Material and Embodied Religion

Photo: Birgit Meyer

Humans do religion with their bodies and senses, making and using all sorts of material forms, such as buildings, images, food, and books. This materialist stance goes further than unmasking religion as illusory and calls attention to the actual physical and corporeal forms which are necessary to make religion, connecting believers and evoking a sense of the real presence of gods and spirits.

While religions point to an invisible realm, they are tangibly manifest in past and present societies through a profuse material culture and body practices. This is an important starting point for understanding the rise of conflicts between adherents of different religions about, for instance, contested sacred sites or representations as well as between religious and secular standpoints in current societies across the globe.

We address questions such as: How do religious convictions get under the skin of believers, forming their habitus? In what ways do religious ideas shape sexuality and gender, affirming or challenging conservative norms? Which role do images and objects play in rendering the divine tangible for those using them? Why do they become targets for destruction? How does secularity affect how religions materialise and operate in society? In what ways do the publicly present material expressions of religion, for example clothing or food taboos, become a bone of contention in multi-religious societies? How can a material perspective help to unravel conflicts between and about religions?



Dr Rita Amaral, Dr Marleen de Witte, Dr Amélie Roussillon


Jip Lensink, Harriet Aduako, Joel Valk, Chunrong Zhao