prof heyes lycoming college.jpg

Lycoming College professor Mike Heyes and student Rachel Rubright traveled to foreign libraries and universities while researching rare materials for "Margaret's Monsters." Source: Lycoming College

Michael E. Heyes, Ph.D, assistant professor of religion at Lycoming College, has published a new book about Saint Margaret of Antioch, who was said to have bested a variety of demons and monsters in order to grant divine help to others. She was also the patron saint of childbirth and virgins. Heyes' interest in monsters and demons inspired his research and publication.

The book, titled Margaret’s Monsters: Women, Identity, and the Life of St. Margaret in Medieval England (Routledge), is a new take on studies of Saint Margaret; other works are typically analytical pieces that focus on manuscript traditions. Heyes' new book delves into the ways that Saint Margaret's popularity has contributed to people's identities and culture, particularly sexually, following her martyrdom.

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 of the class of 2020, 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," said Rubright.

"I also traveled 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," Rubright added.

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.

An ebook of "Margaret's Monsters" is currently available for purchase or rent on Amazon.

This story was compiled by an NCPA staff reporter from submitted news. To see a list of our editorial staff please visit our staff directory.