A leading scholar explores the importance of physical objects and sensory experience in the practice of religion.
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, he asks us to focus on five ordinary 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. Religion, it turns out, has as much to do with our bodies as our beliefs. Maybe even more.
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.