New book release: texts by Birgit Meyer translated into Portuguese

02 April 2019

Como as coisas importam. Uma abordagem material da religião. Textes de Birgit Meyer. Emerson Giumbelli, João Rickli, Rodrigo Toniol (organizadores), Porto Alegre: Editora da UFRGS, 2019.

This book just appeared, and Birgit Meyer visits Campinas, São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Curitiba for launches, lectures and discussions between 1 and 13 April. Next to an extensive introduction by Giumbelli, Rickli and Toniol, this book contains (shortened) translations of the following texts by Birgit Meyer:

1 Introduction: From Imagined Communities to Aesthetic Formations: Religious Mediations, Sensational Forms, and Styles of Binding. In: B Meyer (org.). Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion, and the Senses. Nova York: Palgrave, 2009, p. 1-30. (Revisado)

2 “Introduction”.  (with D. Houtman) In: Meyer e Houtman (orgs). Things. Religion and the Quest of Materiality. Nova York: Fordham University Press, 2012, p. 1-23. (Revisado)

3. “There Is a Spirit in that Image”: Mass-Produced Jesus Pictures and Protestant-Pentecostal Animation in Ghana. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52(1), p. 100–130 (also in Things. Religion and the Quest of Materiality). (Recebido. Revisado)

4 Mediation and the Genesis of Presence: Toward a Material Approach to Religion. Comments: Hans Belting, Pamela Klassen, Christopher Pinney, Monique Scheer Response to Comments: Birgit Meyer. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5,  2014, p. 205–254.

5 Picturing the Invisible. Visual Culture and the Study of Religion. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 27 (4-5), 2015, p. 333-360. (Recebido. Pronto para revisão)

6 How to capture the ‘wow’: R.R. Marett’s notion of awe and the study of religion. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 22, 7-26, 2016.

It ends with an interview, based on written questions submitted to Meyer by the Giumbelli, Riocki and Toniol. This is the original English version:

  1. The texts that we put together in this book were published on the last 10 years — the first one was the introduction of the ‘Aesthetic formations’ and the last the article ‘How to capture the Wow’. What are the main changes that you identify on your own production during this period?

Let me start by saying that I am very excited and happy about your decision to group and translate this set of articles. This is very encouraging. Thank you so much for all your efforts! While I have never conducted research in Brazil, I visited Rio and Salvador de Bahia at several occasions and have good contacts with colleagues working on and /or from Brazil – André Bakker, Patricia Birman, Fernanda Heberle, Carly Machado, Martijn Oosterbaan, Mattijs van de Port, Bruno Reinhardt, Marjo de Theije, and of course the three of you. I noted many similarities and resonances between my work, which is strongly grounded in my research in Ghana, and phenomena concerning religion and society in Brazil, especially regarding the African elements of Candomblé, the rise of Pentecostal churches and their dismissive attitude with regard to Candomblé.

As for your question, having reread these texts, I note both continuities and changes. I think that my work is very much characterized by its groundedness in collaborative research. The introduction to ‘Aesthetic Formations’ (text 1) comes out of a project (conducted between 2000 and 2006) titled Modern Mass Media, Religion and the Imagination of Communities; it involved eight researchers (PhDs and postdocs) and some visiting fellows. It was the first big project directed by me and, as I state in the introduction, my aim was to create an ‘intellectual space’ so as to develop useful concepts and a shared vocabulary that allows us to talk across different settings. After that project, which was funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research (NWO), I had the chance to lead a number of smaller and larger collaborative projects, on cultural heritage formation, creativity, and innovation, iconic religion, transatlantic spirits, Muslim-Christian encounters in Africa, and most recently a research program called Religious Matters in an Entangled World. Even though it takes a lot of time to organize such endavors, also because they require that I, as project leader, assemble collective volumes, write introductions (texts 1 and 2) and all that, I very much enjoy the energy unleashed. For I find that doing research, even if as anthropologists we may set off to conduct our fieldwork all by our own, is ultimately a social affair. It is productive to link up with scholars from various disciplinary angles and from different regions, so as to take some distance from one’s specific research and to think about it from a wider perspective.

