Skip to main content

Unit information: Religion and Material Culture in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Religion and Material Culture
Unit code THRS11051
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Langer
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Temples, prayer beads, icons, robes, books, relics, candles and incense, scarves and hats, sacred food and holy water - objects of all sorts play a prominent role in all religions, evoking a wide range of emotional responses, from reverence, solace and even ecstasy, to fear, hostility and violence. Surprisingly, specialists in religious studies have been slow to recognize the importance of material culture to religion, though scholarship in this area has recently begun to emerge. In this unit, we will adopt a comparative approach, drawing on a variety of traditions to examine the place of food, clothing, ritual objects, architecture and relics in religious thought and practice.


In this unit, the tutor will guide students through recent research on the role of material culture in religion, including the place of food, clothing, architecture and icons in the history of religion. A fieldwork component will encourage an appreciation for the value of extant artefacts for understanding religion past and present.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will learn how to incorporate objects into their study of religion. They will further learn the methods and value of fieldwork for religious studies. The unit will improve essay writing skills as this will be the longest essay assignment for any of our first-year units.

Teaching Information

8 x one-hour lectures

8 x one-hour group discussion

4 hrs x fieldwork

Assessment Information

One summative coursework essay of 1500 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours (50%).

Reading and References

  • Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity. Religion and Popular Culture in America (Yale, 1998).
  • David Morgan, Visual Piety. A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images (University of California, 1999).
  • David Morgan, Religion and Material Culture. The Matter of Belief (Routledge, 2009).
  • John Kieschnick, The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture (Princeton, 2003).
  • S. Brent Plate, Religion, Art and Visual Culture. A Cross-Cultural Reader (Palgrave, 2002).