RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


5 Sacred Stuff: Material Culture and the Geography of Religion (1) Things
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) Ruth Slatter (University College London, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
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 (2) Space
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Moving objects, connecting worlds: mobilities and meanings of spiritual objects among Vietnamese people in East London
Annabelle Wilkins (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Drawing upon research on home, work and migration for Vietnamese people in East London, this paper examines the networks of objects that are involved in migrants' spiritual practices in the home, workplace and wider city. It explores how spiritual objects are re-located and reconfigured through migration, demonstrating how such objects contribute to a sense of home in contexts of mobility. The paper is framed within material culture perspectives, geographies of religion and migration studies, and draws upon understandings of the Vietnamese home as a site of connection between living relatives and ancestors, and between material and spiritual worlds. It examines how the acquisition and display of spiritual objects contributes to (re)making home in East London, noting that the construction of an ancestral altar can be an important aspect of feeling 'at home' in a new location. Spiritual objects also connect home, work and the city, including through altars to deities that support financial success or educational achievement. However, this paper highlights the challenges of maintaining religious practice across transnational space. Worshippers who migrate adapt to their new environment, leading to broader changes in material cultures and practices. Participants' narratives emphasise the shifting meanings of spiritual objects within processes of mobility.
When Clothes 'Move On': The Notion of Touch and the Exchange of Clothing in Transnational Guyanese Hindu Communities
Sinah Kloss (University of Cologne, Germany)
Clothes are frequently exchanged within Guyanese families, a practice that remains relevant in the context of migration. Guyanese Hindus, who have migrated to North America, continue to exchange used clothing with family members at 'home'. This exchange (re)creates transnational families and religious communities and is facilitated by the practice of sending and 'sharing' barrels – containers filled with material consumer goods such as textiles. In Hindu-Guyanese communities this exchange takes on a particular meaning, as bodies and clothing are considered to influence each other. According to Guyanese Hindus, substances and energies are transferred between bodies and dress during acts of consumption. Consequently, clothes provide a dwelling structure for human and also divine substances that may be transferred to a next wearer. The practice of sending used clothing within transnational families thus becomes a means to create and maintain physical contact and touch. This presentation discusses how gifts of used clothing create, visualize and materialize relationships and intimacy among people who are separated as a result of migration. It addresses questions such as: What is the relevance of materiality in transnational migration? How is 'touch' facilitated and what are the roles of 'auspicious' or 'polluted' garments in this context?
Kneelers, carpets and prayer mats: an exploration of the making and maintenance of religious textiles in a West London Suburb
Claire Dwyer (University College London, UK)
Nazneen Ahmed (University College London, UK)
Katy Beinart (University College London, UK)
This paper develops a comparative analysis of the role of religious textiles in the practice and performance of suburban faith, drawing on examples from a wider project with eight diverse faith communities in West London. Using a case study of hand-stitched kneelers, made by parishoners in an Anglican church, which depict colourful local landmarks and community groups, the paper explores the production and use of these kneelers and how they compare with religious textiles in other places of worship including carpets, prayermats, tablecloths and banners. The paper draws on creative workshops conducted with diverse faith communities in West London with researchers and artist, Katy Beinart, to share religious textile traditions and explore new forms of creative expression of their faith and locality. The paper aims to recover the vernacular gendered material cultures which shape the making of everyday religious spaces as well as to explore the possibilities of using creative practices to foster inter-faith dialogue.
Pebbles, sticks and shells: materialising the non-material in non-material traditions
Avril Maddrell (University of the West of England, UK)
While some religious beliefs and practices centre on material artefacts, others eschew the material in favour of the spiritual. In the case of Protestant denominations within the Christian church, theology centres on an Idealist world view which privileges relationship to God and the Bible as the 'Word of God'. This was seen most dramatically in the Reformation with its iconoclasm and rejection of materially-focused practices such as pilgrimage to reliquaries such as the bodily remains of saints or items associated with spiritual leaders. This paper explores the re-engagement with formal and informal pilgrimage by Low Protestant churches, congregations and individuals and their negotiations of the material as scared, including the practice and meanings of gathering of often natural non-commercial 'sacred' souvenirs deemed to be authentic to their spiritual experience.