Lucy Peterson

Date of Award


First Advisor

Asma Abbas

Second Advisor

Francisca Oyogoa


What is the experience of the desiring self in a world where death is in high demand? Who is called to sacrifice themselves for the sake of honor, purity, and the future? By returning to St. Augustine and the instantiation of a Christian sovereignty, this thesis attempts a historical exploration of the relationships between suicide, sexuality, and religious conflict. Examining interconnections between honor, guilt, and shame, I trace genealogy of suicide from antiquity to modernity. I ask how these emotions are mapped onto different people inhabiting different places and different times. I present three cases to show that suicide, as it is conceived in psychological and sociological terms, masks the alliance between theology and politics through which religious nationalism has been bred. An attention to the religious tensions and anxieties that have inflected modern wars reveals that suicide is more than the taking of an individual life from the future self or from the social body. The history of religious conflict illuminates the political demands of honor which work towards the theological mastery of, and over, time. First, I look at a heretical religious group called the Cathars who were executed during the Albigensian Crusade. Then I move on to The Virgin Suicides, a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, which takes place in a post World War II American suburb. Lastly, I talk about the abduction of women across the border of India and Pakistan after the Partition, discussing a film, Silent Waters, and an ethnography called Life and Words by Veena Das. I arrive at the conclusion that the master-narrative of secularized and medicalized modernity erases the ongoing presence of holy wars that has inscribed suicide on the bodies of women and soldiers alike.

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