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Professor’s interest in the demonic leads to published book, student research opportunity

Professor’s interest in the demonic leads to published book, student research opportunity

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Lycoming College faculty member, Michael E. Heyes, Ph.D., assistant professor of religion, published his monograph in December, “Margaret’s Monsters: Women, Identity, and the Life of St. Margaret in Medieval England (Routledge),” providing a look at St. Margaret of Antioch, the patron saint of childbirth and virgins.

With an interest in the demonic, monstrosity, and ritual practices, the study of St. Margaret of Antioch was a fitting research project for Heyes. Existing studies of Margaret are analytical pieces that focus on manuscript tradition and literary strains, whereas Heyes’ work is very much about how people have used the material to inform their sexual identities.

An excerpt from the book states:

St. Margaret was one of the most popular saints in medieval England and, throughout the Middle Ages, the various Lives of St. Margaret functioned as a blueprint for a virginal life and supernatural assistance to pregnant women during the dangerous process of labor. In her narrative, Margaret is accosted by various demons and, having defeated each monster in turn, she is taken to the place of her martyrdom where she prays for supernatural boons for her adherents. This book argues that Margaret’s monsters are a key element in understanding Margaret’s importance to her adherents, specifically how the sexual identities of her adherents were constructed and maintained.

With funding from a Lycoming College Student Research Grant, Heyes was able to take on an undergraduate student assistant as he wrapped up research during the summer of 2019. Rachel Rose Rubright ’20, religion and psychology major from New Philadelphia, Pa., earned a credit in the book by assisting with the editing process and completing manuscript research for Heyes. The project gave her access to rare manuscripts housed in the British Library and several libraries at both the University of Oxford and Cambridge University.

"During my time with Dr. Heyes, I mainly assisted in editing his book. I proofread each chapter several times over in addition to verifying that all citations were in the correct format and correcting along the way. I also kept record of the sources used for the bibliography as well as tracking word usage to create the book's index. I also travelled with him to the library at Oxford, Cambridge, and the British Library — amongst other stops — to study the texts of saint Margaret first hand,” said Rubright. “The experience meant a lot to me, not only helping with my own editorial skills, but to show me how to better conduct my own research. I hope after Lycoming to become a professor of religion myself, and apply the research and communication skills that this opportunity has brought to me."

As a scholar, Heyes approaches religion differently than others. As an instructor, he changes students’ viewpoints and understanding of religion. “I tend to think of religion as anything that rests on the authority of a text, a person, or a group. Whenever we react to those things, we are acting religiously at that moment,” explained Heyes. “My classes don’t stop at the big 5 or big 6 religions. We also cover American civil religion. The way we act toward America is religious. For example, we as a country enshrined George Washington in the Capitol with the saints. We treat all of the founding fathers like divinity. Our roots are much more religious than we first thought.”

Heyes received a master’s degree in comparative religion from the University of Washington, and a doctoral degree from Rice University. Prior to his work on “Margaret’s Monsters,” Heyes edited “Holy Monsters, Sacred Grotesques: Monstrosity and Religion in Europe and the United States (Lexington Books).” He is currently planning a book about the film “The Exorcist” and its effect on religion in the United States and the treatment of mental illness.

More information on “Margaret’s Monsters,” can be found at:

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