MAVCOR Journal

MAVCOR Journal is an open access born-digital, double blind peer-reviewed journal dedicated to promoting conversation about material and visual cultures of religion. Published by the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion at Yale University and reviewed by members of our distinguished Editorial Board and other experts, MAVCOR Journal encourages contributors to think deeply about the objects, performances, sounds, and digital experiences that have framed and continue to frame human engagement with religion broadly understood across diverse cultures, regions, traditions, and historical periods.

Volume 8: Issue 1
Detail image of a painting of a fair-skinned man with a beard, wearing a hooded cloak, sitting in a lotus position levitating amongst clouds Essays In Search of Multiple Colors of Christ: Daniel J. Fleming and the American Protestant Encounter with Asian Christian Visual Arts, 1937-1940 Satoru Kimura

Fleming’s trilogy illustrates the complex dynamics of race, religion, and visual arts in the interwar United States. Though the extant scholarship highlights the increasing Anglo-Saxonization of Jesus’s body in American visual culture in this era, Fleming’s story reveals a virtually opposite impulse in liberal Protestantism: to search for multiple colors of Christ.

A statue of Mary, in chrome, in front of a white background. Constellations Like a Virgin? Breaking, (un)making, and replicating the Madonna across time, space, and toy stores Meg Bernstein and Meg Boulton

The authors set the nucleating body of the medieval Virgin in conversation with contemporary reimaginings of the Madonna to ask how hybridization, fracture, insertion, assemblage, color, multiplicity, and meaning around sacred and secular exchange can change the way we know and see in relation to these forms from the medieval to the postmodern.

Volume 7: Issue 1
Illustration of a Congolese army attacking a seated European monk in front of a steepled building and cross. Background is palm trees on sandy ground. Constellations Resoundings of Early Modern Afro-Catholic Festive Culture Miguel Valerio

This Constellation is intended to complement the author's book and give readers access to color versions of some of its illustrations, which could only be printed in black and white in the original publication. As in other parts of the Iberian world (i.e., the Iberian Peninsula and all the territories under Spanish and Portuguese control), these performances were usually staged by lay Catholic confraternities.

Shrine consisting children's toys and stuffed animals Constellations Petitionary Devotion: Folk Saints and Miraculous Images in Spanish America Frank Graziano

Votive practice in the Americas has Indigenous, Christian, and syncretic origins that contribute to the diversity of offerings, as do social class, gender, age, and region. Petitionary devotion is structured by an exchange that the votary proposes to a folk saint or miraculous image. The offerings that votaries promise are based on the presumption that folk saints and miraculous images, because they are like us, value what we value.

Volume 6: Issue 3 Characterizing Material Economies of Religion in the Americas

A special issue curated by Kati Curts and Alex Kaloyanides

Introductory Essay

Blue sky with a silver sculpture of connected letters Essays Characterizing Material Economies of Religion in the Americas: An Introduction Kati Curts and Alex Kaloyanides

Kati Curts and Alex Kaloyanides introduce this special issue of MAVCOR Journal devoted to examining four key categories: “Material,” “Economies,” “Religion,” and “America(s).” The ambition of this issue is that the collective inquiries of its authors, which span various interpretive histories and genealogical fragments, can offer ways to better understand their assorted conveyances, as well as the powerful grip of their critical conjunction.

Individual Contributions

Silver medal with a European soldier and an Indigenous man of Turtle Island shaking hands Essays Medals, Memory, and Findspots Pamela E. Klassen

For many Indigenous people of Turtle Island, also known as North America, treaty medals are material reminders of sacred promises made between their nations and the British Crown or the U.S. Government. Settlers and colonial officials, by contrast, have often treated these medals as mere trinkets.

Illustration of a woman with grey hair and dark skin, in a yellow and white dress and black hat, holds a baby in a yellow bonnet. Behind them are mountains and a sacred heart. Object Narratives Julia Greeley, Denver’s Angel of Charity Alexia Williams

More than a portrait of a holy person, an icon structures a present encounter with a saint and the community that the saint represents. What kind of encounter does Greeley’s icon conjure with race and Catholicism in the Old West?

