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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 3 Characterizing Material Economies of Religion in the Americas

A special issue curated by Kati Curts and Alex Kaloyanides

Introductory Essay

  • Kati Curts, Alexandra 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
    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.
  • 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?
  • Paul Christopher 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.
  • Sally M. 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.
  • 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.
    Laura S. 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 stil from a YouTube video features a choir, symphony orchestra, and conductor on the Carnegie Hall stage
    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
    Richard (Chip) 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.
    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.
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    Judith Ellen 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
    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
    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
    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'
    Roxanne L. 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
    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.
  • 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

Concluding Essay

  • Sarah Rivett, Lerone A. 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

  • 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.
  • 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.

Articles

  • 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.
  • Ayodeji Ogunnaike
    This article examines the genealogy of Afro-Brazilian mosques, answering some of the most immediate and puzzling questions that they force all who see them to ask. The answers to these questions demonstrate the fluidity of categories such as European, African, Islamic, and Christian, and how West African Muslims effectively drew on an architectural vocabulary with connections to three continents to forge an emergent cosmopolitan identity.
  • 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.
  • Karen 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Max Johnson 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
  • Watercolour of a manatee
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Volume 5: Issue 1
Volume 4: Issue 1
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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