Webster, “Objects of Transcendence”

Abstract: How are objects used differently within different types of Protestantism? Proceeding from this question, this short anthropological essay takes as its ethnographic point of departure two apparently contrasting deployments of the Bible within contemporary Scotland, one as observed among Brethren and Presbyterian fisher-families in Gamrie, coastal Aberdeenshire, and the other as observed among the Orange Order, a Protestant marching fraternity, in Airdrie and Glasgow. By examining how and with what effects the Bible (as text and object) enters into and extends beyond the everyday practices of fishermen and Orangemen, I sketch some aspects of the material life of Scottish Protestantism that have hitherto been overlooked. The tendency to downplay the role of objects within Protestantism seems, in part, to be the result of an ideal-typical insistence that this religion—especially in Scotland and the Global North—remains transfixed by a thoroughly anti-material asceticism.1 This tacit assumption, which emerged within anthropology as the result of an overly hasty reading of Max Weber, continues to haunt ethnographic and theoretical framings of both Protestantism and modernity, either through their relative silence on the subject, or by treating (modern, Protestant) objects as somehow exceptional and novel.

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