Jennifer Hughes

Dr. Jennifer Scheper Hughes


Ph.D., Interdisciplinary Studies of Religion, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley 2005 Masters, Harvard University, Divinity School 1996 B.A., Highest Honors, Latin American Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz 1992

Research Areas

History of Religions. Historical and cultural study of Latin American and Latino religions with specialization in the colonial and contemporary practice of Mexican Catholicism. Material religion and theory of the object, especially the religious image. Affective approaches to the study of religion (religion and emotion). The history of liberation theology and its dismantling. Religion, catastrophe, and epidemic disease. History of medicine (Mexico). Public history, historic preservation, and world heritage. Ethnography of religion. Documentary film.

Contact Information
Department of History

Jennifer Scheper Hughes is a historian of religion focusing on Latin American and Latino religions with special attention to the spiritual lives of Mexican and Mexican-American Catholics. She teaches courses on colonial Mexico, history of the church in Latin America, Christianity and colonialism, archival and ethnographic methods, and public history, among others. Professor Hughes' first book, Biography of a Mexican Crucifix: Lived Religion and Local Faith from the Conquest to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2010), traces the history of a single, sculpted image of Jesus on the cross over five centuries to explore the affective bonds that join devotional communities to vital and agentic objects of material religion.

Professor Hughes’ current book project, “Contagion and the Sacred in Mexico,” explores the religious dimensions of the “collapse” of the indigenous population in the sixteenth century. Based on close reading and analysis of archival ecclesial manuscript sources relating to the 1576–1581 epidemic of hemorrhagic fever in central Mexico, the project probes the ambivalent origins of Christianity in the Americas as the ecclesia ex mortuis, the church of the dead.  “Contagion and the Sacred in Mexico” offers theoretical reflections on demography, landscape, ritual practice, church, and death in this particular cultural-historical moment. For this project she was awarded a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2016-17.

Professor Hughes also has a major research project exploring Latino religious practice in the metro Los Angeles/Southern California area and is the founding co-director of UC Riverside's Institute for the Study of Immigrant Religions, innovating methods and training graduate students for the ethnographic study of religion in the US. Her research has also benefited from grants and fellowships from the UC Office of the President/UC Humanities Research Institute, the Luce Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Cushwa Center for Catholic Studies at Notre Dame University. She is chair of the Religion and Spirituality Track for the Latin American Studies Association 2018 (Barcelona); serves on the steering committee for the North American Religions section and as co-chair of the Latino/a Critical and Comparative Studies Group for the American Academy of Religion.

In addition to her academic scholarship, Professor Hughes has worked as an advocate for homeless Latinos with HIV/AIDS, as a translator and advocate for Angolan refugees in South Africa, and with the liberation theology base community movement in Brazil.



  • Biography of a Mexican Crucifix: Lived Religion and Local Faith from the Conquest to the Present, Oxford University Press, January 2010.
  • Contagion and the Sacred in Mexico: Cataclysm and the Origins of New World Christianity (manuscript in preparation)


  • “Traditionalist Catholicism and Liturgical Renewal in the Diocese of Cuernavaca, Mexico.”  In Lived History of Vatican II, Robert Orsi, Timothy Matovina, and Kathleen Cummins, eds. Cambridge University Press, pp 64-85 (2017).
  • “The Sacred Art of Counter-Conquest: Material Christianity in Latin America.” In The Oxford Handbook of Latin American Christianity, Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens, David Orique, eds.  Oxford University Press (in press). 
  • “Ritual, History, and Emotion in Sacramental Spaces.” In Imagining Histories of Colonial Latin America: Essays on Synoptic Methods and Practices, Karen Melvin and Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, eds, UNM Press (2017).  
  • “The Conversion of Francis: The First Latin American Pope and the Women He Needs,” co-authored with Nancy Scheper-Hughes. In Global Latin America, Matthew Gutmann and Jeffrey Lesser, eds. University of California Press (2017).
  • “Cradling the Sacred: Image, Ritual and Affect in Mesoamerican and Mexican Material Religion,” History of Religions 56:01 (August 2016), 55-107.
  • “Take it Outside: Practicing Religion in Public,” co-authored with Amanda Lucia, James Kyung-Jin Lee, and S. Romi Mukerjee, BOOM: A Journal of California, Winter 2015, pp55-63.
  • “The Niño Jesus Doctor: Novelty and Innovation in Mexican Religion,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions16:2 Nov. 2012: 4-26.  Winner of the 2013 Thomas Robbins Award for Excellence in the Study of New Religions.
  • Mysterium Materiae: Vital Matter and the Object as Evidence in the Study of Religion,” Bulletin for the Study of Religion 41:4. 16-24. November 2012.