Sonia Velázquez

Sonia Velázquez

Associate Professor, Religious Studies

Associate Professor, Comparative Literature

Director of Undergraduate Studies, Religious Studies

Faculty Affiliate, Renaissance Studies and Center for Theoretical Inquiry in the Humanities

Faculty Advisor, Invocations: Undergraduate Journal of Religious Studies


  • Ph.D., Princeton University
  • M.A., University of California, Irvine
  • A.B., Princeton University

About Sonia Velázquez

I am currently at work on a book manuscript, Promiscuous Grace: Rethinking Religion and Beauty with St. Mary of Egypt, that studies the immensely popular story of Mary of Egypt’s conversion from promiscuous twelve-year old to venerable anchorite, mediated by her interaction with an image of the Virgin Mary. I argue that this figure is a productive, although rarely studied, vehicle for reflecting on the role of beauty and appearances in works that are ostensibly about asceticism and Christian doctrine. Through the study of three instantiations of the legend from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries, I show how these works—on the page, on the stage and on canvas—engage openly with questions of generosity and promiscuity, belief and appearances, mediation and immediacy, feminine charm and the grotesque. Examining how the legend of this saint mediates the presence of the divine in this world, I ultimately seek to recuperate for grace its double meaning as the gratuitous gift of salvation (holiness) and the allure of the senses (beauty).

In a second project I study the politics of proximity present in the figure of the vecino, which designated in early modern Spain both neighbor and citizen. I propose the neighbor as citizen—a figure limited spatially and pragmatically by contiguity, yet open to universality through the Biblical injunction to love one’s neighbor—as a supplement to the usual understanding of early modern political association primarily in relation to the sovereign. Although the neighbor is primarily conceived in terms of space, an underlying temporal dimension manifests itself through narrative: every neighbor has a history, a story, of destination if not of origins. By insisting on the narrative aspects of citizenship—representations of citizenship in literary texts, and citizenship itself as a series of narratives told by and for the people—this project considers the potential of the early modern novel in general, and particularly of Miguel de Cervantes’ late fiction, to create a space straddling the public and the private spheres, where ethical questions of belonging are addressed, thus challenging us to rethink what it means to be human and a citizen.


Promiscuous Grace
Promiscuous Grace

Imagining Beauty and Holiness with Saint Mary of Egypt

Sonia Velázquez
May 2023

Pastoral and the Humanites
Pastoral and the Humanites

Re-inscribing Arcadia

Sonia Velázquez, Mathilde Skoie

Journal articles & other publications

“Hiéroglyphe” Abécédaire, 2019

"Industrie." Abécédaire, 2016

"Monde n° 1." Abécédaire, 2016

“‘Pero, ¿quién eres tú?’: The Radical Politics of a Common Language in Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda” e-humanista special issue, ed. Mercedes Alcalá Galán (2016)

“Echoing End: Fray Luis de León's ‘Oda en la Ascensión’” MLN 132.2 (2017)

“Of Poets and Barbarians: Challenging Linguistic Hierarchies in Cervantes’ Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda.” Revista Hispánica Moderna Volume 67, Number 2, December 2014

“Didacticism and the Ends of Storytelling: Walter Benjamin’s Medievalism and Forms of Knowledge in Sendebar.” Exemplaria: Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 25.1 (2013).

Recent courses

  • Work Hard, Pray Hard
  • Nuns and Guns
  • The Human Condition
  • Textual and Visual Mediations of Religion
  • Of Conversions and Other Transformations of the Self

Awards & Honors

  • Solmsen Fellowship at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, UW Madison (2018-19)
  • Latino Faculty and Staff Council Distinguished Faculty Award (Spring 2018)
  • CAHI Research Award (spring 2017)
  • R. Allen and Judy Shoaf Award for the Best Essay Published in Exemplaria (2013)