Scenting Saintliness: The Ailing Body, Chicana Feminism, and Communal Identity in Ancient Christianity
Abstract

This article brings together literary theorist Suzanne Bost's analysis of health, illness, and the body, as described in Chicana feminist literature, and a Christian hagiography from the fifth century, the Life and Activity of the Holy and Blessed Teacher Syncletica, in order to argue that the Life and Activity describes an ascetic subject who is relational to their desert environment and community. Christian hagiography is determined to construct a Christian subject that can only be described in concert with these relational aspects and then only characterized by its permeability, relationality, and precariousness. Syncletica's holiness is depicted not simply by the very vivid descriptions of her ailing and decaying body and the pain she undergoes but also by her students and fellow ascetics who suffer with her and attempt to care for her. Reading this hagiography alongside Bost's reading of Chicana feminist literature allows for a different interpretation of the function of illness and disease—not as the opposite of health and wellness but as a method for constituting and describing the ascetic community.


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