Feller, “Portable Power, Religious Swag”

Feller, Gavin. “Portable Power, Religious Swag: Mediating Authority in Brazillian Neo-Pentecostalism.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. 14(3). 

Abstract: This study is an ethnographic and conceptual analysis of religious objects, their uses, and mediation of authority within the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Universal Church) in Brazil. Drawing on scholarship within media studies, religion and media, and material religion, I distinguish between artifacts used to cement implicit contracts between Universal Church followers and their church community, which I call contractual media, or swag, and those that followers bring to meetings to be blessed and then take home to mediate both good and evil forces in family, work, and social life—these I call portable media. While portable object media are seen by their owners as powerful tools, contractual media, on the other hand, create implicit power relations that keep followers tied to the institutional church in a reciprocal exchange predicated upon expected prosperity as evidence of faithful attendance, fidelity, and personal sacrifice. The physical exchange of material goods in religious spaces constitutes a perpetuation rather than a disruption of institutional religious authority. As infrastructure, contractual object media establish and maintain conditions for otherwise mundane materials to mediate power on a daily basis. Through attention toward portable and contract object media, as part of what I am calling material microstructure, we can further complicate religious authority as it is mediated through objects, not just in one-way flows but as dynamic exchanges and trade-offs between personal empowerment and institutional control.

Carroll, “Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven”

Carroll, Timothy. 2018. Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven. New York: Routledge.

Publisher’s Summary: Although much has been written on the making of art objects as a means of engaging in creative productions of the self (most famously Alfred Gell’s work), there has been very little written on Orthodox Christianity and its use of material within religious self-formation. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is renowned for its artistry and the aesthetics of its worship being an integral part of devout practice. Yet this is an area with little ethnographic exploration available and even scarcer ethnographic attention given to the material culture of Eastern Christianity outside the traditional ‘homelands’ of the greater Levant and Eastern Europe.

Drawing from and building upon Gell’s work, Carroll explores the uses and purposes of material culture in Eastern Orthodox Christian worship. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Antiochian Orthodox parish in London, Carroll focusses on a study of ecclesiastical fabric but places this within the wider context of Orthodox material ecology in Britain. This ethnographic exploration leads to discussion of the role of materials in the construction of religious identity, material understandings of religion, and pathways of pilgrimatic engagement and religious movement across Europe.

In a religious tradition characterised by repetition and continuity, but also as sensuously tactile, this book argues that material objects are necessary for the continual production of Orthodox Christians as art-like subjects. It is an important contribution to the corpus of literature on the anthropology of material culture and art and the anthropology of religion.

Bielo, “Biblical Gardens and the Sensuality of Religious Pedagogy”

Bielo, James. 2017. Biblical Gardens and the Sensuality of Religious Pedagogy. Material ReligionDOI: 10.1080/17432200.2017.1345099

Abstract: This article explores how the phenomenon of biblical gardens joins three bodies of scholarship: the social life of scriptures, the study of religion’s media turn, and religious pedagogy. As a kind of religious attraction, the biblical garden is both devotional and pedagogical, with historic roots in nineteenth-century projects to connect botanical science with biblical literacy. I argue that the pedagogy of biblical gardens is anchored by an ideology of sensual indexicality and a strategy of metonymic immersion, which is differentiated from themed immersion. Analyses are drawn from observational and textual data, as well as comparative data from other forms of Holy Land replication, primarily in the USA. Ultimately, I argue that biblical gardens resist a modern ideology that elevates visual experience atop a sensory hierarchy.

Opas and Haapalainen, eds, “Christianity and the Limits of Materiality”

Opas, Minna and Anna Haapalainen, eds.  2017.  Christianity and the Limits of Materiality.  London: Bloomsbury.

Publisher’s Description: Despite the fact that Christianity is understood to be thoroughly intertwined with matter, objects, and things, Christians struggle to cope with this materiality in their daily lives. This volume argues that the ambivalent relationships many Christians have with materiality is a driving force that contributes to the way people in different Christian traditions and in different parts of the world understand and live out their religion.

By placing the questions of limits and boundary-work to the fore, the volume addresses the question of exactly how Christianity takes place materially, addressing a gap in studies to date. Christianity and the Limits of Materiality presents ground-breaking research on the frameworks and contexts in relation to and within which Christian logics of materiality operate. The volume places the negotiations at the limits of materiality within the larger framework of Christian identities and politics of belonging.
The chapters discuss case studies from North and South America, Europe, and Africa, and demonstrate that the limits preoccupying Christians delimit their lives but also enable many things. Ultimately, Christianity and the Limits of Materiality demonstrates that it is at the interfaces of materiality and the transcendent that Christians create and legitimise their religion.
Contents:
Foreword, David Morgan (Duke University, USA)
Acknowledgements
Introduction, Minna Opas & Anna Haapalainen (University of Turku, Finland)
Part 1: Doubting
1. Spirit Media and the Spectre of the Fake, Marleen de Witte (Unviersity of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
2. Organic Faith in Amazonia: De-indexification, doubt and Christian corporeality, Minna Opas (University of Turku, Finland)
3. Things not for themselves: idolatry and consecration in Orthodox Ethiopia, Tom Boylston (University of Edinburgh)
Part 2: Sufficing
4. The Bible in the Digital Age: Negotiating the Limits of ‘Bibleness’ of Different Bible Media, Katja Rakow(Heidelberg University, Germany)
5. The Plausibility of Immersion: limits and creativity in materializing the Bible, James Bielo (Miami University, USA)
6.Humanizing the Bible: Limits of materiality in a passion play, Anna Haapalainen (University of Turku, Finland)
7. Semana Santa processions in Granada – Religion or Spectacle? Sari Kuuva (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)
8. The death and rebirth of a crucifix: Materiality and the sacred in Andean vernacular Catholicism, Diego Alonso Huerta (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú / University of Helsinki, Finland)
Part 3: Unbinding
9. Proving the Inner Word: (De)materializing the Spirit in Radical Pietism Elisa Heinämäki (University of Helsinki, Finland)
10. The Return of the Unclean Spirit: Collapse and Relapse in the Baptist rehab ministry Igor Mikeshin (University of Helsinki, Finland)
11. Mimesis and Mediation in the Semana Santa Processions of Granada, Sari Kuuva, University of Jyväskylä
Afterword: Diana Espirito Santo (London School of Economics, UK)

Blythe, “Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa”

Christopher James Blythe, 2016. Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa, Material Religion 12: 405-432.

