Thinking Religion Through Things

Reflections on the Material Turn in the Scientific Study of Religion\s

in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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In recent years, the “material turn” has gained prominence in the humanities and social sciences, and it has also stimulated a shift toward a rediscovery of materiality in the scientific study of religion\s. The material turn aims to dissolve conventional dichotomies and, by emphasizing the concept of assemblage, insists that humans and things are fundamentally co-constitutive. This “New Materialism” addresses ontological alterity, and it radically decenters static anthropocentric arrangements and the position of the human subject as such. The insider–outsider distinction, however, as well as the emic–etic categorization, are based on fundamental dichotomies between the researcher and the researched, and between descriptive and analytical understandings of human beings. This article discusses the possibility and significance of a non-anthropocentric approach to religion, and examines to what extent it is analytically helpful to apply the insider–outsider and emic–etic distinctions while pursuing the goal of dissolving hierarchical and binary thinking. It furthermore argues that these issues can be properly answered only with reference to their methodological implications.

Thinking Religion Through Things

Reflections on the Material Turn in the Scientific Study of Religion\s

in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion



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In 2013an international conference at Groningen explored the potential of aesthetics as a “connective concept” by “offering a link between perception and the history of aesthetic forms and between individual practice and cultural ideologies; by enabling scholars to question dualist notions of body and mind or spirit and matter; and by paving the way to critically engaging diverse academic knowledge cultures—not least the polarized debate on cognition and culture” (see:


In the summer of 2009Ku was visited by politicians in the ethnographic collection of the University of Göttingen. It was the time of an election campaign and Ku together with other objects of the Cook–Forster collection was sent to different exhibitions in Europe. On the occasion of the farewell ceremony Lutz Stratmann then minister of sciences of Lower Saxony “appointed” Ku as an ambassador. This museum event was documented in the newspaper Göttinger Tageblatt (July 28 2009; see accessed July 3 2015; see Bräunlein 2011: 60).


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