June 30, 2014

Visual Culture and the Study of Religion

Birgit Meyer is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. A distinguished and prolific scholar who trained as a cultural anthropologist and who worked on lived religion in Ghana for more than 20 years, Meyer is vice-chair of the International African Institute, a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, and one of the editors ofMaterial Religion. She has been a leading voice for some time in such topics and fields as diverse as the colonial missions and local appropriations of Christianity, the rise of Pentecostalism in the context of neoliberal capitalism, popular culture and video-films in Ghana, the relations between religion, media and identity, the study of lived and material religion, and the place and role of religion in the 21st century more broadly. She is the author of Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana, editor of Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion and the Senses, and co-editor of Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and ClosureMagic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and ConcealmentReligion, Media and the Public Sphere, and Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality.

Along with Bruno Latour, Carlo Ginzburg, and Jörg Rüpke, Professor Meyer was a keynote speaker at the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) and Dutch Association for the Study of Religion (NGG) Joint Conference held at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 11-15 May 2014. Meyer’s keynote address, ‘Visual Culture and the Study of Religion,’ sought to make an intervention into the study of religion and material and visual culture through an understanding of religion as a practice of mediation, one in and through which some kind of spiritual or divine presence, however conceptualised, is effected, actualised, or materialised. Meyer argued that such an understanding of religion as mediation allows us to draw attention to the fascinating issue of religious images and sensory regimes, thinking through the implications of placing such visual culture and a consideration of material, multi-sensuous embodiment at the core of scholarly inquiry for the production of knowledge about religion.

After the keynote, George Ioannides had the opportunity to meet with Professor Meyer to discuss her work, her career, her views on the importance of studying religion and/as material and visual culture, and her advice for students who similarly wish to research topics at the intersection of cultural anthropology and the study of religion.

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