Over the period in which I wrote these chapters and articles, I moved from anthropology (in the Faculty of Social Sciences at VU University Amsterdam) to religious studies (in the Faculty of Humanities at Utrecht University). While I have always been primarily interested in the study of religion (especially missionary Christianity and Pentecostalism), the discipline in which this research takes place matters. At the time I took up the professorship at Utrecht University, the study of theology was about to be folded up and religious studies came in as a substitute. My inaugural lecture (text 4) offered a welcome occasion for me to openly think about the future of the study of religion at a time of heavy unchurching and the growth of new religious traditions, especially Islam, in the Netherlands. My aim was to contribute to the reconfiguration of the study of religion from what I called a post-secularist and postcolonial standpoint, calling attention to hitherto quite disregarded dimensions, such as the role of things and the body, as well as the longstanding transregional entanglements of Europe and its colonial spheres of influence. In so doing, I had to reinvent myself as an anthropologist in a new setting. I realized that many issues taken as quite normal in anthropology – for instance, the relative ease with which anthropologists present the perspectives of their interlocutors with regard to the existence of God, gods and spirits, or the strong focus on one particular research site and the inclination to move deep into it – are unusual, and at times frowned upon, in religious studies. Long framed as the secular other of theology, in religious studies the difference between scholarly and emic (e.g. believers’) approaches to the unseen has to be marked explicitly, so as to avoid the charge of religionism. And the overall direction is more comparative (across a much larger time span than anthropologists are used to). So far, I find it productive and stimulating to be situated in-between these two fields. I try to play my part in rethinking the role and place of religion beyond the long dominant paradigm of secularization, which wrongly expected the decline of religion with modernization and development. As scholars we now seek to come to terms with the (re)production of religion under conditions of secularity, and the pluriformity of modern religious environments.

With hindsight I see three trajectories unfolding in my work that got a boast after my move to Utrecht. One, the importance of recapturing aesthetics – understood in a broad sense – for the study of religion and society. After the coining of the notion of aesthetic formations (text 1), I have sought to develop this approach further by, for instance, engaging with the work of Jacques Rancière – especially his notion of the ‘distribution of the sensible’ –, German cultural sociologist Andreas Reckwitz and others. The point here is to rethink the exclusion of aesthetics in the constitution of the social sciences in the early 20th century (exceptions granted) and to recapture this field, as well as the body and the senses, as being central to sociological analysis. If it is one of the key concerns of the social and cultural sciences to understand dynamics of binding and bonding, processes of in- and exclusion, and the social constitution of realities, we cannot afford to neglect the ways in which sensation and experience are mobilized socially, culturally, politically, and economically. Obviously, the importance of aesthetics cannot be overestimated with regard to the study of religion, too. My attempt to re-member of R.R. Marett as a still important scholar who offered stimulating ideas to understand how people are gripped by extraordinary experiences – the wow – that are generated through what I call sensational forms acknowledges this. And in my book Sensational Movies. Video, Vision and Christianity in Ghana (2015, see also texts 3 and 5) I try to show how Pentecostalism articulates and distributes a particular aesthetic regime that is affirmed by popular movies, informing Pentecostal world-making and shaping civic attitudes at loggerheads with national heritage and conventional politics. Gradually I got much more conscious about the co-existence of people grounded in different aesthetic formations in one society. I am now trying to gain a deeper understanding of what I call the ethics and aesthetics of diversity, that are central to modalities of co-existence in pluralistic settings, in the Netherlands as well as in Ghana, and as I know through the work of Emerson Giumbelli and Rodrigo Toniol, also in Brazil.

