Art Beat: Sister Death
As a child growing up in Kalamazoo, Beatrice Marovich often asked her parents to explain death to her. What happens to the little bird that falls from its nest? What happens to us when we die, and what comes after? It was a fascination that remained with Marovich throughout her life. Now, as an associate professor of theological studies at Hanover College in Indiana, Marovich has written a book about her research into this fascinating but often uncomfortable topic: Sister Death: Political Theologies for Living and Dying (Columbia University Press, 2023).
“A lot of the book is a critical take on what I argue is a pretty dominant political theology that’s really influenced how people today in places like the United States think about the relationship between life and death,” Marovich says. “It’s an idea that becomes especially strong in Christian theology: that life and death are enemies in a battle, and that God is on the side of life and those who are with God are on the side of life.”
Those not on God’s side, Marovich says, are doomed for death according to Christian theology. This belief has a strong hold on secular culture as well as among Christians. In her book, Marovich presents a different view—that life and death are not mortal enemies destined for mutual destruction, but rather engaged in a kind of sisterhood, however contested and tense. Her figure of “Sister Death” is based on a concept developed by St. Francis of Assisi.
Marovich writes about the “death positive” movement that works to transform our attitude toward death as an enemy, acknowledging that death isn’t something we’re expected to be happy about but should be approached with acceptance.
“I see death as part of our human experience here on Earth,” she says. “I don’t want to be resentful of a basic element of our human experience. I want to try to make sense of it on some level, or at least find ways of coping with it, so in a lot of ways that’s the motivation behind the book.”
At Hanover College, Marovich teaches a course on death and the afterlife to undergraduates. This is her first book. It is illustrated by Krista Dragomer.
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