An open journal with white lined pages. On the left page, there are a few lines of text and a few geometric sketches. The right page is filled with handwritten text. Object Narratives Hilma af Klint's Temple for the Paintings Paul C. Johnson

Through Af Klint’s journal entries and sketches, we can shift analyses of sacred space from the guise of transcendent force that simply “appears,” in the phenomenological nomenclature, and instead approach it as technique.

Front of a postcard featuring the cross view of a very large felled tree in front of a leafy green background. On the cross section of the tree, nine white text boxes label different rings on the tree with dates and events. Object Narratives Tree Rings and Blood Lines Sally Promey

These redwood rings are both family trees and family circles, literally naturalizing a canonical “American” familial heritage insistently recited and instantiated in many media and locations: artistic and built environments, judicial practice, legislation and policy, textbooks, land use, and national land theory. Heritage is a family business.

A figure with long, dark, curly hair is seated facing away from the viewer, draped in material covered in calligraphy. The same material covers the background of the image, and the figure's right hand is raised, holding a pen, writing on the material. Object Narratives Corporealizing Moroccan Place Ellen Amster

I wondered—how does a person become a place? A street, city quarter, mosque, or town could take the name of the wali interred there, like the cities of Sidi Slimane and Mawlay Idris. The sacred enters physical space through the body.

Dr. Levitt pictured, shoulders up, in a purple shirt and glasses, reading from Maggie Nelson's The Red Parts from her office. Object Narratives A Photograph in Words Laura Levitt

In her memoir, The Red Parts, Maggie Nelson writes about the over-thirty-year-old unsolved murder of her aunt, Jane Mixer, a case brought back to life in a Michigan court room. Who gets to tell this story? How should it be told?

A still from a YouTube video features a choir, symphony orchestra, and conductor on the Carnegie Hall stage Object Narratives Pausing on a Sunday: What Kind of Secular is the American Musical? Kathryn Lofton

The musical in which this song appears includes archetypal depictions of the modern artist and his attendant gendered capacities and failures. Sondheim would point out: its lyric is a single sentence; it is a description of a process; it includes a word, “forever,” that he observes makes him cry.

Two engraved whale teeth are photographed together vertically. The tooth on the left is engraved with a two-mast ship sailing in front of a landscape, with a border of palm fronds above the scene. The tooth on the right features a cloaked woman in profile Constellations Sperm Whale Teeth in Circulation: A Case Study in Material Economics Richard J. Callahan, Jr.

From Fijian ceremonial objects to nineteenth-century American whaling souvenirs, to airline membership cards, this constellation explores material economies through one raw material: sperm whale teeth.

Fourteen Magdalens--six kneeling in the front row, and eight standing behind--are photographed outside, in front of trees and brush, in black and white habits respective to their individual categorization. The photo is in mostly sepia tones. Object Narratives “Colored Magdalens,” House of the Good Shepherd for Colored Girls, Baltimore, ca. 1930s Tracy Fessenden

Was [the Magdalens'] decision to own in perpetuity the status of penitent a judgment on waywardness, or a benediction? An internalization of white surveillance, or its repudiation?

An unlit candle in a glossy, rounded, yellow glass container sits unboxed beside a silver boxed candle, which most prominently says "Let it burn." and "SOUL" in black, white, and yellow text. Object Narratives Let. It. Burn. SoulCycle's Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Scented Candle Cody Musselman

While a stationary bike is the main conduit for the SoulCycle experience, perhaps no object plays a greater role in facilitating SoulCycle’s choreography of emotion than the brand’s signature grapefruit-scented candle.

Electronic screenshot of the Redeeming Home website homepage Object Narratives The Sticky Cookies of Biblical Womanhood Suzanne van Geuns

Biblical womanhood blogs often resemble the idealized Christian home they encourage women to build. Businesses have long recognized the potential for profit in networked domesticity, enticing bloggers to participate in commercial enterprise by promising percentages of purchase costs made through their sites.

Gold buddha standing Buddha statue photographed against a cardboard background Object Narratives eBay Buddha Alexandra Kaloyanides

This golden Buddha, which has a striking resemblance to a Burmese Buddha in the British Museum, came up for sale on eBay for the sum of $5,000.00. The material of teak, the economies of the British and Burmese empires, the religion then being named "Buddhism," now give us this American eBay Buddha.

