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 6: Issue 2 Material Islam

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

Articles

image Essays Senses of Belonging: Materiality, Embodiment, and Attunement at Sufi Shrines in India Anna Bigelow In exploring the multiple modalities of Muslim belonging and unbelonging in India, the arenas in which Muslims and non-Muslims interact, especially at shared holy places, are extremely illuminating locales. This essay explores the ways in which material and somatic forms of interreligious encounter at a Sufi dargah (درگاہ), or tomb shrine, in Bengalaru (Bangalore) exemplify everyday as well as spectacular practices of shared piety that also reimagine the possibility of collective belonging in a time of precarity.
Object Narratives Bībī kā ʿAlam Karen G. Ruffle

The Bībī kā ʿalam, as it is popularly known, occupies a special, sacred class of ʿalams for the Hyderabadi Shiʿa. Containing Fatimah’s funerary plank, is a reliquary ʿalam and, while Hyderabad is distinctive for the extraordinary number of relics it possesses that are associated with the Imams and Ahl-e Bait, very few connect to Shiʿi women saints.

Object Narratives A tenth-century Islamic manuscript from Kairouan, Tunisia Jonathan E. Brockopp

A parchment bifolio from the Kairouan collection presents a mystery. But like pottery in an archeological dig, this fragment is in situ, and clues to the identity of the author, the text, and the community of scholars that wrote and preserved it, are found in the rich context of this unique collection. Together, these manuscripts bear witness to a fascinating history of literary and cultural production, not only in North Africa, but in the broader Islamic world of the ninth and tenth century.

Essays Adorning the King of Islam: Weaving and Unraveling History in Astarabadi’s Feasting and Fighting Ali Karjoo-Ravary

This article traces a fourteenth-century Persian history from Anatolia, Bazm wa Razm (Feasting and Fighting), written by ʿAzīz al-Dīn Astarābādī, from its presentation copy to its various recensions down to the modern period, examining how each era visually refigures this textual manifestation of its original patron, Burhān al-Dīn Aḥmad (r. 783-800 AH/1381-1398 CE), for a new purpose.

Object Narratives Rasheed Araeen’s Bismullah Kylie Gilchrist

Rasheed Araeen’s Bismullah is noteworthy as the first work by the Karachi-born, London-based artist to enter the collection of Britain’s Tate Gallery in 1995. Bismullah deploys strategies of juxtaposition, disjunction, and doubling to combine visual imagery that references religion, empire, art history, and the artist’s personal biography. Through its montage tactics Bismullah not only maps the binaries of self and other that structure colonial discourse within and beyond the artistic field, but also recontextualizes these signifiers.

Object Narratives Hikmet Barutçugil's Hüdayi Yolu Rose Aslan

Hüdayi Yolu represents a modern artist’s loving depiction of his hometown and neighborhood, an homage to a local Sufi saint, the romanticized communal memory of Istanbul as an Ottoman metropolis, and Barutçugil’s approach to “Sufi” art.

alt Essays On the Material and Social Conditions of Khalwa in Medieval Sufism Nathan Hofer

Ubiquitous across the medieval Islamic world, khalwa is the practice of self-isolation, typically in a small cell, in order to focus on pious devotions. This article offers one possible approach to theorizing the heterogenous elements of khalwa coherently by insisting that we take the material and the social as seriously as we do the human and the spiritual.

Object Narratives Ayat Al Kursi Round Max Dugan

Crowned by the word “Allah,” a dense piece of Arabic calligraphy carved out of stainless steel wraps around an embellished center. The text is the ayat al-kursī, or “The Throne Verse,” a portion of the Qur’an (2:256) often recited before sleep or travel because of its reputation for spiritual and physical protection. While the Illinois-based company Modern Wall Art produces the above “Ayat Al Kursi Round,” at least six other businesses manufacture their own ayat al-kursī pieces in the same circular visual style. These pieces of Islamic decor appeal to different tastes in spite of the repetitiveness of their visual content. By attending to the specific production method and branding of “Ayat Al Kursi Round,” we can identify how the materialization of God’s words in wall art entangles Islamic ethics and the aesthetics of class formation.

Volume 6: Issue 1
img Essays Depicting Kongo and Angola in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries Cécile Fromont

As part of their activities in Kongo and Angola Capuchin Franciscan friars created dozens of images and wrote hundreds of pages of text in works that they called "practical guides." These Capuchin didactic images form an exceptionally important corpus that enriches our knowledge of central Africa and dramatically multiplies the European-format visual record about the African continent before 1800.

poster Essays Nature, Culture, and Faith in Seventeenth-Century Kongo and Angola Cécile Fromont

Early modern central Africa comes to life in the images that Capuchin friars. This Capuchin central African corpus consists today in four extant manuscripts connected by form and content. This essay offers additional visual material from the corpus by featuring details of each individual vignette that comprise the 1650s poster now in the Museo Francescano, as well as the unpublished versos of the Parma Watercolors that feature text.

Object Narratives The Black Cross Jonathan Homrighausen

Donald Jackson’s The Black Cross illustrates some of the ways contemporary calligraphic art engages sacred writ: through the interplay of word and image, recording the artist’s physical gestures, and making visible the divine.