Second, in my attempt to contribute to reconfigure the study of religion, I could pursue my ideas about religion as a practice of mediation to which media are intrinsic. This is closely tied to my strong interest in a material approach to religion. As argued in the introduction to the Things volume (text 2), the study of religion has long been shaped by a mentalistic or ‘Protestant’ bias, according to which materiality is regarded as subordinate to mind and spirit. Of course, and I see this clearer and clearer through my engagement with scholars in history and theology whose main expertise is Christianity, this so-called Protestant bias does not necessarily pertain to churches in the Protestant spectrum, in which material forms – buildings, images – and body practices abound. It rather pertains to a dominant scholarly stance that is now being deconstructed, yet still has echoes in, for instance, normative public debates about the proper manifestation of religion in European society (often triggered by the arrival of religious newcomers, especially Muslims). Realizing the tangibility of mediations, over the past years I have sought to contribute to develop a material approach to religion. On the one hand, this approach engages critically with evolutionary schemes articulated in colonial encounters between native populations, missionaries and scholars according to which a focus on material forms and ritual is regarded to be lower than a focus on pure meaning (see also David Chidester’s book Empire of Religion). On the other hand, it acknowledges that religious traditions employ multiple media. As my work brought together in this book shows, over the past years I have developed a strong conceptual and ethnographic interest in images as powerful religious media, including both their devotional use and their dismissal in discourses of idolatry and fetishism, up to their iconoclastic destruction. I think that, in one way or another, religions relate to a professed unseen, that may be imagined and spoken about, or alluded to via physical images. In this sense, images can be understood as sensational forms that are authorized as suitable means to mediate an unseen, and in so doing, render visible what is not available to direct sight. As I try to explain in the fourth part of my inaugural lecture (text 4) and in ‘Picturing the Invisible’ (text 5), so far images have not received the conceptual and empirical attention they deserve in the study of religion, which is due to its longstanding textual bias. Next to the pioneering work of David Morgan and Sally Promey, I have been much inspired by the Germany stand of art history called Bildwissenschaft. I think that this interdisciplinary conversation with scholars as Hans Belting and Christiane Kruse has certainly improved my understanding of the use and power of images as religious media and sensational forms.

Third, after having finished my monograph Sensational Movies (research for it started way back in 1996 and went on over a period of more than 10 years), due to time constraints I could not start a new intense anthropological research project in Ghana or elsewhere in Africa. But recently I was able to initiate a collaborative project with junior and senior colleagues at the University of Ghana and Trinity College, the so-called Madina project. Together, we study the dynamics of living together in Madina, a neighborhood in Accra, whose inhabitants have different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Such a collaboration is conducive for engaging in the study of co-existence across all sorts of differences, which I have come to regard as the default, rather than exception. I have long thought that as anthropologists and scholars of religion we have a responsibility to engage with our academic colleagues in the countries in which we conduct research. Knowledge production has long been – and still is - grounded in western epistemic regimes. It needs to be decolonized, by taking different positionalities into account. It is fantastic that the Religious Matters project offers the possibility to make collaboration with Ghanaian colleagues happen.

  1. Very soon the Journal Material Religion will complete 15 years. It’s evident that the journal has an important role on the diffusion and development of the debate about religion and materiality. Could you comment which changes you identify on the characteristics of the articles/research submitted on the first issues and nowadays?

I have been one of the editors of Material Religion since 2006, one year after the journal was inaugurated. In the beginning, the journal served as a forum to assemble and profile research on religion and material culture. At the time, this was still unusual, as the assumption that religion and materiality were at loggerheads with each other was broadly shared. By now, material religion is no longer taken to be an oxymoron, but as (almost) normal. From the outset, for us as editors it was important to stress that Material Religion is not simply about religious material culture, but seeks to challenge the de-materialized theories and approaches through which religion usually has been approached (see also text 2). In the first issue of 2014 we offered a short evaluation of the first decade, noting that most articles published so far were from scholars in anthropology and religious studies and focused to large extent on Europe and the US, followed by Africa. In the meantime, the focus has broadened with regard to disciplines and regions, and we also have more articles about South America. Maybe scholars in Brazil reading this could be encouraged to submit their work? It can also be noted that for some years now there is an explicit engagement with broader approaches developed with regard to materiality, such as Bruno Latour’s ANT and object-oriented ontologies. Overall, I think that the strength of the journal lies in its empirical focus on religious things, small and large. In my view, we should stimulate more explicit conceptual work on issues of materiality, for instance with regard to new materialism. But this will be up to the authors, of course. On my part, I decided that having served as an editor for twelve years, it is time to leave so as to be able to concentrate more fully on the Religious Matters programme.

 

                                               Rodrigo Toniol, João Rickli, Birgit Meyer, Emerson Giumbelli
                                                                       photo: Patricia Souza

  1. Do you think “material religion” may (or has already) become a new sub-area in religious studies? What challenges do you envisage in this process of specialization?

For me the turn to the materiality and corporeality of religion is a strategic move, intended to critique a shortcoming, so as to transform an epistemic regime. I am happy to note that taking a material approach becomes more and more accepted and has become almost normal. At a certain moment it will hopefully not even be necessary to talk about material religion. In my view, ‘turns’ such as the sensorial, iconic and material turns are important in that they assemble people and gather conceptual energy to propose new empirical foci and approaches that challenge the status quo and offer new directions in broader disciplines. I am not at all in favor of adding more and more subfields to religious studies or anthropology, as this would lead to ever more fragmentation. In my understanding the question of materiality – similar to gender and diversity – cuts across the whole social and cultures sciences, and should be taken up by making links across disciplines and with the aim to intervene in the humanities at large.

