Material Religion

Since the mid-1990s, the field of religious studies has been experiencing what some scholars have called a “material turn.” Rather than focusing solely on abstract notions of belief, researchers have begun to pay more attention to the things—the objects, clothing, spaces, and more—that participate in the creation and maintenance of religious lifeworlds. By tracing how objects are produced, used, transformed, and more, we gain insight into how those objects are situated within a religious community’s broader history and values as well as the particular significances, relationships, and tensions that surround these objects in individuals’ lives.

During the fall semester of 2018, students in THRS 113: World Religions in San Diego studied and documented various religious objects that are important in our own local community. At the core of our inquiry lay a common set of questions: How do you use this object? What does it represent to you? And, how does this object mediate particular relationships in your life, whether between yourself and God, family members, broader society, or otherwise?

In sharing the films that each team of students created, our class hopes to encourage deeper attention to the “stuff” of religious life. We are grateful to the practitioners who volunteered to be part of this project, sharing their time and knowledge with us in a patient and good-spirited manner. We could never have completed this project if not for the help of leaders and individuals at ISKCON of San Diego, the Kadampa Meditation Center, Founders Chapel, and the Islamic Center of San Diego.

We also want to acknowledge an unexpected lesson that emerged for our class while working on this project: the shockwaves that acts of hatred and violence can send through religious communities across the nation. At the beginning of our semester, we had planned to work with a local Jewish community as one of our partner sites. However, in the wake of the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we decided to give this community the time and space they needed to grieve and care for one another. Thus, we also want to thank various members of the community at the University of San Diego who supported students as they searched for new interviewees and project ideas.

University of San Diego

Yarmulke:                                                            Eucharist:


ISKCON: International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Murti:                                                            Flowers:


Founders Chapel

Rosary Beads:                                                            Crucifix:


Windows:                                                            The Cross:


ICSD: Islamic Center of San Diego

Hijab:                                                            Prayers Rugs:


Kadampa Meditation Center

      Malas:                                                        Statues: