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The Center (formerly Initiative) for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (MAVCOR) is characterized by its subjects of inquiry—material and visual cultures of religions—and by the form of activity it promotes: scholarly, collaborative, interdisciplinary, and international. It is about the study of the religious lives of things (pictures, objects, monuments, buildings, spaces, for example). It directs attention to the pressures of secularization theory on past and present material practices and ideas about them. MAVCOR is equally committed to multiplying ways of being in conversation, of sharing information, and of producing knowledge about these topics. We intend this work, shared in books, articles, conferences, courses, interviews, exhibitions, lectures, film series, and web-based visual and textual resources, to be substantive, critical, provocative, and accessible.

Our subjects of inquiry include, but are not limited to:

  • Sensory Cultures of Religions
  • Visual and Material Practice
  • Public Display of Religion
  • Economies of Material Religion
  • Religion, Secularization, and Materiality
  • Controversy, Censorship, Iconoclasms
  • Religion and the Politics of Vision
  • Visibility and Invisibility

The Center imagines numerous arenas of activity, in real and virtual spaces. It shapes a center for religion and visual/material culture studies at Yale University. From this local base in New Haven, MAVCOR aims to facilitate a multi-sited network of institutional and individual partners and to engage audiences in varied settings, including higher education, museums, civic life, religious communities, and artistic and architectural professions.

An important aspect of the Center’s work coalesces around periodic four to five year project-cycles, each dedicated to a particular theme explored by working groups of Initiative Fellows. Project Cycle I (2008-2012) considered the senses and sensory controversies in material religious practice. The Center’s first collaborative book, Sensational Religion: Sensory Cultures in Material Practice (Yale University Press, 2014), foregrounds the work of Project Cycle I. From its inauguration and throughout Project Cycle I (Religion, Materiality, and the Senses), the Center has been generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (ISM), and Yale University.

Project Cycle II, Material Economies of Religion in the Americas: Arts, Objects, Spaces, Mediations, an international, multi-institutional collaboration, began in July 2016. The collaboration’s forty-plus fellows will convene three times in interdisciplinary research seminars. A fourth gathering, an international conference shaped by fellows, will take place in 2021 or 2022. The MAVCOR Journal (formerly Conversations) will constitute one key publication venue for the project cycle.

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