Material Culture

John Kieschnick

in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Emotion

Published in print December 2007 | ISBN: 9780195170214
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780199892150 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Material Culture

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  • Sociology of Religion
  • Religious Subjects in Art


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Attention to material culture reveals generally shared responses across cultures to size, light, and representations of the human form. Even without specific cultural knowledge, monumental sculpture tends to provoke a sense of awe and small dark spaces a sense of foreboding and mystery. For this reason, whether for small-scale studies of individual practices or events or for comparative religion on a grander scale, attention to material culture has great explanatory potential. Before returning to the value of an appreciation of objects for understanding emotion and religion, this article presents a brief introduction to the term “material culture” and problems specific to the study of the material culture of religion. It then looks at intense emotions in extraordinary contexts, including the ecstasy of a shaman in trance, the anger of a crowd driven to violence, the weeping of saints, and the wonder of devotees in the presence of the miraculous. The article also considers objects that play a role in more pedestrian, though not necessarily less important, feelings.

Keywords: material culture; shamanism; saints; objects; violence; intense emotions; wonder; ecstasy; anger; weeping

Article.  7110 words. 

Subjects: Sociology of Religion ; Religious Subjects in Art

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