  1. In an interview you gave to Nadia Seremetakis some time ago, you mentioned that your choice to become an anthropologist was related to your experience in Togo, when you were still a student of pedagogic and religious studies in Bremen. Could you, please, elaborate a bit more on the importance of your longterm fieldwork in Africa, especially Ghana, for the development of your theoretical positions and arguments?

My research is Ghana has been the hotbed for all my insights and ideas. I was trained by Johannes Fabian and learned from him that anthropology is grounded in meetings, conversations, exchanges of anthropologists and their interlocutors. It is a critical endeavor in which the limits of theoretical assumptions and concepts appear through ethnographic work. The point is to develop approaches through which the materials we assemble – and, in fact, co-produce with our interlocutors – deploy their critical potential. From the outset, I was interested in longstanding contact situations between Africans and Westerners grounded in colonialism, rather than going for supposedly traditional African ideas and practices as such. Hence my interest to focus on a 19th- and early 20th- century German mission society among the Ewe, and on the ways in which the Christian preaching was apprehended, transformed and challenged in a world that was increasingly in turmoil.

In a way, I regard my various research sites in Ghana as my ‘frontier zone’ (see text 4), in which I struggled to develop an understanding of the matters at stake by constantly reflecting back on the concepts and theories that inform my perception and thinking, on the one hand, and the insights gained through my ethnographic experiences and findings, on the other. Looking back, I would say that I engaged in three major, related projects: colonial missions and the rise of African understandings of Christianity (through vernacularization of the Christian message and diabolization of indigenous gods and rituals), Pentecostalism and neo-liberal capitalism, and popular culture, video and Pentecostalism. As for the first project, I realized quickly that the devil was a key figure in the imaginaries of Ewe Christians, through whom, in line with missionary preaching, indigenous gods and spirits has been recast as demons. My initial plan was to investigate possible tensions between the oral and the written in the context of conversion to Christianity, but through my fieldwork in various churches in Peki (my main research site) it became clear to me that the devil was the major figure to unlock the repercussions of 19th missionary preaching in the mission churches, African initiated churches, up to the rise of Pentecostalism in the 1980s. Strangely, at the time I started this research in the late 1980s a great deal of research on African Christianity focused on ideas about God. I argued that the figure of the devil was much more important than scholars (including missiologists) were prepared to acknowledge, and that a study of missions was certainly worth detailed anthropological research (still unusual when I embarked on it). Also, my work on conflicts and tensions between missionaries and Ewe made me realize certain limitations in my own ideas about religion, pointing at the key relevance of objects, the body (e.g. through possession) and rituals. Inspired by the work of Talal Asad and his problematization of universalizing approaches to religion, I realized the extent to which I myself started from a specific understanding of religion that echoed my own Protestant upbringing, but had blind spots regarding Ewe religion or, for that matter, Catholicism. In my first book Translating the Devil (1999) I focused very much on language, but later I proposed to take the fetish, which was a continuous bone of contention, as a provocative starting point for a material approach to religion (text 4). To pursue this, I plan to revisit the archive of the mission society that was active among the Ewe and pay much more attention to material religion. Also, during my fieldwork Pentecostalism became a major force, and so I sought to grasp its attraction and effects through detailed research, both in the village and in Accra. Pentecostalism played a key role in mediating modernity and globalization. Its skillful use of new media at a time when the Ghanaian state opened up towards neo-liberal capitalism and implemented the deregulation of mass media, prompted me to study the relation between the accessibility of mass media for religious groups and the transformation of the public sphere. Trying to come to terms with the Pentecostal molding and tuning of the sensorium with the aim to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, I developed the notion of ‘sensational form’. The rise of the video-film industry, facilitated by the availability of video and the downfall of the state film industry, offered an occasion to study the Pentecostalization of popular imaginaries, and so on. So I would say that all the themes I have developed over the past 20 years were triggered by some puzzlement arising from my research in Ghana, yielding some kind of grounded critical theory. At the moment, I am working on a paper called ‘Studying Religion in and from Africa’, in which I will try to spell out how and why doing so from Africa – in sync with the move to develop ‘theory from the South’ - makes a difference.

