Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality

Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality

by Dick Houtman
     
 

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That relation has long been conceived in antagonistic terms, privileging spirit above matter, belief above ritual and objects, meaning above form, and "inward" contemplation above "outward" action. After all, wasn't the opposition between spirituality and materiality the defining characteristic of religion, understood as geared to a transcendental beyond that was… See more details below

Overview


That relation has long been conceived in antagonistic terms, privileging spirit above matter, belief above ritual and objects, meaning above form, and "inward" contemplation above "outward" action. After all, wasn't the opposition between spirituality and materiality the defining characteristic of religion, understood as geared to a transcendental beyond that was immaterial by definition? Grounded in the rise of religion as a modern category, with Protestantism as its main exponent, this conceptualization devalues religious things as lacking serious empirical, let alone theoretical, interest. The resurgence of public religion in our time has exposed the limitations of this attitude.

Taking materiality seriously, this volume uses as a starting point the insight that religion necessarily requires some kind of incarnation, through which the beyond to which it refers becomes accessible. Conjoining rather than separating spirit and matter, incarnation (whether understood as "the world becoming flesh" or in a broader sense) places at center stage the question of how the realm of the transcendental, spiritual, or invisible is rendered tangible in the world.

How do things matter in religious discourse and practice? How are we to account for the value or devaluation, the appraisal or contestation, of things within particular religious perspectives? How are we to rematerialize our scholarly approaches to religion? These are the key questions addressed by this multidisciplinary volume. Focusing on different kinds of things that matter for religion, including sacred artifacts, images, bodily fluids, sites, and electronic media, it offers a wide-ranging set of multidisciplinary studies that combine detailed analysis and critical reflection.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A must for any religious studies department. . ." -Choice

"Things gathers up a series of lively and provocative essays. Challenging received understandings of religion as primarily about beliefs (in spiritual beings) as historically derived and impossible to sustain, it draws attention to the centrality of the material in religious practices and debates about the world. This volume deserves a place on the shelf of anyone interested in either religion or materiality or both." -Margaret Weiner, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Things is an essential archive for the study of religious materiality and the material study of religion." -David Chidester, author of Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa

"A highly spirited and robust materialization of a significant trend in the study of religion. The articles in this remarkably coherent collection speak back to iconoclasm and the ideal or ideology of immateriality as found explicitly in certain practitioners of religion and implicitly in its scholarship. They illustrate the various ways in which material objects function as signs, powers, and mediations, and examine as well the intellectual debates and theological disputations about their functions and effects to which things inevitably give rise." -Michael Lambek, author of The Weight of the Past

"The recent scholarly turn to materiality faces special challenges when dealing with the variety of 'immaterialities' proposed by—or merely attributed to the world's religions. At the same time, contemporary attitudes toward materiality often have deep roots in religious traditions. Offering wide-ranging contributions that touch on everything from old questions of iconoclasm to emerging digital technologies, this volume forms a welcome addition to an important and lively conversation." -Webb Keane, University of Michigan

"A remarkable and very valuable collection that provides a rare overview of the issue of material religion." - Patrick Eisenlohr, University of Utrecht

"A strong collection of essays that advance knowledge in academic fields ranging from history to anthropology, from religious studies to regional studies. The mixing of fields allows multiple perspectives, not always congruent with each other, leaving the reader to work through the differences. Well-respected contributors tell us about "things," and their impact on religious lives. We are left rethinking our relations to the most basic stuff around us." -S. Brent Plate, co-founder and managing editor, Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief, and author of Blasphemy: Art that Offends

". . . this volume is an invaluable contribution to religious and material culture studies, broadening the scope of both fields by introducing new questions in old contexts, and investing agency in people and spirit in things." -Gabrielle A. Berlinger, Museum Anthropology Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780823239467
Publisher:
Fordham University Press
Publication date:
09/12/2012
Series:
Future of the Religious Past (FUP) Series
Pages:
496
Product dimensions:
7.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Dick Houtman is Professor of Cultural Sociology at the Centre for Rotterdam Cultural Sociology (CROCUS) at Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. His two most recent books are Religions of Modernity: Relocating the Sacred to the Self and the Digital (edited with Stef Aupers) and Farewell to the Leftist Working Class (with Peter Achterberg and Anton Derks).

Birgit Meyer is professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Her recent publications include Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana and Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and Closure (edited with Peter Geschiere).

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