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Religion and Material Culture

Session Chair: Valentino Gasparini | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

George Ioannides

The Matter of Meaning and the Meaning of Matter: Explorations for the Material Study of Religious Discourse

This paper investigates the relationship between discourse and materiality in recent discursive approaches to theory and method in the study of religion. It responds both to Hjelm’s (2014) and von Stuckrad’s (2013) characterisation of a discursive analysis of religion that simultaneously acknowledges that there is a material reality outside of discourse, affirming non-discursive practices. In so doing, it proposes a ‘new materialist’ methodological approach to the study of past and present dynamics of religious discourse, utilising contemporary critical theory (Barad 2007), separate from studies of ‘material religion’, that has engaged materiality in its heterogeneous agencies and performative vitalities. By analyzing representations of matter and discourse in the case of the study of religious cinema, a medium simultaneously material yet immaterial, discursive yet non-discursive, this paper will show how new materialist theory presents the study of religious discourse and materiality with an alternative, yet more rigorous and integrated methodological approach.

Dhrubajyoti Sarkar

A Prophet’s Sin City: Revisiting Materiality in Nineteenth-century Calcutta

Piggyback on the material splendour of colonial Calcutta was extremely partisan reactions to its material practices. Manifestations of such partisan approach could be found in literary adulation of the city as the mythical sea of milk that houses goddess of wealth Lakshmi (kamalālayā), on the one hand, to numerous other denouncing the sin city as a heap of corrupting materials. This paper proposes to look at the contemporary saint Sri Ramakrishna’s attitude to material and material practices which can be an interesting study that manifests various contradictions and complexities of this 'objective' interaction.

Joseph Sarwuan Gbenda

The Christian Endounter with Symbolic Indigenous Religious Objects in Nigeria: New Trends and Challenges

The encounter between Christianity and African Indigenous Religion has continued to generate scholarly attention. This paper addresses material religion as one of the aspects of the Christian encounter with the indigenous religion in the context of some ethnic groups in Nigeria. The focus of the paper is on the Catholic missionaries as they came in contact with the pre-colonial indigenous religious objects such as masks and masquerades, charms, mystical forces and their cultic emblems. The paper observes some conflicts, misinterpretations, and transformations of material religion. Changes have taken place in traditional cultic and oracular masquerades. The paper argues that the attractions of protective elements like charms and amulets have been integrated into some Christian cum traditional religious movements, with emphasis on cultic emblems that are prosperity enhancing driven. These have given rise to new trends and challenges in the new social order.


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