This article critiques anthropological approaches such as Victor Turner’s and his epigones that reduce objects to sets of meanings, functions and attributes either located in-between matter and reality or in some liminal realm. I borrow from my ethnographic encounters among the Shia nonstate armed combatants in the Middle East since 2007 and especially focus on nonideological/nonreligious elements of conflict such as materiality of combat, material expressions of violence, and pain and pleasure, to find a fresh location for the so-called in-between that upends dualities and dichotomies without compromising on how human and nonhuman relate, how they co-constitute realities and become religious through meanings and representations. By way of guns, martyrdom, and religion, this article pays attention to religion without centering religiosity, religious practices, and religion. Instead, it follows how things gather around religion without becoming religious. In other words, I follow how things of conflict relate to religion, shape religiosity, and collaborate with believers. This is an intentional academic choice, namely, to talk about religion without engaging with religion explicitly to highlight nonhuman partners in religiously framed political violence. I propose a deeper engagement with conflict cosmologies beyond anthropological methodological routines which limit objects to a bundle of qualities both in appearances and meanings or overspreading objects to the sum of their relationships, like Actor Network Theory.
This chapter examines what is unearthed, unmade, and left unprocessed after bulldozers destroy the places of worship and ancestral land of religious communities Nairobi in order to erect a bypass road. It shows that because these things – the bypass road and bulldozers – derive from and belong to the Kenyan government, they illustrate the complicated ways that religious communities past and present, at once compete with and depend on the very things which threaten to displace them, in order to ensure a place for themselves in Nairobi. As such, this chapter submits that the way religious communities navigate and narrate their ambiguous entanglement with the things of conflict, provides crucial insight into how they negotiate the politics of belonging in Nairobi and their political belonging in Kenya.
In the People’s Republic of China, religious politics has taken the shape of material politics. The Republic’s religious administrators borrow from the ‘world religions paradigm’ to outwardly promote an image of religious tolerance and freedom, while simultaneously fully employing the disciplining potential of the world religions paradigm. When we look at both Buddhism and Islam, we see how these authorities are gaining control over the religious infrastructure in China and define how this infrastructure encodes religious realities. The study of contemporary religion in China, and the study of Islam a forteriori, has over the past decades increasingly become a locus of an epistemological rift between Western ‘critique’ of PRC policy in Hui and Uyghur territories in China, and the ‘Chinese perspective’, which has generally retreated from studying Islam in China. Over the recent years and since the rise of Xi Jinping, a new political ideology has taken shape in the PRC, which attempts to be a fusion of Maoism-Leninism, the economic and cultural vision of Deng Xiaoping, and the future looking new Maoist authoritarianism of Xi Jinping himself, with the increased adoption of native Chinese cultural elements, such as Confucianism. This ideology is exercised by a form of structural violence, which becomes visible at the material level. Not only do they control which religious buildings are allowed, as part of local urban planning policies, but the Chinese authorities also initiate religious architectural projects on their own, including mosques, Buddhist academies and Tibetan temples. It employs what Walter Benjamin has called a ‘mythical violence’. This is done not only by cultural control, but also by developing and investing in a communist-sanctioned religious infrastructure of Buddhist schools, temples, ‘vocational training camps’, high-speed rail links to regions of religious interest, but also by targeted demolition of religious sites that are unwelcome.
This chapter stresses the importance of a material approach to the study of peace and conflict, by means of a case study of the Ring of Peace: an interreligious public event that was organized by young Muslims in Oslo, Norway, in response to terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in 2015. It brings together insights from the fields of material religion and affect studies to explore the relationship between materiality, sensorial experiences, and affects in this performance of ‘peaceful togetherness’. I argue that combining Birgit Meyer’s concept of the “sensational form” with Sara Ahmed’s notion of “affective economies” creates a fruitful ground to analyze how communities are made and remade in relation to violent conflicts, and how unequal power relationships between people of different origins and beliefs are challenged as well as reproduced through efforts for peaceful interfaith coexistence.
This chapter discusses the significance of materiality in conflict analysis, healing and reconciliation. It argues that the preponderance of ideologies, ideas and beliefs, in healing and reconciliation processes obscure the significance of objects, feelings and bodily performances and experiences. Yet, they are responsible for the onset, escalation or de-escalation of violent conflict. In the context of conflict and reconciliation, violation of materiality such as the occupation of land by foreign forces, the beheading of people, breaking of limbs, the crying of children, the raping of women, the destruction of buildings and infrastructure among other things, leads to hurt, woundedness and trauma, which engenders the need for healing and reconciliation. Subsequently, just as in conflict analysis, attention needs to be paid to the significance of objects, feelings, and bodily performances in pursuing healing and reconciliation. Focusing only on ideas, ideology, belief, and metanarratives, which is the default modus operandi of states in analyzing conflicts, thus does not lead to sustainable healing and reconciliation. The pain of violent conflict is often very physical and place-based.
How do photographs and videos of suffering human bodies shock, appeal and move, and how do they shape understandings of violence and conflict? This chapter studies how we look at photographs and explores the argument that in western contexts, humanitarian and atrocity photography are deeply influenced by Christian iconographies of meaningful suffering. With ‘Christian iconographies’ this chapter refers to visual images that are symbolically ‘possessed’ by artistic and narrative Christian traditions. Using critical notions on photography and visual culture, iconic trajectories of meaningful suffering are identified in binary frames between fully imaged ‘innocent’ victims in need of rescue and absent ‘violent’ perpetrators in need of judgment. The gendered style of humanitarian and atrocity photography intensifies the soteriological message that tempt viewers to be touched. However, precisely this visual ‘message’ also suggests an interpretation of conflict and violence. This way, humanitarian photography can reflect a deeply rooted rescue-narrative that can be linked to Christian soteriological trajectories of suffering, guilt, and moral response but encourages at the same time specific, often simplifying interpretations of conflict and violence.