This summer Sense and Essence. Heritage and the Cultural Production of the Real has been published by Berghahn Books. Prof. Birgit Meyer (Religious Studies) and Prof. Mattijs van de Port (Popular Religiosity at VU University Amsterdam) edited this volume, exploring the paradox of cultural heritage as a construction subject to dynamic processes of (re)inventing culture and its promise to provide an essential ground to social-cultural identities.
Contrary to popular perceptions, cultural heritage is not given, but constantly in the making: a construction subject to dynamic processes of (re)inventing culture within particular social formations and bound to particular forms of mediation. Yet the appeal of cultural heritage often rests on its denial of being a fabrication, on its promise to provide an essential ground to social-cultural identities. Taking this paradoxical feature as a point of departure, the chapters in this book explore how this tension is central to the dynamics of heritage formation.
The key concern of the volume is to provide heritage scholars with two heuristic concepts that may help them to address this tension: the ‘politics of authentication’ and the ‘aesthetics of persuasion’. The ‘politics of authentication’ recognizes the importance of notions of the ‘really real’ in heritage formations, but purports that heritage forms have no ontological grounding in an objective reality out there. The authenticity of a heritage form can only be achieved through procedures of representation and certification that profile it as present and real to its beholders. In this sense, the authentic is not given – though often posing as such – but rather a result of a careful ‘cultural construction of the real’. The concept ‘aesthetics of persuasion’ provides new inroads into the analysis of the sensorial, emotional and mental entanglement of heritage forms and their beholders.