  1. Your research and those of your collaborators are focused not only on Africa, but also on Middle East, Asia and Brazil. Are there possible approximations between your elaborations and postcolonial discussions that are much relevant in the academic environments in all those regions? How could they be described?

As pointed out above, there is need to rethink the legacy and future directions of anthropology and religious studies from a postcolonial and post-secularist angle. Throughout, I have collaborated with scholars working on the Middle East and the Muslim World (also thanks to my affiliation as a visiting fellow at the Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin), South-Asia, Brazil, and Europe. In all these settings pertinent, similar questions arise with regard to the ways in which states regulate and ‘manage’ religion and organize co-existence across differences in various majority-minority configurations. Of course, being an anthropologist I very much attend to the specificity of particular locations, but at the same time I do note that our world is increasingly entangled through capitalism and global institutions. I see it as a major task to identify the genealogies of these entanglements through historical-comparative work and critical reflexion on the limits of so far dominant Eurocentric epistemes. In the study of religion, such work occurs, for example by tracing the spread of the term religion, its translation into new institutional settings, its becoming vested with new meanings. On the whole, I regard the tracing of translations – and the politics of use of translated terms – as one of the key tasks of a crosscutting academic critique aimed to trace the politics of knowledge production.

My preferred locations for research are old and new frontier zones, in which differences are negotiated in hierarchies of power. We find such zones not only in the spheres of imperial European outreach or in the Ottoman Empire, but also, for instance, in contemporary metropoles. I have got more and more interested in exploring dynamics of co-existence in the highly pluralistic and pluriform cityscapes as Amsterdam and Berlin, where struggles and tensions occur with regard to the public expression of relatively new religions as Islam, at a time of unchurching and the heritagization of Christianity. More and more I have gotten interested in the interstices between people, where different religious and other identities rub against, flow into or clash with each other in certain power constellations. I think that anthropologists are very well disposed to understand multiplicity and plurality in everyday practice, from the epistemological standpoint of the frontier zone. This implies that I have some reservations regarding the ontologically oriented approach in anthropology, which is mainly interested in radical otherness. By contrast I am interested in entanglements and multiplicity.

  1. Specifically about your theoretical perspectives, once you commented that could recognize yourself as a kind of new phenomenologist. Could you elaborate more this ‘association’?

Conventional phenomenology of religion, as developed by Rudolf Otto and Gerardus van der Leeuw, has been criticized for its religionist stance and for being blind to power relations. Scholars in religious studies distanced themselves from this approach in the 1970s. However, against the backdrop of my interest in the body and sensation, for me phenomenology is still important. Of course, I was not socialized in religious studies, where one can note some kind of allergy against phenomenology. In my anthropological work on religion, I have found much inspiration in the work of scholars working from a phenomenological perspective (grounded in Merleau Ponty) such as Thomas Csordas and Michael Jackson. As pointed out above, I find it important to apprehend the role of the body and the senses – aesthetics in the sense of aisthesis – as fundamental for religious world-making. Phenomenology is the strand in philosophy par excellence that reflects on structures of being in the world and experience, and developed methods how to study these. Seeking to grasp the mobilization of the senses and the tuning of the sensorium as processes through which people become embedded in particular aesthetic formations, I am happy to describe myself as a new (or neo) phenomenologist. I do, however, emphasize the dimension of power and discipline more than is usually done in this strand, taking inspiration here from the work of Talal Asad, Charles Hirschkind and Saba Mahmood. On the whole, I would prefer to not identify with one or another theoretical strand exclusively. As I tried to explain, my interest in theories and concepts is very much driven by challenges arising from ethnographic work.

  1. The ‘material religion’ as a perspective could be associated with the material turn — which are related, at least on the anthropological field, to the contributions of authors such as Latour and Ingold. Do you recognize associations between your work and the perspective of these authors?

