Fordham Theology: A Look at the Unexpected

Initially, it is hard to see the connection between the literary and visual arts representation of the HIV/AIDS crisis in contemporary French film and the rigid and highly organized life that Benedictine monks developed in the middle ages. For Dr. Kris Trujillo it is easy. It is all a part of his natural educational progression to examine the connections between religious studies and queer theory. This spring, Dr. Kris Trujillo completed his Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Critical Theory from UC Berkeley before coming to Fordham, where he is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Theology department teaching courses such as Medieval Religious Texts.

Trujillo is interested in examining the relationship between religion and subjects that are considered to be overtly secular. In his most recent untitled research project, Trujillo examines how the medieval Christian mystical concept of self dissolution is represented in queer art and literature during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.

Dr. Trujillo’s research pays particular attention to artists and writers who turned to mysticism. Mysticism is the belief that direct knowledge of God can be reached through personal experiences with God. Mystics experience dissolution or disintegration of their distinct corpus as they join God in order to gain ultimate knowledge. Trujillo found that many queer artists affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis were turning to the mystical trope of dissolution of the self into God to demonstrate the literal disintegration of the body as caused by HIV/AIDS.

Usually, this trope attracts the attention of white queers and plays into the embodiment of privilege of white queers. Trujillo says “praising the trope requires privilege that you already have a full body to disintegrate” once contracting HIV. But if you come from a marginalized community where violence and destruction is prevalent, chances are the body has already been destroyed partially by the effects of this violence.

The research concludes by demonstrating that mystical tropes of dissolutions and disintegrations of the body is not the same for all artists. In regards to the word mysticism Trujillo claims, “Mysticism is complicated term. It is heterogenous,” and has multiple meanings. Forms of disintegration and dissolution can be dangerous when an actual community is facing the literal disintegration of bodies because of this health crisis.

Trujillo’s work also shows that there are particular theological stances that were weaponized during the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the late 20th century. Trujillo describes this “plague” as being thought as “retribution for the sins of homosexuality” in many Christian theologies. This lead many to turn to other types of religious practices or spiritualities that did not lead to the conclusion that “homosexuality is a sin being paid for by death” during this health pandemic.

In the future, Trujillo plans to examine the archives of Latinx artists to demonstrate the role mysticism and spiritual exercise has played in the early modern colonization period of indigenous people by the Spanish. He hopes to demonstrate how the move to mysticism by Latinx communities demonstrates what he calls the “reappropriation” and “decolonizing act of the practices that converted these people to christianity in the first place.”

“There is a creative aspect of doing research that is very appealing.” After speaking with Trujillo, the importance of synthesis to his research project is clear. Coming from a background of language, literature, critical theory, and rhetoric, there is a devotion to diction and communication that characterizes his research and interests. The ability to comprehend information is reliant on the the way it is presented. Trujillo hopes the medieval religious histories and concepts of the past can explain the present phenomenon of self disillusionment experienced by white queers today and shape the world of queers of color in the future.

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