Julie Bellemare relates the imperial patronage of cloisonné objects for religious and secular purposes in eighteenth-century China to an increased taste for colorful and dazzling surfaces. She uses the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and Alfred Gell to unpack the significance of this technical enchantment, and to clarify and complicate questions of taste, class, and ethnic identity in the Chinese production and consumption of cloisonné. Bellemare argues that the non-Chinese origins of the medium made it adaptable to the evolving needs of display and an ideal canvas for imperial decoration.
Francis Stewart explores the pedagogical possibilities of teaching material religions as a way of differently engaging with the concept “religion.” Using her experiences in a recent undergraduate course at the University of Stirling, Stewart argues that an embodied, sensory-based approach to material religions helps students approach theoretical and methodological tenets in different, nuanced, more embodied ways, ultimately yielding a context in which, for students and professors alike, the classroom can come to function as a sacred space.
Chris Pinney describes his recent visit to the town of Nowa Huta, Krakow, Poland. Through photos of the landscape and architecture he traces the tumultuous history of this formerly Social Realist town that has been the site of Stalinism, the Polish Solidarity Movement and now the regeneration of Catholicism through new churches. This painful history seems embodied in the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, whose scars elongate with the suffering of her nation.
Thomas Hart presents an excerpt from The Ancient Spirituality of the Modern Maya regarding the role of stones in Maya spirituality. Below he introduces the excerpt, contextualizing these practices within traditional forms of spirituality in the western highlands of Guatemala. In his book, Hart draws from interviews with ritual specialists and other practitioners he has conducted since 1993.
Eric Reinders discusses the material culture of chant, the complexities of conversion, and the economics of religious “trades” in this intriguing piece. Drawing on excerpts from Christian missionary publications and other writings, Reinders highlights the subtle cultural dynamics at play when two religious traditions encounter one another, especially under conditions when one aims to supplant the other.