Abstract: When antique wooden saints were offered for sale in a Hanoi shop window, they provoked uncomfortable responses from Catholic observers living outside Vietnam who could not imagine their co-religionists voluntarily selling statues that had once been blessed. To explore this question—how things considered too sacred for commerce came to be sold—we bring together two usually discrete domains of research on material culture: object biographies that trace their movement from local sites of production and use into global markets, and studies on material religion that address how embodied and sensate encounters with the material world are productive of religious experiences and understandings. The social life of things collides with material religion at the place where statues and other religious paraphernalia are first transacted into artifact, art, folk art, or native handicraft. The bridge between these two domains of inquiry is the recognition that object biographies are propelled in part by notions of object agency that assume particular protocols for interactions between people and things.
Abstract: Despite significant scholarship in anthropology and tourism studies related respectively to gifts and souvenirs, little is known about why and to whom people give souvenir gifts. Using an American case study, this article shows how Holy Land pilgrimage and its attendant gift-giving are a crucial way that older women navigate tensions specific to the consumer culture and religious patterns of the 21st-century US. By giving souvenirs, pilgrims uphold the importance of individuality (as consumers and as believers), while also fulfilling what they believe is their special responsibility to bolster collective faith, particularly amongst networks of female friends and family. Crucial in this endeavor is how pilgrims negotiate the fluid line between commodity and religious object. Sometimes they imbue these commercial objects with divine presence, thereby creating powerful tools for asserting ‘soft’ authority at home. At other times, they present religious souvenirs as commodities, downplaying their spiritual value in order to circumvent rejection.
Abstract: In Hong Kong, over half of the Protestant churches are located in the upper-floor units in commercial and residential buildings. Because of their physical locations, these churches are sometimes dubbed ‘upper-floor churches’. Unlike those that occupy stand-alone religious buildings or dwell in church-run schools and social service centres, these are often invisible in the landscapes of the city. Through analysis of a case study, this paper aims to explore the spatial practices that a Protestant community has adopted in acquiring, representing, and ritualising a business unit in a residential high-rise for building up their church. Our analysis of the case study shows that in a metropolis like contemporary Hong Kong, the construction of sacred space is full of tensions between utilitarian calculations and concerns of human relations and religious values. While the congregation had been very creative in transforming a commercial unit into a religious site, it did not show much awareness of the oppressive powers of the capitalist market and had a strong tendency to represent its spatial practices as commodities for consumption.