Abstract: Religious institutions establish collective identities through the production of a usable past, and thereby provide adherents with a sense of heritage. This article examines how this process functions in a Mormon pilgrimage site, Nauvoo, Illinois, where not one but two competing institutions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and Community of Christ, have established alternative narratives of identity. I focus on the thousands of (almost exclusively) LDS pilgrims who visit the town each summer. I argue that the presence of multiple interpretations raises significant anxieties for many of these pilgrims. In an attempt to mediate these anxieties a vernacular religious site, a willow tree, is employed to point pilgrims to a Saint figure, Emma Smith, Joseph Smith Jr.’s widow, in order to fortify an alternative narrative existing outside of either official representation of Nauvoo’s past.

Bielo, Replication as Religious Practice

Bielo, James. 2016. Replication as Religious Practice, Temporality as Religious Problem. History and Anthropology, DOI:10.1080/02757206.2016.1182522

Abstract: This article explores how religious communities actualize the virtual problem of temporality. Analysing two case studies from contemporary America, Mormon Trek re-enactment and a creationist theme park re-creating Noah’s ark, I argue that replication is a strategy for constructing a relationship with time in which a strict past–present divide is collapsed through affective means. This work contributes to comparative studies in the anthropology of religion and temporalizing the past.

Bielo, “Materializing the Bible”

Bielo James. 2016. Materializing the Bible: Ethnographic Methods for the Consumption Process. Practical Matters 9. 

Abstract: Throughout the world there are over 200 sites that materialize the Bible, that is, sites that transform the written words of biblical scripture into physical, experiential attractions. These sites are definitively hybrid, integrating religion and entertainment, piety and play, fun and faith, commerce and devotion, pleasure and education. Religious studies scholars and anthropologists have published insightful works about selected sites, but no genre-wide analytical appraisal exists. In this article, I focus on how religiously committed visitors approach and experience these sites. Framed in a comparative register with research in religious tourism and pilgrimage studies, I propose analytical and methodological frameworks for the ethnographic study of Bible-based attractions.

Bielo, “Replicating the Holy Land in the U.S”

Bielo, James. 2015. “Replicating the Holy Land in the U.S. (a ‘Materializing the Bible’ Road Trip).” Material Religions. 30 December.

Abstract: James S. Bielo analyzes a practice of religious replication: re-creations of Holy Land sites in the United States. Such replications invite visitors into an experience of sensorial and imaginative immersion, marshaling indexical techniques for materializing the Bible. Replicating the Holy Land is a strategy for actualizing the virtual problem of authenticity, a problem that animates any and every lived expression of Christianity. To explore this phenomenon, we indulge another national tradition: the great American road trip. This essay emerges from a larger project, Materializing the Bible, curated by Bielo.

Mesaritou, “He is among us, get it into your head, he is alive and always here”

Mesaritou, Evgenia. 2015. ‘He is among us, get it into your head, he is alive and always here’: saintly presence at the pilgrimage centre of Padre Pio and the importance of ‘being there’ Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal. DOI: 10.1080/14755610.2015.1019896

Abstract: The paper will focus upon the issue of saintly presence and the ways in which this is felt, experienced and enacted at the pilgrimage centre of Padre Pio. This issue will be examined in relation to the material and spatial structures of the pilgrimage centre and in particular the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, at the crypt of which the tomb of Padre Pio was until recently emplaced. In examining the issue of saintly presence in relation to the sanctuary’s materiality, the paper will also explore the relationship of two of the dimensions Eade and Sallnow ([1991] 2000, ‘Introduction’, in Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage., 2nd ed., edited by John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow, 1–29, Urbana: University of Illinois) propose for the examination of pilgrimage, namely person and place. Drawing on ethnographic data gathered during fieldwork (2004–2005), it will argue that the feeling of saintly presence is mainly generated by the knowledge people have of Padre Pio having lived and being buried there. This knowledge shapes their pilgrimage experience.

Hancock, “Short-term Youth Mission Practice and the Visualization of Global Christianity”

Hancock, Mary. 2014. Short-term Youth Mission Practice and the Visualization of Global Christianity. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief 10(2): 154-180. 

Abstract: This article examines the visual mediation of evangelical short-term mission and the theologically inflected global imaginary that these forms engender. Recent decades have seen the resurgence of long-term mission and the emergence of short-term mission among US Christians. The latter, combining evangelization, service, and tourism, is a staple within evangelical youth culture. I argue that it is used by Christians to constitute themselves as global formations, while also offering theological frames for global Christianity. Central to this global theological imaginary are visual representations of mission encounters with ethnic, sectarian, and racial Others, which illustrate the global scope of mission and missionaries’ understandings of their own efforts to engage and overcome those differences. Through an analysis of the visual content of four short-term mission agencies’ websites, I examine the mediation of global Christianity in contemporary mission and its recruitment of global Christian subjects.