University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Nichole Flores

Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies

PO Box 400126
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4126

Project

"Guadalupe in the Public Square: Aesthetic Solidarity and the Pursuit of Justice"

Project Summary:  In Guadalupe in the Public Square I articulate a constructive framework for “aesthetic solidarity” which complements and augments current Christian ethical discourse on intellectual solidarity and practical solidarity.  At the theoretical level, aesthetic solidarity represents a novel integration between the fields of religious aesthetics and social ethics.  At the practical level, this framework addresses the growing polarization of political and ethical discourse in the United States by asking what role symbols—including explicitly religious ones—might play in cultivating justice, defined as the minimum threshold of solidarity for promoting basic human dignity in society. This project asks how such symbols can potentially inform the emotional and imaginative lives of democratic citizens toward shared ethical goals in a pluralistic society.

My analysis excavates a central problem for the relationship between religion and politics: liberal democracy requires certain legitimate curtailments of religion in the public square in order to maintain political stability across a plethora of background theories and comprehensive doctrines, but it also demands meaningful engagement with religious particularity in order to foster robust democratic participation, especially among communities which have been historically marginalized in American public life.  Such a problem unearths a crucial question for Christian ethics—as well as religious, philosophical, and political ethics—in the 21st century: What role ought religious symbols play in fostering justice in a liberal and plural political context?

In this book, I propose that “aesthetic encounters” are crucial for public engagement of religion in the 21st century. Reflecting on the use of Our Lady of Guadalupe—symbolic of human dignity, political empowerment, and solidaristic justice among Mexican-Americans and Chicanos/as—this project endeavors to articulate a more adequate framework for engaging religious aesthetics in public life. I propose an ethical framework for solidarity that seeks to articulate the moral significance of aesthetics in acts of interpretation that undergird the pursuit of community and the common good in pluralistic contexts. 

Project Update/Status:  This spring, I presented portions of the work at conferences in Toronto, Canada and Bogotá, Colombia. These conference, both global in scope, served as a rich site for conversations and development of the project. Additionally, the work benefitted from both formal and informal conversations with other IHGC Mellon Global South fellows, offering interdisciplinary perspective that has been crucial for the project. Having drafted a monograph proposal, I am now engaged in revising the manuscript for publisher submission. Through the assistance of the IHGC Mellon Global South Fellowship and a UVA faculty summer stipend, I am able to spend the entire summer of 2016 conducting archival research on Guadalupe’s role in social justice movements and updating the manuscript with insights resulting from conversations with colleagues in religious ethics and beyond.