Steinert and Carvallo, “Religiosity at the Roadside”

Steinert, Isidora Urrutia and Eduardo Valenzuela Carvallo. 2019. “Religiosity at the Roadside: Memorials, Animitas, and Shrines on a Chilean Highway.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 34(3): 447-468.

Abstract: Roadside memorials devoted to vehicle-related deaths are increasingly common across the globe. Scholars have generally emphasised their commemorative status—as sites where a private memory is publicly displayed—underestimating, however, their religious dimension. This article is based on research which involved the content analysis of photographs taken during multiple visits to the 94 roadside memorials existing in 2015 on Route 78, a major Chilean highway connecting Santiago (Chile’s capital city) and San Antonio (one of the country’s main sea ports). We argue that Chilean roadside memorials are not solely commemorative sites but primarily animitas that have a core (popular) religious component: they are privileged locations where salvific grace is dispensed, acting as mediators between the living and the divinity and connecting the sacred and profane worlds. Furthermore, we suggest that the tragic nature of the deaths they commemorate confers on them a miraculous efficacy which may transform the sites into shrines and the victims into folk saints.