Abstract: Due to deep-seated political tensions and intermittent violence between various streams of the city’s three major religions, Jerusalem’s sacred landscape is in the midst of significant change. One of the most salient expressions of this phenomenon is the renaissance of female saint shrines, most notably the Tomb of Mary and the proximate Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch. At these sites, female symbols, imagery rituals, and materiality have become powerful tools for asserting political claims that pertain to land and belonging. I will take stock of this phenomenon through the lens of different ethno-religious groups in Israel/Palestine that are availing themselves of female symbols (such as fertility, suffering, and maternal care) to advance various objectives. I find that these symbols have charged valences within minority communities. For members of the country’s hegemonic denominations, Rachel is the Jewish people’s “eternal mother” as well as a national symbol of the “return of the exiles” to their homeland. At the same time, local Catholic and Orthodox Christians view Mary to be “the mother of minorities” who suffered on behalf of and continues to provide succor for the weak. As a minority, Christians in Israel/Palestine employ this image of the Virgin as part of their effort to struggle with their weakening grip over the territories. Viewing the Virgin as a protector of minority groups is a departure from the vast majority of the Christian world, where Mary constitutes a national symbol that reinforces social belonging. In sum, I show how, amid the ongoing religious struggle, both female icons and their respective sacred venues are mobilized by different groups for the sake of challenging the political order and reshaping the landscape.
Irvine, Richard D. G. 2013. Stability, Continuity, Place: An English Benedictine Monastery as a Case Study in Counterfactual Architecture. In Religious Architecture: Anthropological Perspectives edited by Oskar Verkaaik. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp.25-45
Taking as its focus Downside Abbey, a Catholic English Benedictine monastery in Somerset, England, this paper explores what kind of home a monastery is. The call to monastic stability is expressed within the architecture of the Abbey in two ways: Firstly, by shaping the monk’s movement throughout his daily routine and his life cycle, the monastery makes possible a radical commitment to place. Secondly, by expressing the continuity of monasticism in English history, the Abbey creates a sense of historical stability in place of rupture – a visible sign of the monastic family as an enduring unit. In this sense, the Abbey puts forward an English vision of Catholicism and monasticism running counter to claims that Catholicism was Roman and thus fundamentally foreign. The Abbey thus serves as a piece of counterfactual architecture: a building which asks provocative “what if” questions, inviting aesthetic and moral comparisons and showing a possibility of what might have been – and what could still be.
van de Port, Mattijs, 2013. Golden Storm: The Ecstasy of the Igreja de Sao Francisco, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. In Religious Architecture: Anthropological Perspectives edited by Oskar Verkaaik. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp.63-82
Volume Abstract: Religious Architecture: Anthropological Perspectives develops an anthropological perspective on modern religious architecture, including mosques, churches and synagogues. Borrowing from a range of theoretical perspectives on space-making and material religion, this volume looks at how religious buildings take their place in opposition to the secular surroundings, how they, as evocations of the sublime, help believers to move beyond the boundaries of modern subjectivity, and how they, in their common sense definition, function as community centers in urban daily life. The volume includes contributions from a range of anthropologists working in the UK, Mali, Brazil, Spain and Italy.