Original Research - Special Collection: Applied subjects - Practical Theology and Science of Religion

The material turn in Religious Studies and the possibility of critique: Assessing Chidester’s analysis of ‘the fetish’

Johan M. Strijdom
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 70, No 1 | a2116 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i1.2116 | © 2014 Johan M. Strijdom | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 December 2013 | Published: 05 September 2014

About the author(s)

Johan M. Strijdom, Department of Religious Studies and Arabic, University of South Africa, South Africa


In recent debates the neglect of the material dimension of religion and the foregrounding of beliefs in the modern academic study of religion has been attributed to a Protestant bias. As corrective a number of researchers have shifted their attention to the study of bodily performances, sensory experiences and sacred objects in religious traditions. In this article I will enquire how David Chidester’s analysis of the cultural, political and economic uses of ‘fetishes’ under 19th century colonial conditions in southern Africa and in European centres of theory formation on the one hand, and under 20th and 21st century American imperial conditions on the other, may inform the comparative study of religions. Central to my argument will be that the realisation that religions are necessarily concretely mediated should not preclude the possibility of a systemic critique of power relations that are at work in the uses of objects in religions, the comparison of religions and the comparative study of religions.


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