Protestants mobilize objects such as ‘Holy Land’ flowers, Jordan River stones, vials of Dead Sea water, sand from Lake Tiberias, and Golgotha soil as potent metonymic resources, promising a kind of direct access to the scriptural past and its sacred stories. This article uses this case of biblical landscape items to reflect on the historic ambivalence that characterizes Protestant relations with religious materiality. Building on scholarship that has demonstrated the prolific role of religious materiality in Protestant ritual and everyday lifeworlds, the author extends this analysis by asking: under what conditions do Protestants experience materiality as untroubled and under what conditions is a more anxious disposition activated? To differentiate among conditions, the author proposes that it is helpful to conceptualize Protestant engagements with materiality vis-à-vis legitimized frames (e.g. pedagogy, devotion, evangelism, entertainment). Drawing together archival and ethnographic data, primarily among US Protestants, the article argues that when Protestants function within legitimized frames they are prone to embrace biblical landscape items, but when they find themselves out of frame, their engagement with this particular species of materiality becomes troubled.
In my afterword to this special issue, I provide my own theoretical framing of issues relating to foregrounding and backgrounding Christianity, and argue that the sheer ambiguity of what occurs in so-called religious ‘contexts’ can be seen as constitutive of both subjectivity and religious attachment. I add that if our creation of an ‘Anthropology of Christianity’ is an act of foregrounding a particular religion for analytical purposes, this act must always be seen as a temporary move, inevitably open to being ‘backgrounded’ by other analytical framings.