Kim Kardashian sits on top of an enlarged heart shaped perfume bottle Object Narratives Wifey Dusty Gavin

The fragrance Wifey by KKW Fragrances was released in 2019. As wife to black artist Ye (formerly Kanye West), Kim KW claimed and sold the role of wifey. The “wifey” is not simply a wife. She is a model or caricature of a wife, a down-ass. The “wifey” signifies a new ideal in our contemporary popular culture.

Close up of people's feet standing next to a short statue Object Narratives Making Paths with Stone Maya J. Berry

Eshu-Elegguá is a divinity in the Regla de Ocha-Ifá pantheon characterized as a warrior and messenger. Enslaved Africans in Cuba taught their descendants that a good relationship with this divinity is helpful for making risky choices and providing protection when embarking on a treacherous new beginning.

Scan of book cover featuring a photograph of an oil rig Object Narratives Fuel for the Soul Judith Brunton

The bible "God's Word for the Oil Patch: Fuel for the Soul" offers insight into how people theorise both the value of energy and the kind of lives people need to live to access this value. The publication implies that to have the kind of soul that lives a good life, you need to manage oil and its energy: souls are things that need fuel, be it "God's word" or oil itself. Oil work, in this context, becomes soul work.

Clocks hung on a white wall displaying the times of various time zones Object Narratives Bus Station Clocks Hillary Kaell

A row of clocks. Each one with an identical, nondescript face—except for the hands, which are conspicuous in their different orientations. Clocks are the kind of “religion” that spills out beyond the sphere of the sacred. Rows of clocks that evoke utopian, aspirational feelings of global connectedness. These are “religious” feelings in the deepest sense of the term.

Woodcut of Christ on the crucifix Object Narratives Confraternal Letter Emily C. Floyd

A simple woodcut on a late-seventeenth-century membership letter of the confraternity of Souls of the Cathedral of Lima depicts two souls bathed in flames, gazing up at Christ crucified. Stylized drops of blood pour from each of Christ’s wounded hands, visual embodiments of the doctrinal logic behind indulgences—the great sacrifice of Christ and of the martyrs of the church created a treasury of merit that ordinary sinners could draw upon.

Cardboard packaging of waterproof socks Object Narratives Wudhu Socks Kambiz GhaneaBassiri

This is a pair of highly engineered, durable waterproof socks that exemplifies the rebranding of sportswear for the American Muslim market. Marketed as “wudhu socks,” the socks protect the feet and ankles from ritual impurities, and are intended to allow one not to wash one’s feet between ablutions.

Title page of a book, reading 'The Gospel according to St. John' Object Narratives Biblical Gifts & Colonial Relations Roxanne Korpan

On April 5, 1832, Peter Jones presented King William IV with a bible he translated into Anishinaabemowin. This exchange reflects Anishinaabe gift-giving practices, in which bible gifts can be regarded as practices used to build and refuse particular religious, political, and material relations.

Film photograph of a wrestler, standing wearing a velvet jacket and underwear, and his manager, seated wearing a colourful suit and sparkly hat Object Narratives The Mormon Heel David Walker

Don Leo Jonathan was born 1931 to a Mormon family in Utah. During his professional wrestling career, Don Leo capitalized on certain anti-Mormon prejudices during a period of Mormonism’s erstwhile mainstreaming and clean-cut imagination in American culture, often performing as the "heel," or villain.

Scan of a panoramic black and white photograph of a crowd assembled outside the Ford Motor Company Object Narratives Relics and Rubber Kati Curts

In 1929, Henry Ford opened the Henry Ford Museum. That same year Ford Motor Company set ablaze vast swaths of rainforest in Brazil to clear land for Fordlandia, one of Ford’s rubber plantations. In Ford’s “progressive” trail across the Americas and in pictured masses arrayed outside Ford’s plants, we glimpse material economies of religion christened as political economy and mass produced in Ford’s name.

