‘Material Approaches to Religion’ Meet ‘New Materialism’: Resonances and Dissonances

21 June 2018

Plenary during the Urban Matters conference 
21 June, 15.30-17.00. You have to register for the conference if you wish to attend.

So far there have been surprisingly few exchanges between scholars advocating material approaches to religion and scholars advocating versions of new materialism. This panel seeks to open up the conversation by taking stock of potential resonances and dissonances. Resonances pertain, for instance, to the critique of a longstanding materiophobia in the humanities and social sciences (including the study of religion), the anchoring of research in the materiality of being in the world, and the productive use of the notion of assemblage as including people, objects, and even gods. Dissonances may pertain to a number of issues. For instance, while material approaches to religion tend to approach religion as a human matter and pay much attention to materially grounded dynamics of signification and meaning making, new materialists emphasize the post-human and reject anthropocentrism. While new materialists appear to embrace materialism as a new viable ontology, many scholars of religion tend to regard ontologies as data, but resist making ontological statements themselves. And while scholars of religion want to understand how figures of God, gods and spirits become present and real for people, many of them would resist materializing God, gods and spirits to such an extent that their realness is affirmed ontologically.

What are the potentials and limits in materializing religion? To what extent can the idea of God, gods and spirits at all be materialized, without being destroyed? How can both new material approaches to religion and new materialism(s) contribute to a fundamental critique of mentalistic stances that underpin Eurocentric presumed universalisms, and open up towards recognitions of alternative forms of knowledge production, for instance from the Global South? How to develop a material approach to religion without lapsing into a materialism that has no room for human figurations and sensations of the divine, and thus dismisses religion as illusion? How to account for the power of the imagination – for which religion arguably forms a prime case – in the frame of new materialism? If society, culture and religion are both ‘materially real and socially constructed’ (Frost and Coole), how to break new grounds for a productive conversation between new materialists and scholars working on religion from a material angle who necessarily emphasize the human dimension, for instance by a focus on the city and religion as part and parcel of urban matters? In how far can this conversation serve as an important and insightful try-out for exploring possibilities to materialize the humanities and social sciences?

Moderator: Birgit Meyer
Pooyan Tamimi Arab: “Spinoza and the Material Religion Approach: A Love-Hate Relationship”
Peter Bräunlein: “Studying Religion Non-anthropocentrically? Some Considerations on New Materialism and New Animism”
Marian Burchardt: "Infrastructuring Religion: Materiality and Meaning in Ordinary Urbanism"
Discussant: Iris van der Tuin