Religious Sensations

Religious Sensations
Why Media, Aesthetics and Power
Matter in the Study of
Contemporary Religion
Birgit Meyer
Parool 19/9/2006
NRC 28/9/2006
NRC 28/9/2006
Internationale Samenwerking 3/2005
NRC 12/8/2006
NRC 23/5/2006
Religious sensations
William James on religion: ‘the feelings,
acts, and experiences of individual men in
their solitude, so far as they apprehend
themselves to stand in relation to whatever
they may consider the divine.’
William James, Varieties of Religious Experience [1902]
‘Sensational forms, in my understanding, are
relatively fixed, authorized modes of invoking,
and organizing access to the transcendental,
thereby creating and sustaining links between
religious practitioners in the context of particular
religious organizations.
Sensational forms are transmitted and
shared, they involve religious practitioners in
particular practices of worship and play a central
role in forming religious subjects.’
Mama Lola (K. McCarthy Brown))
Mensa Otabil, by courtesy of Marleen de Witte
Bus stop, Accra, 2003
Stills from televised church service, ICGC, by courtesy of Marleen de Witte
Christ for All Nations, The Ministry of Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke
Modern media and mediation
‘The transcendental is not a self-revealing entity,
but, on the contrary, always “affected” or
“formed” by mediation processes, in that media
and practices of mediation invoke the
transcendental via particular sensational forms.
These sensational forms mediate the
transcendental and, in our time increasingly so,
depend on modern media as print, and
electronic audio-visual devices.’
From D. Morgan & S. Promey, Exhibiting the Visual Culture of American
Religions, 2000; Material Religion 1 (3), 2005
From Ch. Pinney: ‘Photos of the Gods’, 2004
Portraits of King Chulalongkorn, by courtesy of Irene Stengs
Gilbert Forson Art Workshop, Ghana 2003
Still from Stolen Bible: On the surface of the water in a calabash, the ‘fetishpriest’ sees the Pentecostal pastor in action.
Poster advertizing the video-movie ‘Deliverance from the Powers of Darkness’
From A.F. Roberts and M. Nooter Roberts, A Saint in the City, 2003.
From I. Hofmeyr, The Portable Bunyan, 2004
Aesthetics and aisthesis
‘Religious organizations can be
characterized as having distinct sensory
regimes. Religious subjects are created
(ideally, that is) by a structured process- a
religious didactics – in which the senses
are called upon and tuned in a way that
yields a habitus.
This process not only entails a strong
emphasis on specific, privileged sensory
and extra-sensory perceptions, but also
the tuning down or anaesthization of other
senses or sensory perceptions.’
‘Sensational forms, though produced and in a
sense “made up”, appear as offering immediate
access to the transcendental exactly because
they are – literally – incorporated and embodied
by their beholders.
These forms invoke and perpetuate shared
experiences, emotions and affects that are
anchored in a taken-for-granted sense of self
and community, indeed a common sense that is
rarely subject to questioning exactly because it
is grounded in shared perceptions and
Common sense is what gets under the skin,
enveloping us in the assurance “this is what
really is”.’
From J. Spaans, De democratisering
van het religieus accessoire,2003.
From K. Nomachi, Pelgrimage, 2005
Predikant Wiersma en echtgenote, collectie Museum Catharijneconvent
Madonna: Confession Tour, 2006
NRC 7/2/2006
‘My plea to pay attention to
1) the modern media that play a role in
objectifying the transcendental into
material, sensational forms,
2) the particular religious aesthetics that
modulate the body and tune the senses
in a particular way, and
3) power as bringing into being subjects and
communities with distinctive religious
identities and styles,
stresses the importance to approach
religion from a material angle.’
Thank you!
Hartelijk dank!
Herzlichen Dank!