A history of religion in 5 1/2 objects : bringing the spiritual to its senses (#0625UM9)

by Plate, S. Brent

1 review or award | 1 full-text review

Hardcover Beacon Press, 2014
Price: USD 25.11
Description: 248 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Dewey: 203; Int Lvl: AD


Other available formats

Paperback Beacon Press, 2014

USD 20.00

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From Follett

Includes bibliographical references (pages 226-237) and index. "Explores the importance of physical objects and sensory experience in the practice of religion; argues that the stuff of everyday existence is a fresh window into the way humans have formed religious communities, performed rituals, and connected with the realm of the sacred, and tells the stories of five types of ordinary objects that people have engaged with in sensory, symbolic, and sacred ways: stones, crosses, incense, drums, and bread"--Provided by publisher.

From the Publisher
A leading scholar explores the importance of physical objects and sensory experience in the practice of religion.

Humans are needy. We need things objects, keepsakes, stuff, tokens, knickknacks, bits and pieces, junk, and treasure. We carry special objects in our pockets and purses, and place them on shelves in our homes and offices. As commonplace as these objects are, they can also be extraordinary, as they allow us to connect with the world beyond our skin.

A History of Religion in 51/2 Objects takes a fresh and much-needed approach to the study of that contentious yet vital area of human culture: religion. Arguing that religion must be understood in the first instance as deriving from rudimentary human experiences, from lived, embodied practices, S. Brent Plate asks us to put aside, for the moment, questions of belief and abstract ideas. Instead, beginning with the desirous, incomplete human body (symbolically evoked by "1/2"), he asks us to focus on five ordinary types of objects--stones, incense, drums, crosses, and bread--with which we connect in our pursuit of religious meaning and fulfillment.

As Plate considers each of these objects, he explores how the world's religious traditions have put each of them to different uses throughout the millennia. We learn why incense is used by Hindus at a celebration of the goddess Durga in Banaras, by Muslims at a wedding ceremony in West Africa, and by Roman Catholics at a Mass in upstate New York. Crosses are key not only to Christianity but to many Native American traditions; in the symbolic mythology of Peru's Misminay community, cruciform imagery stands for the general outlay of the cosmos. And stones, in the form of cairns, grave markers, and monuments, are connected with places of memory across the world.

A History of Religion in 51/2 Objects is a celebration of the materiality of religious life. Plate moves our understanding of religion away from the current obsessions with God, fundamentalism, and science--and toward the rich depths of this world, this body, these things. Religion, it turns out, has as much to do with our bodies as our beliefs. Maybe even more.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Beacon Press
  • Publication Date: March 11, 2014
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Dewey: 203
  • Description: 248 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
  • ISBN-10: 0-8070-3311-1
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-8070-3311-1
  • LCCN: 2013-039786
  • Follett Number: 0625UM9
  • Interest Level: AD

Reviews & Awards
  • Library Journal starred, 02/01/14

Full-Text Reviews
Library Journal (February 1, 2014)
Plate (religious studies, Hamilton Coll.; -Religion and Film) shares an unusual and intriguing perspective on religion that should not be overlooked among weighty theological tomes and the vast literature of spiritual self-help. The well-written and accessible text surprises and intrigues as it recounts the roles of stone, incense, drums, crosses (not just in Christianity), and bread in a variety of religions across space, time, and cultures. This is a book about "felt" religion, the physical rather than intellectual. It addresses how the odor of incense has identified sacred space, the tactile and monumental impact of stone, the trance-inducing beat of the drum, and the physicality of shared bread. Having identified sight as the "privileged sense of the West," Plate focuses on the power of other senses to connect the sacred and the mundane in helping to fill, at least partially and temporarily, the void created when, as per Plato's metaphorical Symposium (the "1/2" of the title), the gods split our original natures. VERDICT In some ways complementing Jon Canon's The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces, this is an elegant and sensitive book. Highly recommended to general readers open to a different perspective on religious practice.-James R. Kuhlman, Kentucky Wesleyan Coll., Owensboro (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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