Stefanie Knauss considers the importance of toys in shaping childrens’ embodied conceptions of cultural practices, particularly the significance of religious toys in conveying some of the important characters, ideas, and values of a tradition. She argues that the materiality of toys fosters particular enactments of religious stories but that such exercises are underdetermined; the toys must be a focus of pedagogy for them to take on the particular meanings of a tradition, otherwise, they may simply exist as secular playthings. In short, religious toys present opportunities for teaching about a particular tradition, but are not clearly indicative of such approaches in and of themselves. Knauss sees religious toys as a promising unit of analysis for investigating meaning-making and the interplay of self-determination and group influence in early identity formation.
Rachel McBride Lindsey discusses the significance of photography in the study of religion and, particularly, how photographs were “made sense of” as an emerging technology in the nineteenth century. In reviewing the meaning of photos in American religion, she suggests that these images are not mere “things” but enable an entirely new way of engaging religious practices and doctrines.
Jean-Pierre Warnier, reporting from Paris, offers some reflections on Charlie Hebdo and the burgeoning Je Suis Charlie movement. David Morgan builds on Warnier’s comments by considering the humble pencil as means and motive of the events in Paris. What both bring to the forefront is the role that materiality, and, particularly, material religion, play in this confrontation with and affirmation of the democratic process.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. – the noted poet, essayist, and physician – offers a set of reflections on the emerging technology of photography in this 1859 essay. Apparent here is the intricate reliance on complex technology for rendering the 3-dimensional world into a 2-dimensional fixed representation of that world. With the novel ability to produce such accurate images easily, Holmes sees a transition occur: even though the photograph is a quintessential example of a material object, Holmes sees form “divorced from matter” in the photographic image. Undoubtedly, the complex relationships between people and photographic imagery has helped to shape subsequent attitudes about object, materiality, and information “divorced from matter.”