Material and Visual Culture

The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Religious Studies is one of the few departments in North America that focuses on Religion and Material Culture. Several scholars at Penn argue that religious belief must be studied in relation to material culture as religious aspirations are often interconnected with objects and beliefs are articulated through objects. This means that objects are not empty signifiers onto which meaning is placed. Therefore, instead of overlooking the objects of everyday religiosity and removing images and ritual implements from their ritual context and seeing them only as objets d’art, professors like Jamal Elias, Brian Rose, Justin McDaniel, Jolyon Thomas, Ann Kuttner, Michael Meister, Donovan Schaefer, and many others bring the study of ritual objects into the forefront of art historical and religious studies. They also encourage student to study art as it exists and operates in dynamic ritual activities and highly complex synchronic and diachronic relationships in the study of religion.