Smith-Pettit Lecture: Material Christianity: Creating A Religious World Of Things

This illustrated lecture demonstrates how the study of things and spaces sheds light on the religious experiences of the people in the pew. During the past half-century, an important shift occurred in the study of history. Influenced by the Civil Rights and the Women’s Liberation movements, scholars moved beyond simply studying the written documents of the educated and famous. Within religious history, the focus of research became the practices of the people rather than the ideas of the elite. In order to get at this “underside of history,” scholars looked beyond the written word to the world of things and spaces. Material culture studies evolved to pull information out of objects, art, landscapes, and architecture. How does an ordinary object become holy, sacred, special? What are some of the ways that Christians have manipulated the material world to create and maintain their spiritual visions? How does material culture function within religious communities? Why are Americans, in particular, wedded to the physical expressions of their faith? This lecture will provide a theoretical foundation for addressing Mormon religious practices by using material culture.

Colleen McDannell