Workshop on Material Religion and Popular Culture in Asia

FASS Research Gallery
Department of English Language and Literature

John-Whalen Bridge

Workshop on Material Religion and Popular Culture in Asia led to a workshop and then a special issue of the journal Material Religion entitled “Audio-Visual Religion in Asia.” By “audio-visual” we mean primarily film and video, including both analog and digital formats. Furthermore, by using the phrase “audio-visual” we also mean to indicate the sensual nature of media, the fact that one of the ways to delineate different media is to think about how they affect different senses; in our cases we are looking at that which is seen and heard. On the one hand, this shows some of the limits of these media—they are not directly touched, smelled, tasted, or connected with through other forms of sensing. On the other hand, the articles in this issue constantly question the limits that audio-visual media create between presence and re-presentation, and between mediation and im-mediacy. At certain times and places, the audio-visual medium is strong enough to stir people into a seemingly immediate experience, where time and space collapse, tactility is approached, and a full presence is experienced. At other times and places, media may alienate, and show a translucent or even opaque screen that shows how far the viewer-hearer is from the originary site.
In order to situate this special issue, we begin with three questions that help delineate the range of topics covered.

1. What are the cultural and religious milieus in which audio-visual media are created, and how do those milieus become sources of images, symbols, stories, and sounds that are used in media productions?
2. How do audio-visual media create a religio-aesthetic experience engaged by thinking and feeling bodies?
3. How do audio-visual media continue to shape the religious lives of people beyond the direct experience of the production?

These questions set up a three-part trajectory for analyzing media from a material religion perspective: what goes in to making media, what happens as it is being experienced by audiences/participants, and what are the lingering effects of the media in the lives of people. In broad terms, these three frames of reference can be applied to the nature and function of media in any religious setting (Plate, forthcoming), though the articles collected here look at specific contexts across Asia.

A sequel workshop was organized, entitled Popular Culture, Religion, and the Anthropocene. The papers were delivered at NUS in August 2016 and are being revised for submission to the best journal on religion, culture, and the environment, namely Journal for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Nature, edited by Bron Taylor. The special issue will ideally come out within a year or 18 months.

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