RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


36 Sacred stuff: Material Culture and the Geography of Religion (2) Space
Affiliation Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Ruth Slatter (University College London, UK)
Nazneen Ahmed (University College London, UK)
Claire Dwyer (University College London, UK)
Chair(s) Claire Dwyer (University College London, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Session abstract This session seeks discussion around the role of material culture in studying geographies of religion, faith and spirituality. Social and cultural geographers have offered critical insight into the use of material cultures, such as the processes of making and repairing material things, as a way of understanding geographical processes, networks and knowledges (Cook & Harrison, 2007; Gregson et al, 2007; Ogborne, 2007). In geographies of religion a material approach has been creatively developed to discuss buildings (Connelly, 2015 and Edensor, 2011) but also to understand the role of objects and places in shaping spiritual engagements (Holloway, 2003; Della Dora 2011; Hill 2007). This session seeks to extend the critical insights of this work to understand how the material things made, used and appropriated in religious communities (and beyond them) can provide insights into everyday practices, congregational translations of religious practices and experiences of the spiritual, social and cultural aspects of religious communities. Drawing on concepts of materiality developed within anthropology and design history (Miller, 2010; Ingold, 2012; Lees-Maffei et al, 2010), we are interested in exploring in this session how material things offer alternative narratives about religious communities and what religion means to its adherents; how material objects are designed, created, appropriated or travel; what affects the decay, damage and necessary repair and maintenance of religious things have on religious engagements and experiences; what role material things play, and have played, in both the contemporary geographies and past histories of religious institutions and spaces.
Linked Sessions Sacred Stuff: Material Culture and the Geography of Religion (1) Things
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
A More-Than-Architectural Approach to Wesleyan Methodism, London 1851-1932
Ruth Slatter (University College London, UK)
In contrast to historians' and geographers' conventional emphasis on faith groups' theological developments and their relationships with society, more recent geographies of religion have investigated individuals' experiences of religion (Holloway, 2003). Historians have had difficulty adopting these approaches due to the scarcity of relevant written archives. Using Wesleyan Methodism (1851-1932), this paper will combine material and spatial approaches in order to provide insights into historical religious experiences. Architectural history has already affectively united spatial and material approaches to religion. However, these approaches make three assumptions. They assume religious spaces are singular, static, and that material and spatial analysis can only be applied to purpose built religious spaces. Challenging these assumptions, this paper will propose a 'More-than-Architectural' Approach (MTA). Inspired by theoretical concepts about the importance of materials' quantities and their non-human agency, the MTA approach extends architectural studies (Ingold, 2009; Latour,2005). It raises questions about the mutability of religious spaces, investigates their 'becoming' nature, and examines exchange patterns conducted within them. Demonstrating the potential of the MTA approaches combination of material and spatial considerations, this paper will focus on repair and maintenance within Wesleyan spaces. What can they reveal about how Wesleyanism was experienced between 1851 and 1932?
Interfaith connections at home: domestic space, practice and dialogue in contemporary London
Emily Harris (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
My PhD project will involve detailed ethnographic analysis of the material culture of religious homes, with the aim of developing new inter-faith perspectives centred on this space. My research will include interviews and home-tours with Jewish, Christian and Muslim participants in contemporary London, in order to examine the inter-faith significance of domestic religious spaces, objects and practices. The material culture of the home is a growing area of research (Miller, 2001, 2008) but the material culture of religious homes in particular has yet to be considered extensively, despite indications of the interpretative possibilities it offers (Garnet and Harris, 2011; Hoffman-Hussain, 2015) and increasingly embodied, material analyses of religion (Harvey, 2013) in general. During ethnographic research I will examine whether key sites of inter-religious material culture exist within the home, such as arrangements of family photographs, thresholds or the mantle-piece. I will use these findings to develop new ways to allow people to encounter the homes and domestic practices of different faiths in a material and embodied way. I am also working collaboratively with the Geffrye Museum of the Home, and religious material culture – both recorded and displayed – will be pivotal to the findings my work contributes to future gallery displays.
Cleanliness is next to godliness: the care and maintenance of the suburban sacred
Laura Cuch (University College London, UK)
Nazneen Ahmed (University College London, UK)
Claire Dwyer (University College London, UK)
In this paper we explore the caring, maintenance and cleaning labour which underpins the making of congregational religious spaces drawing on research carried out in a West London suburb, as part of a wider project (makingsuburbanfaith.org). Drawing on the insights from both ethnography and visual practice with six diverse faith communities, our paper explores the meaning of this cleaning and caring work for the participants and its interpretation as spiritual, social or domestic practice. We ask both why individuals undertake such work and why it is important to them? Our research considers the material, affective and embodied performance of caring and maintenance work in religious spaces and how this labour both shapes the religious spaces themselves, and the identities of participants. The analysis contributes to wider reflections on the materialization of faith and the making of religious geographies.