UC Berkely in history with a focus on colonial Mexico. I worked for the last ten years in the religion department at Princeton University, where I earned tenure and taught courses in race, gender, sexuality and religion in Latin America and the early modern world. I have just begun, this fall, a new joint position  as an associate professor in the Department of History and the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The Ohio State University. My first book, Laywomen and the Making of Colonial Catholicism in New Spain, 1630-1790 was published in August of 2018, and my second, The Beata of the Black Habit: Race, Sexuality, and Religious Authority in Late Colonial Mexico, is well underway. I have also published articles on the history of the Mexican Inquisition, spiritual status in early modern Catholic societies, and ecclesiastical courts in 17th and 18th century Mexico. 

Throughout my career I have focused on the history of Catholicism in times and places for which “Catholic History” arguably encompasses, or at the very least, intersects with, everything one might study about that time and place. I have served in a number of leadership positions related to the study of religion, Latin America, and early modern history for a number of professional organizations, and yet in some ways, none is a more fitting home for my own work than the ACHA. I am excited and encouraged by the recent expansion, reflection, and re-imagination work I have seen the organization undertake, and I would be thrilled to be a part of it in the roll of vice president.  Key to these processes, it seems to me, is to continue the work of last year’s conference in questioning and re-defining the terms we use to describe ourselves and to use these redefinitions as opportunities to push the boundaries of Catholic Studies. I am seeing increasing dialogue with indigenous studies, colonial studies, and critical race, gender, and sexuality studies becoming more central to our scholarly commitments. I’m seeing greater sophistication in our explorations of the connections between local, regional studies and an understanding of Catholic history as global history. The relationship between particular place, concepts of space, and the dynamics of movement are playing ever greater roles in Catholic history and Catholic studies, it seems to me. In light of all of this, it seems to me to be an excellent time not only to explode our categories and think creatively and consciously together, but also to actively seek out scholars who may not have imagined themselves to be doing Catholic history, but whose work is clearly relevant—even central—to the field as it evolves.

Doing this kind of reimagination allows for work that moves beyond the false binaries of apologist/critical history that so many of us find ourselves struggling with in conversation with scholars outside of Catholic studies, and perhaps more significantly, with people in general in an era of moral crisis within Catholicism.  Engaging vibrantly with scholars of religion and culture in an ever widening diversity of times and places in which Catholicism was significant is an important and productive way of both shedding light on and gaining critical distance from these polarizing debates.   

If I am elected, I will bring these questions, concerns, enthusiasms, and curiosities to bear, and I will eagerly listen to and learn from my fellow members about the possibilities and obstacles we see in our work and the future directions that matter most to each of us. I have found in the past decade that I am most intellectually nourished through collaborative work that converses across scholarly fields and areas of focus; often it is through moments of productive tension and wrestling that we come upon new insights and paradigms. I would approach the position of vice president in this spirit, and I am certain that I would gain more than give through the experience. Yet, if elected, I would endeavor to contribute significantly through this kind of collaborative service and leadership.