Essays Models of a Bygone World: Popular Nineteenth-Century Nativity Scenes as a Representation of Chilean Society Olaya Sanfuentes

Embracing the belief that the humblest of individuals participated in Jesus’s birth with their presence and their gifts alongside the wisest, Christians of every era have wished to display their own participation and contribution to this foundational Christian event. This article describes the ways in which a traditional, rural-inspired society like that of Santiago, Chile at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries expressed itself through its nativity scenes.

Volume 5: Issue 2 Material Religion of High Altitude Ecologies

Guest edited by Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa and Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia in collaboration with MAVCOR Journal Editor Emily C. Floyd. The call for papers for this special issue invited scholars coming from diverse disciplines (religious studies, anthropology, archaeology, history of art, visual studies, etc) and working across a range of high altitude ecologies, from the Andes to the Himalayas and beyond, to consider how the specificities of these regions impact material and visual aspects of religious practice. This special issue is published on a rolling basis.

Essays Flying Conches in the High-Altitude Oceans of the Himalayas: Displaced Objects and Multiscalar Relations in the Mountains of Sikkim Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia and Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa

Conch shells frequently appear as objects in religiously inspired artwork and shrines in Sikkim, west India. Their frequent appearance in material culture and invocation in Classical Tibetan-language literary culture is indicative of a rich repository of connections. This essay explores some of their many resonances, in particular their significance as indicators of ecological change in the Himalayas.

img Essays The Ritual Ascent at Mount Tlaloc, Mexico Catherine H. Popovici

Bridging ecology, ethnohistory, linguistics, and art historical inquiry, this article argues that the various forms of vegetation encountered along the slope of Mount Tlaloc during the ascension of the tlahtoque were of ritual significance within Nahua worldview.

Essays Gold Palaces: Merit, Beauty, and Perfection in the Cremation Structures of Monks in Northern Thailand Rebecca S. Hall

Cremation structures serve the utilitarian purpose of incinerating a corpse to aid transition from life to death, but in contemporary practice in Northern Thailand, opulent, golden-colored cremation structures called prasat sop also create a stunning sight that give local viewers a deeper understanding of all sentient beings’ connection to death.

Constellations Qoyllur rit’i: El señor de la Estrella de Nieve Raúl Montero Quispe

En 2012 empecé a hacer un registro gráfico del peregrinaje que poco a poco se convirtió en un proyecto fotográfico. Al intentar comprender este mundo sincrético, la fotografía me permitió plasmar y narrar lo que veía.

Constellations Qoyllur rit’i: The Lord of the Snow Star Raúl Montero Quispe

In 2012, I began to make a graphic record of the pilgrimage, which little by little evolved into a photographic project. In attempting to comprehend the syncretic world of the festival, photography allowed me to capture and narrate what I saw.

Essays The Book as a Generative Agent: The Buddhist Canon as a Community Member in Book Procession Rituals of the Himalayas Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa

Known as the Bumkor, the books that make up the Bum are not just objects, but are generative, active agents that are capable of producing and renewing auspiciousness in the local human and nonhuman community that reside in the landscape.

img Essays Purifying Multispecies Relations in the Valley of Abundance: The Riwo Sangchö Ritual as Environmental History and Ethics in Sikkim Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia

The Riwo Sangchö is a ritual exchange that facilitates smoky relations between humans and spirits resident in landscapes around the world.

Volume 5: Issue 1
Object Narratives Photographic Postcard Commemorating Antonio Verástegui Lucy O’Sullivan

A postcard commemorating a young “martyr” of Mexico’s Cristero War named Antonio Verástegu engages the spectator in an act of witnessing that entails both religious and political consequences.

Medium Studies Colonial Materiality: Silver’s Alchemy of Trauma and Salvation Helen Hills

Embedded in power relations, coloniality, and matters of purification, early modern silver was a particularly generative site. Might its peculiar paradoxes be usefully thought in terms of a materiality of trauma?

Essays Material Technologies of Empire: The Tobacco Pipe in Early Modern Landscapes of Exchange in the Atlantic World Beverly Lemire

The look and shape, feel and function of the tobacco pipe footnote the transformational features of the early modern Atlantic world: landscapes of exchange.

image Essays Locking Eyes with the Sun: Perception, Landscape, and the Fame of Greenstone in a Sixteenth-Century Nahuatl Narrative Allison Caplan

A narrative describing interactions between a human knower, sun, and precious stones enables a new interpretation of Nahua accounts of precious stones releasing vapors, while also providing greater insight into the nature of sensory experience in Nahua thought more generally.

Object Narratives Moses Jacob Ezekiel, Eve Hearing the Voice Samantha Baskind

In 1876, Moses Jacob Ezekiel, the first Jewish American artist of international stature, sculpted the world’s first woman, to which he gave the title, Eve Hearing the Voice.

Essays Art, Religious Memory, and Mormon Polygamy Marie W. Dallam

What happens when part of the religious history a person believes in turns out to be incorrect?

