Material religion

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Material religion is a framework used by scholars of religion examining the interaction between religion and material culture. Its specific focus is on the place of objects, images, spaces, and buildings in religious communities.

Some scholars within the study of religion have criticised the material religion approach for often seeking to reintroduce the phenomenology of religion into the discipline.


Religion, being a prime human activity throughout history, is rooted in the body and in its sensual relations with the world. It always has been and always will be. We can make sense out of the senses. This is the first true thing we can say about religion, because it is also the first true thing we can say about being human. We are sentient beings, and religion is sensuous.

— Scholar of religion S. Brent Plate, 2014[1]

The scholar of religion S. Brent Plate was of the view that "religion must be understood as deriving from rudimentary human experiences, from lived, embodied practices".[2] He stated that "to learn about religion we have to come to our senses. Literally. We have to begin to discover... that we cannot know the worlds of any other culture, let alone our own, unless we get inside the sensational operations of human bodies."[3]


The material religion framework has been promoted by the scholars such as Birgit Meyer, Sally Promey, S. Brent Plate, David Morgan, etc.

In 2005, the peer-reviewed journal Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief was launched. In their editorial statement, the editors described it as "a new project in the study of religious images, objects, spaces, and material practices."[4]


The anthropologist Simon Coleman suggested that the term "material religion" was tautological, in that "religion is inherently material in its very constitution."[5]

The scholars of religion Christopher R. Cotter and David G. Robertson suggested that the material religion framework could be an alternative means to explore religion, in contrast to the dominant world religions paradigm which they regarded as problematic.[6] They nevertheless thought that material religion represented "phenomenology by stealth".[7]



  1. ^ Plate 2014, p. 7.
  2. ^ Plate 2014, p. 15.
  3. ^ Plate 2014, p. 8.
  4. ^ Editors 2005, p. 5.
  5. ^ Coleman 2009, p. 360.
  6. ^ Cotter & Robertson 2016, pp. 12–13.
  7. ^ Cotter & Robertson 2016, p. 13.


Coleman, Simon (2009). "Material Religion: A Fruitful Tautology?". Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief. 5 (3). pp. 359–360. doi:10.2752/175183409X12550007730101.
Cotter, Christopher; Robertson, David G. (2016). "Introduction: The World Religions Paradigm in Contemporary Religious Studies". In Christopher Cotter and David G. Robertson (eds.). After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 1–20. ISBN 978-1-138-91912-9.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
Editors (2005). "Editorial Statement". Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief. 1 (1). pp. 4–8. doi:10.2752/174322005778054474.
Plate, S. Brent (2014). A History of Religion in 5½ Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to its Senses. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-3311-1.

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