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Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America [Hardcover]

Dr. Colleen McDannell


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Book Description

Jan. 24 1996
This lavishly illustrated book investigates the history and meaning of Christian material culture in America over the past 150 years. Drawing on a rich array of historical sources and on in-depth interviews with Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Colleen McDannell examines the relationship between religion and mass consumption.

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McDannell is concerned with physical and material expressions of religion often overlooked in discussion of American Christianity. She is critical of approaches to secularization and religion that shift attention from material dimensions of religion to "religious" dimensions of secular material culture. These approaches, which she associates with distrust of the material and the masses, are evident in Protestant emphasis on the written word at the expense of unwritten practice and in critical traditions associated with the Frankfurt school that understand mass culture as manipulation made possible by the "weak egos and submissive psyches" of the masses. The Frankfurt school's Marxist roots incline toward appreciation of the material, but they are "protestant" enough to associate criticism with the words of a revolutionary elite that rises above the material practice of the masses. To her credit, McDannell is interested not in "rising above" that practice but in examining it as an expression of culture. She does this in a series of carefully documented and clearly written case studies ranging from Roman Catholic sacramentals through the rural cemetery movement to Mormon garments and Christian retailing. The careful intertwining of theory and practice in historically informed case studies is exemplary for readers with a specific interest in material Christianity as well as those with a more general interest in material culture and the making of meaning. Steve Schroeder

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