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.

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.”

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.