On Wednesday 21st October 2015, staff and students gathered in the Martin Hall (New College) for a panel discussion on the theme “Religion, Story and Material Culture.” This was convened and chaired by Dr James Eglinton, an active member of the School of Divinity’s Story and Religion Network, and featured contributions from Dr Sara Parvis, Dr Hannah Holtschneider, and Dr David Grumett.
The session considered the role played by material culture (the relationship between people and their things: cultural artefacts, pieces of art, household objects, buildings etc.) in connecting religious stories to the everyday lives of the faithful. Each of the four contributors, all members of academic staff in the School of Divinity, spoke for 5-10 minutes on aspects of the theme that were relevant to their own research.
For Dr Eglinton, the theme related to his work on Reformed Theologians, who – despite iconoclastic associations – made good use of materiality in their work. Dr Parvis shared with us a cautionary tale of how difficult it is to recreate the distant past based on what remains to be studied, whether material or textual, and of the dangers of telling particular stories about an object under the influence of texts. Dr Grumett spoke of his work on the Eucharist, and of the importance of understanding its various material aspects and traditions. Dr Holtschneider then spoke about the materials featured in museum exhibitions of the Holocaust, and in the archives of Jewish migrants, both of which have featured prominently in her research.
Following these diverse contributions, the audience was invited to ask questions and make comments. It became clear that there were several common themes addressed by the panel, including authenticity and lineage, the relationship between an object and the story told about that object, and the importance of keeping material culture prominent in our research, especially when previous analyses have tended to ignore the stuff and things that make up religious life.