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Religion and Material Culture: Studying Religion and Religious Elements on the Basis of Objects, Architecture, and Space
Proceedings of an international Conference held at the Centre for Bible and Cultural Memory (BiCuM), University of Copenhagen and the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, May 6-8, 2011

L. Bredholt, J. Tae Jensen (eds.)
approx. 450 p., 43 b/w ill. + 21 colour ill., 2 b/w tables, 156 x 234 mm, 2017
ISBN: 978-2-503-56900-0
Languages: English
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Religion and material culture - the interaction between objects and mind

Whereas until recently the history of religions began with the Sumerians and the first texts, the material turn in the humanities has opened up the possibility for tracing the history of religions back to before the invention of writing.

The book gathers specialists from a variety of fields to explore the possibilities of the material perspective in the study of religion. Within a diachronic perspective, archaeologists, scholars of religion, theologians, and ancient historians focus on how the gradual invention of various forms of material culture - graves, images, objects - has made it possible for certain religious expressions to be constructed, arise, and enfold. Also, the volume investigates what types of material culture characterizes religion and what these “mean”.

The volume represents a joint, cross-disciplinary effort to investigate religion and its various aspects with a point of departure in material culture. This means rethinking basic assumptions about religion and how to study it. Integrating material culture approaches with textual approaches, the contributions discuss the foundations for a history of religion which is not limited to a textual perspective but which is both broader and wider, both reaching back in prehistory and out to other spheres.

Table of Contents

The volume contains revised versions of 13 papers presented at the conference as well as an introduction. The subdivision of the contributions consists of three sections:
I: Methodology
II: Archaeology
III: Text

In I: Methodology the overall theme is the degree to which religion, as we know and define it today, is dependent on material culture.
Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen discusses the theoretical foundations for approaches that take their point of departure from the material record rather than models.
Morten Warmind discusses what ultimately defines a god and contends that all gods are dependent upon some kind of material representation.
David A. Warburton argues on the basis of Near Eastern and Egyptian archaeological and textual material that material culture is the precondition for abstract thought as such. In so far as religious discourse builds on abstract thought and symbols, it presumes a certain level of material culture.
Marlies Heinz shows, with an example from excavations at Uruk, how material culture leaves traces that texts do not.

II: Archaeology covers a period from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age. The first three contributions centre on a global or Near Eastern perspective, whereas the latter three contributions take their point of departure in a Scandinavian perspective.
Emmanuel Anati argues that religion characterizes not only our own line of homo but also that of the Neanderthals. On the basis of general material and his own excavations, i.a. at Har Karkom (Negev), he suggests that myth, ritual, and belief can be interpreted from the early material.
Marion Benz analyses the architecture and imagery of Early Holocene sites in Upper Mesopotamia and the Levant. She argues that the increased use of symbolism and the appearance of a standardized repertoire of architectural and figurative symbols was a first step toward the institutionalisation of moral and social codes, authority, and ultimately religion.
Bo Dahl Hermansen looks at what may be termed early religion from the evidence of the extensive death practices at Shakarat Al-Musayid in Jordan. He suggests it was built mainly on the construction of a memory culture where the dead built a transition between the world of the living and the beyond.

Three contributions discuss material from the Scandinavian Bronze Age and its possible interpretation of a religion concerned with the sun.
Flemming Kaul suggests, on the basis of analysis of images on Bronze Age razors, a reconstruction of a mythological and cosmological system of the Bronze Age.
Mads Holst approaches Bronze Age religion via archaeological analyses of barrow construction. In this way, he is able to say something about the social aspects of the religion which are not related to any potential myths and which do not take their model from the study of religion.
Klavs Randsborg traces the Near Eastern and Egyptian influences on Scandinavian mythology and religion via an analysis of the Kivig barrow.

III: Text takes us into historical time where the issue of the relationship between text and material culture is central and where the scholar is challenged to balance between the two kinds of sources.
Izaak de Hulster discusses the relation between material, pictorial, and textual representations of the sacred and the religious in the tradition of the Hebrew Bible. He suggests that temple architecture built the foundation of religion, but that with time symbols and verbal meanings took over.
Trine Bjørnung Hasselbach investigates the palimpsest manuscript Genesis Apocryphon from the Dead Sea scrolls, arguing that the materiality of the manuscript relativizes patriarchal authority as this is claimed in the text. Thus, she shows how material and text may represent contradictory messages.
Lars Östman compares the stumbling stones commemorating victims of Holocaust all over Germany with Roman archaic religion as this has been analyzed by Mario Perniola. He shows how the sacred can appear in many forms but that materiality seems to be its precondition.

Interest Classification:
Social Sciences
Anthropology
Classics, Ancient History, Oriental Studies
Ancient history & archaeology: Europe

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