Tag Archives: thinking through things

The Power of Objects: Materiality – Forms – Ritual Action

International Conference, Toulouse: May 30th – June 1st 2013

Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail Maison de la Recherche 5 allées A. Machado 31058 TOULOUSE CEDEX 9 Téléphone 05 61 50 24 30

Ethnographers, whether their research results in producing texts or in curating museum collections, seem to share an interest in material artifacts whose symbolic and social functions might be easier to describe than to find their common denominator. Among such artifacts, some are written about as ritual, magical, or power objects, or “idols,” “relics,” and “fetishes,” and given, by the cultures that create them, specific names: agalmata and xoana in ancient Greece, churinga in Australia, boli and basi among the Mande, etc. Others might, despite the strangeness of their power, pass almost unnoticed, like so many materials consecrated by the early Christians, for example, or as certain objects and substances used both within religious contexts and in everyday life as well. Indeed, in analyzing rites, one may observe an ordinary knife becoming the instrument for sacrifices, water the liquid for ablutions, a pan the indispensable receptacle for the communal meal, and a shirt the outfit for the priest. Truly great, then, is the number of elements necessary for the transformation of the universe, for the transition from the day-to-day into this different realm, which is generally saturated with religious meanings. In this realm and in the spaces of transition, things seem to possess more power than a reasonable mind would normally allocate to them. What makes them so potent and how do they attain such a status? How are these powerful artifacts produced? And how exactly does one manipulate or interact with them in order to affect such a transformation?