More with Latour than with Ingold, actually. In my inaugural lecture (text 4) I discuss Latour’s notion of the ‘factish’, which is grounded in his critique of modernist purifications and the ensuing sense of superiority of moderns over ‘primitive’ others. If ‘we have never been modern’, ‘we’, Westerners, have our fetishes too, and hence the differences claimed between ‘us’ and ‘them’ loose ground. I find this aspect of Latour’s work very important and productive for the project of a postcolonial critique of knowledge production in religious studies and anthropology, as outlined above. And as I point out in the inaugural lecture and the article on Marett (text 6), Latour’s understanding of belief as fabrication resonates with the gist of the notion sensational form as a ‘device’ to generate a sense of extraordinary presence. From ANT, as developed for instance in Latour’s Reassembling the Social (2005), I learned to think about humans and things as entangled in a fluid and relational manner that makes it impossible to maintain strict boundaries between persons and objects as separate categories. This resonates with a material approach to religion. At times, I find Latour’s writing somewhat hermetic. Having reread his introduction to the marvelous Iconoclash volume, I found myself in disagreement with the way in which he referred to the Second Commandment (Ex. 20, 4-6) as demanding ‘a totally aniconic society’.  Contrary to him, I do not think that this commandment (and certainly not in his radical interpretation which even staunch Calvinists would not share) represents the central (albeit impossible to observe) guideline to govern humans’ relations to images. There is a much more complex archive of human-images relations outside of Calvinism – think about the complex image-theologies around icons, relics and figures in the orthodox and Catholic traditions – that is part of the genealogy of modernity. So certainly if we agree that ‘we have never been modern’, it is important to take these multiple genealogies into account. A nice task for scholars in religious studies! I just wrote an essay, titled ‘Idolatry Beyond the Second Commandment’ along these lines, which is part of a volume I co-edited with Old Testament scholar Terje Stordalen on Figurations and Sensations of the Unseen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Contested Desires (fc next year).

As for Tim Ingold, I have followed his work for a long time, ever since he organized the Manchester debates in anthropology, with admiration and interest. I very much appreciate his insistence to focus on materials, rather than talking about materiality in a highly abstract, conceptual sense. But I also note differences between his thinking and mine. For me, concepts are necessary for knowledge production (see text 4), and so I am not convinced about his radical call for immersion, his vitalistic orientation, and all that. With all respect, I find especially his more recent writings somewhat a-political and romanticizing. They are quite far away from what I find important as anthropologist and religious studies scholar. The journal Social Anthropology produced a special section, titled Forum Rethinking Euro-Anthropology (3, 2015) in which Ingold’s and my statement appear next to each other, but content-wise point in quite different directions.

  1. In the introduction we have already commented about your new project “Religious matters in an entangled world”, which still is in the early stages, but that will keep you busy on the next years. Could you say what are your expectations with this research project?

I did not apply for this project, but could develop it thanks to the Spinoza Award from NWO and the Academy Professor Award from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. This came unexpected, and put me into the exceptional position that I can set up the research I find important and exciting, at a time when funding in our field is very scarce. I decided to focus on religious matters in a double sense of artifacts and bodies that offer the material and corporeal grounding of religion, and of matters of concern arising from the co-existence of religious diversity. Taking a material approach to religion, we look at the acts and material forms through which religions are present, coexist and possibly clash with each other in particular plural settings in Europe and Africa. The manifestation of these acts and forms is subject to state policies, legal arrangements and social-cultural conventions embedded in historical patterns and path-dependent modes of regulating religion. We study the complex configurations of religious coexistence by focusing on religious matters such as things (especially buildings and images), food, bodies and texts as entry points. By doing so, we also seek to further develop concepts and methods for the study of religion from a material angle. 

The project is designed as a four-phase trajectory, moving from a focus on images, objects and building, to food, to bodies and finally texts. In each phase, discussions will be opened with scholars in other disciplines relevant to the particular foci. There are some positions for postdocs and PhDs; and some young scholars sought affiliation by themselves with their own grants. We have a convivial research environment. Each phase aims to further develop a material approach to religion empirically, methodologically and theoretically. Most of the research looks at Europe and Africa, with both settings beings understood as shaped by longstanding transregional entanglements. We are just ending the first phase, which yielded exciting individual research projects (a.o. on the transformation of churches intro secular spaces, and the transformation of once devotional items into religious matters out of place), the kick-off of the above-mentioned Madina-project, as well as many conferences and publications of books and articles. For me the project is a kind of hub – or kitchen – to deepen our understanding of the pluriformity of religion in secular times, with all tensions and clashes ensued. I am convinced that a material and corporeal approach is a fruitful vantage point to study modalities of co-existence in our time, and have high expectations about the outcomes of this research, whilst also enjoying being in the process.

Birgit Meyer, Amsterdam, July 2018