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.
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.
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.
Abstract: Once a matter of beliefs, symbols, values and worldviews, religion has progressively appeared in recent anthropological works as material religion, a highly concrete phenomenon based on affects, senses, substances, places, artifacts, and technologies. But what happened to transcendence, the dimension of religious worldmaking that remains beyond – hidden, untouched, unseen, unheard or unfulfilled? Is it necessarily the ‘other’ of material religion, a residual category that carries no ethnographic value? Retaining an emic concern with authority and a reflexive awareness about processes of boundary-making, in this article I approach material religion as a field of problematization inhabited by anthropologists and religious subjects alike. I examine some of the protocols whereby Pentecostal Christians in Ghana engage critically with the problem of materiality in their own religion, and argue that this operation lends ethnographic access to the role of transcendence in material religion’s everyday.