It is common to think of the practices referred to as religious as speaking about or to forces marked by their immateriality. Religion is the province of gods, spirits, and souls, whose existence is a matter of belief. Some religions even despise the material world as inferior or illusory–even as some philosophical traditions treat religions themselves as fundamentally illusory and only the material as really real. Certainly the analysis of religion often has bypassed acts and objects in favor of texts and theologies, or the excavation of underlying ideas or values.
Yet as many have noted, reflection on practices in even the most spiritualized of the most familiar of religions suggests how problematic such common sense may be. It is increasingly clear that the Reformation and the Enlightenment have played an inordinate role in shaping the background assumptions that have historically informed much of the study of religion. Yet most Protestants find Bibles essential, even as they constitute part of Christianity’s “problem of presence.” And if the stupas and begging bowls so familiar in Asian Buddhism find no place among Euro-American practitioners, what would the latter do without representations of Buddha and meditation objects? Are these and myriad media–such as the sacred texts of “religions of the book”–merely conduits for divine messages or instruments of social communion? Can gods and spirits move people, or people access gods and spirits, without the mediation of things? Is it only human believers who transport gods and spirits across time and space and make them count? Or is materiality–mediators who do more than simply transport; practices involving bodies even as they make souls–as vital to the making of deities as it is to the making of electrons?
For SAR’s 2011 biennial conference, we encourage reflection on the insights an anthropology (and ethnography) focused on materiality might provide into phenomena generally considered “religion.” We invite consideration of materiality in relation to religion in many dimensions. Contributions could explore practices such as worship, healing, pilgrimage, and ritual; the making or maintenance of religious places, ranging from features of the landscape to built structures; the treatment of, and memorials to, the dead; the impact of new technologies of production or circulation; clashes over objects, spaces, and practices sacred to some but not to others; embodiment and the senses in religious practice; semiotic ideologies that illuminate attitudes towards the material. We also urge consideration of matters that question past or present assumptions. Could a focus on materiality challenge our understanding of enchantment and disenchantment, or allow us to rethink “animism” and “fetishism”? How might it trouble translations: are terms such as “gods” and “spirits”, let alone “religion” too immaterial to render the forces that act in the world? Is the sacred is itself a material force, or revealed especially in certain features of the material world?
Given the topic, we welcome explorations of the theme not only in papers and panels, but also through film, photos, and multimedia presentations.
The SAR program committee will begin accepting proposals for papers and sessions immediately untilFebruary 8. To propose a paper or session, submit a title and 250-word abstract to the program committee chair, Paul Johnson, johnson.paulchristopher “at” gmail.com.
How to Register
The fee for registration is US$90 for members of SAR, $120 for non-members and $35 for students. Advance online registration can be done through the AAA’s secure web site. The fee for on-site registrations is $120 for members, $140 for non-members, and $40 for students.
You must be registered to attend the conference. Online registration will remain open until March 28.
Reserve your hotel room at the conference site at the rate of $129/night by March 29.
The conference site is the La Fonda Hotel in downtown Santa Fe. You can make room reservations online at the La Fonda Hotel web site, or call 1-800-523-5002, #1. (For international: 1-505-954-3500 or 1-505-982-5511) Monday to Friday between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time), Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Indicate that you are booking with SAR.
SAR conference rates are $129 for single or double occupancy. There is a $15 fee, each night, for each additional person. Rates are available from Monday, April 25 to Tuesday, May 3.
Childcare is available. The hotel concierge can help make arrangements for babysitting through Magical Happenings Babysitting Service, or individuals can contact them directly at 505-982-1570.
There is a small airport in Santa Fe, but many more flights go to Albuquerque. From the airport in Albuquerque it is about one to one-and-a-half hours to Santa Fe. There are several options for getting there. You may, of course, rent a car. You may take a bus to catch a train in Albuquerue that runs to Santa Fe. Or you may take the Sandia Shuttle.
We have arranged a special group rate of $20 each way with Sandia Shuttle. To receive this rate, please make reservations by phone, by calling 888-775-5696 or 505-474-5696. Be sure to mention that you are with The Society for the Anthropology of Religion to qualify for our rate.
Please note that Sandia Shuttle is also offering a discount of 10% on charters, for any of you who might be planning to spend some extra time in New Mexico. Again, you must phone for a reservation and mention our group.