Group Conversations

Stone path in an old cemetery, surrounded by dark trees, fog, and headstones and monuments of various sizes. Conversations Material Economies of Life-Time: Grief, Injury, Expiation, Desire Tracy Fessenden, Hillary Kaell, and Alexia Williams

Tracy Fessenden, Hillary Kaell, and Alexia Williams discuss three iterations of religious, material economies: bus stop clocks, cloistered Magdalens, and a Catholic prayer card from Denver.

Long brown hair fastened with bejeweled rose clip, photographed from the back with shoulders--in blue and pink floral top--in frame Conversations The Intimate Ironies of the Wifey: Material Religion and the Body Ellen Amster, Dusty Gavin, and Suzanne van Geuns

From the familiarity of scent to the spread of colonial/space time, and through Black vernacular culture and “linking” us to divine power through the digital, Ellen Amster, Dusty Gavin, and Suzanne van Geuns introduce us to the strange intimacies of the wifey.

Abstract painting with a circle at its centre divided up into segments of block colour Conversations Designing Risk, Accumulating Failure: Purgatory, the Planned, and Primitive Accumulation Kati Curts, Emily Floyd and Paul Johnson

In Fall 2020, Paul Johnson, Emily Floyd, and Kati Curts met on Zoom. In this edit of their extended conversation, the authors question “planned sacred space,” the role of design in creating religious experience, and the category of the “relic.”

Photo of a book against a dark background, opened to a full spread of a scientific illustration of a sperm whale Conversations The Old Gods: Whales, Oil, and Teak Judith Brunton, Richard Callahan and Alex Kaloyanides

Judith Ellen Brunton, Richard Callahan, and Alexandra Kaloyanides endeavor to find the resonances their images pose to characterizing material economies of religion in the Americas. In emails from the autumn of 2020, each offers moments of speculation on the contexts shaping their research objects, and the supernatural powers and economies they enchant.

Close detail image of a segment of a ring from a felled tree Conversations American Performances, Economies, and Genealogies of Constraint Laura Levitt, Sally Promey, and David Walker

In this collaboratively written exercise, the authors discuss the material significance of embodied sense perceptions and affects. Despite Protestant secularity’s claims to the contrary, sensation and affect are no more confined to interiorized subjective mental states than is religion merely belief.

Conversations The Currency of Religion in America in Three Acts: Market Logics, Emissaries of Kinship, and Technologies of Feeling Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Roxanne Korpan and Cody Musselman

Cody Musselman, Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, and Roxanne Korpan each present an object for consideration. Together they think about what it means for each object to be involved in the material economy of religion. Their conversation traverses various geographies and traditions, and ponders how material objects can be carriers of religion.

Concluding Essay

View of bright, open building with white rafters pointed steeply at the roof. People, seen from a distance, walk through the space. Conversations A Closing Conversation Sarah Rivett and Lerone Martin

If the Marxian dialectic culminates with the mystification of the commodity, these essays seem to envision a sacralization and re-sacralization of the profane, such that matter is the accumulation of sacred value. Transcendence and enchantment in this account are very much “real” and just as ontologically entrenched as capitalism.

Volume 6: Issue 2 Material Islam

A special issue guest edited by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri and Anna Bigelow. 

Introductory Essays

Essays Introduction to the Special Issue: Material Islam Anna Bigelow and Kambiz GhaneaBassiri

Anna Bigelow and Kambiz GhaneaBassiri introduce this special issue of MAVCOR Journal devoted to Material Islam. It explores devotional objects, the Islamic sensorium, the book as a material object, the Muslim body, and the various roles of the mosque as a social, political, and spiritual space. Taken together, its varied essays demonstrate an incredibly wide-ranging, rich, and exciting arena of study.

Conversations In Conversation with Christiane Gruber on Material Islamic Studies Christiane Gruber, Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, and Anna Bigelow

Kambiz GhaneaBassiri and Anna Bigelow speak with Christiane Gruber about changes and growth in field of Material Islam, new arenas of inquiry, and their hopes for further interdisciplinary scholarship.


Object Narratives Ablution Socks: The Logic of Market Capitalism and Its Limits Kambiz GhaneaBassiri

The marketing of “wudhu socks" provides an interesting window onto how the forces of consumer capitalism in twenty-first-century America are brought to bear on a centuries-old hermeneutical, legal, and theological tradition in Islam that has long conceptualized purity through embodiment and objects.