Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

I Want More of You: The Politics of Christian Eroticism in Postwar Guatemala

Kevin Lewis O'Neilla1

a1 Department and Centre for the Study of Religion, and Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Toronto

The image appeared on the cover of a Sunday bulletin, produced and distributed by one of Guatemala City's most conservative neo-Pentecostal mega-churches. The picture presented the face of a young teenage girl, her eyes closed, lips wet, and skin kissed by a soft, transcendent light; the young woman's head was even tilted to the side in what Jacques Lacan would call jouissance (1998). Across her pink lips read Psalm 4:6: “In peace, I lay myself down.” This image, stitched together by the church's media relations department, makes a sly reference to Gian Lorenzo Bernini's sculpture, St. Teresa in Ecstasy (1652). The statue in Rome presents one of Teresa of Ávila's (1515–1582) mystical experiences of God, which the sixteenth-century Spanish saint narrates with unblinkingly erotic imagery. In her autobiography, St. Teresa writes how “the great love of God” often left her “utterly consumed,” “penetrated to [her] entrails,” and made her “utter several moans” for both the “intense pain” and its “sweetness” (Peers 1927: 197). With St. Teresa in mind, my own reaction to the church bulletin parroted Jacques Lacan's response to Bernini's statue. “She's coming,” Lacan commented, “There's no doubt about it” (1998: 76).


Acknowledgments: The bulk of my research was carried out over the course of sixteen months, from February 2006 to May 2007, but I also took shorter trips to Guatemala City in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008. The research has been made possible by the emotional generosity of the El Shaddai community as well as the financial generosity of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Stanford University Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, the Stanford University School of Humanities and Sciences, Harvard Divinity School, the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, the Harvard University David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Indiana University's Department of Religious Studies, the Indiana University American Studies Program, and the Indiana University New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program. An early draft of Constance Furey's review essay on sexuality, which will appear in the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism, jumpstarted my analysis. I presented a version of this paper at the American Anthropological Association's Annual Meeting in San Francisco (2008) and received constructive comments from fellow panelists Paul Rabinow, Danilyn Rutherford, Liisa Malkki, William Reddy, Fernando Armstrong, Ramah McKay, Tomas Matza, and Jocelyn Lim Chua. Many thanks go to my research assistant Shruti Krishnan for archival and editorial work as well as to Bruce O'Neill for a last minute read. I would also like to thank the thoughtful reviewers for their instructive comments as well as the comments of both Andrew Shryock and David Akin of CSSH. Some themes in this article are further elaborated in my book City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala (2009b). All translations from Spanish are my own expect otherwise noted.