Volume 4: Issue 1
Object Narratives Mural Paintings, Church of the Summer Residence of the Maronite Patriarch, Diman Alessandra Amin

Since its construction around the turn of the twentieth century, Our Lady of Diman has served as the summer residence of the Maronite Catholic Patriarch. The prestige of the building is everywhere apparent: in the inlaid marble floor, in the gold and blue panes of the stained-glass windows. The church’s most remarkable feature, however, is the ceiling over its nave, with frescoes completed in the late 1930s by celebrated Lebanese painter Saliba Douaihy (1913-1994).

Object Narratives A Stick of Wood, a Tree of Life Jonathan Boyarin

This Ets Chayim, a Tree of Life, is obsolete, redundant, out of time and out of place. It is detached both from the Torah scroll for which it was made, and from its mate that once served that scroll’s other end. It is not supposed to be here anymore—here, that is, in a transformed, glass-sheathed, twenty-first-century Lower East Side, where the traces of immigrant life have been erased, sanitized, and gathered into museums, or commodified as “atmosphere” for an urban playground. Perhaps the act of marking it—noting its persistence beyond obsolescence, shorn of the text to which it was once an auxiliary, bereft of the hands that once grasped it and the congregation that once stood as it was lifted up—is a minor act of resistance in itself.

Object Narratives Fernando Brito and Héctor Parra, Judío Didier Aubert

In Judío, photographer Fernando Brito attempts to find an ad-hoc visual representation for the Yoremem or Mayo Indians in his native state of Sinaloa, Mexico. This portrait pays tribute to the foundational value of the community’s ritual, which combines indigenous cosmology with seventeenth-century Jesuit influence, as crucial to its survival and cohesion.

Object Narratives A Dying House in Samarkand’s Jewish Neighborhood Alanna E. Cooper

Pagiel Leviyev’s house is very sick. Built in Samarkand over a century ago, the structure was designed as a mansion for a wealthy mercantile family. Today, it stands as a crumbling reminder of the Jewish community’s long and complex history in this unexpected spot of the world.

Volume 3: Issue 2 Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in the American South

This special joint issue is published with The Journal of Southern Religion (JSR). The journals issued a call for papers together in 2017 and are pleased to publish these four peer-reviewed articles, two editorial introductions, and one editorial reflection. In his editorial reflection, Bill Ferris considers his own history with southern religion and material culture. Jason Young and Louis P. Nelson offer introductions for the four articles, with additional reflection on the state of the field.

Mediations Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in the American South William R. Ferris

Described by Flannery O’Connor as “Christ-haunted,” southern identity is and always has been shaped by religion. The still familiar sight of churches and hand-painted religious signs along highways and roads are powerful reminders of religion throughout the region. As the field of Southern Studies has evolved, so has our understanding of religion and its expression in material and visual culture in the region.

Mediations Critical Reflections on Visual and Material Religion Louis P. Nelson

This joint edition of MAVCOR Journal and the Journal of Southern Religion has focused needed attention on the ways that visual and material cultures have played and continue to play a critical role in shaping religious belief and practice in the American South. The very kind offer by the editors to write an editorial introduction to the edition encouraged me to reflect a bit more deeply on the trajectories of recent scholarship and some of the holes I see in the current historiography.

Mediations On the Religion of Things Jason R. Young

Though often perceived as an arena of human life devoted exclusively to the ethereal, the actual practice of religion, not to mention our study of it, is mediated through the material circumstances of life.

Constellations The Second Great Awakening and the Built Landscape of Missouri Samuel Stella

The simple, gable-end church form was suited to the material circumstances and to the socio-theological climate of the Second Great Awakening. Gable-end churches provided an affective and sensorial locus for newly created communities to position themselves as extensions of an evangelical Protestant national consciousness.

Essays “A Doorkeeper in the House of My God”: Female Stewardship of Protestant Sacred Spaces in the Gulf South, 1830-1861 Emily H. Wright

The movement to build and furnish new churches in the Antebellum South was not the moment of Protestant women’s religious domestication, but rather an opportunity for a new type of public stewardship of the church, one that encouraged female collective action. Women expressed their piety and leadership in the church by enhancing its materiality, they gave their churches permanence and social status.

Essays Horseshoe Crosses and Muddy Boots: Material Culture and Rural Masculinity in Cowboy Churches Sarah "Moxy" Moczygemba

In a large pasture in West Texas, thirty-five men and women sit mounted on horseback and forty more stand around them. Sitting astride a horse in front of them is their pastor, next to another man holding a large American flag. He reads to them from the Bible of the wondrous changes brought by the Lord and then invites them to church the next day. With this simple invocation, the pasture roping at the local cowboy church is now underway.

Essays Uncle Tom’s Bibles: Bibles as Visual and Material Objects from Antebellum Abolitionism to Jim Crow Cinema Edward J. Blum

Stowe’s deployments of bibles and artistic representations of them in illustrated editions offered a conservative abolitionism that emphasized the potential for peace among former slaves and masters. . . . bibles in the afterlives of Uncle Tom’s Cabin continued to offer moderation when it came to issues of race and racial interactions.