In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Material Religion

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  • Documentary

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Hinduism Material Religion
Mikael Aktor
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0181


Hindu material culture is a vast subject. It includes subjects that have been part of the study of Hinduism throughout its history such as archaeology, topography, city layout, architecture, epigraphs, iconography, art, food transactions, music, ritual, and more. The present bibliography, however, is mainly limited to works that can be related to the new interest in materiality within the study of religion. There is, however, no clear boundary between these modern branches of scholarship and former works within the same areas. Still, the new “material religion” can to some extent be distinguished by theoretical reflections that have been developed as part of the general “material turn” in the humanities. Just to give two examples, these theoretical reflections may be inspired by concepts from cognitive studies like the neuroscientist Merlin Donald’s idea of cultural objects as “exograms,” that is, brain-external stores of memory and knowledge, or by concepts in sociology like Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory (ANT), the idea that non-human actors, “things,” must be included in the account of social interactions. But most often it is simply the more explicit focus on the material and perceptual properties of religious objects that distinguishes these new styles of scholarship from an earlier focus on the semantic, communicative, or symbolic properties of the same objects, although, of course, the one does not exclude the other. The rationale behind this material turn lies mainly in the recognition that lived, observable religion unfolds bodily in interaction with material objects. Materiality is not secondary to ideas. Rather materiality triggers ideas and states of mind as much as ideas influence material practices. “Religious objects” have significance in religious practices. Many are objects of worship that represent, manifest, or make present a divine being. Others are ritual utensils or materials associated with ritual such as dress or incense. Religious objects of the former kind belong to many different material domains. Divine beings may be represented by or manifested as physiomorphic objects, of which some are immovable elements of the landscape like mountains, rivers, or trees, while others are movable like stones, shells, or seeds. Unlike these, cultural artifacts may be in the form of two- or three-dimensional images, or they may be aniconic objects like pillars or geometric designs. Unlike the art perspective, the materiality approach does not set up a boundary between the worship of elements of the landscape and the worship of cultural artifacts. The titles of the present bibliography represent this fluidity and cover many of these different types of objects. Works published before 1990 are not covered. Important works published before that date are mentioned in the bibliographies in the articles from Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism listed in the section Reference Works. Subjects that are not covered include archaeology, film and TV, and music. Subjects that are almost only covered in the reference section are food and architecture.

Reference Works

Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism is a comprehensive up-to-date reference work accessible both as a six-volume book edition and an online edition that includes all articles from the printed volumes. Stutley 2003 is a useful dictionary of Hindu iconography.

  • Jacobsen, Knut A., Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, eds. Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Brill Online Reference Works.

    This online edition is organized alphabetically rather than thematically like the printed edition. It is therefore fast and easy to use. The articles are only available through library subscription, private subscription, or purchase of single articles.

  • Jacobsen, Knut A., Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, eds. Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. 6 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009–2015.

    This printed edition is organized thematically under the following headings: Regions, Pilgrimage, Deities (Vol. 1); Sacred Texts, Ritual Traditions, Arts, Concepts (Vol. 2); Society, Religious Specialists, Religious Traditions, Philosophy (Vol. 3); Historical Perspectives, Poets, Teachers and Saints, Relation to Other Religions and Traditions, Hinduism and Contemporary Issues (Vol. 4); Symbolism, Diaspora, Modern Groups and Teachers (Vol. 5); Extra Articles and Indices (Vol. 6).

  • Stutley, Margaret. The Illustrated Dictionary of Hindu Iconography. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2003.

    This is a handy but detailed dictionary of Sanskrit names for elements of Hindu iconography, temple architecture, and related items. An index of English equivalents makes it easy to find specific articles. These are brief defining texts ranging from a few lines to a half page, many with illustrating drawings.

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