Strand: Religion, Architecture and Material Culture


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The conference aims to encourage an interdisciplinary approach that will address the interface between the industrial and developing worlds and encompass a long historical period. Material culture is an essential aspect of creating distinction and identity and has become an antidote to the homogenising effects of globalisation. How does this compare with times past? As the first Design History Society Conference to be held in Wales, a minority culture within the UK, it is particularly appropriate that such issues be explored. Strands planned at present include: the impact of the World Wide Web; ceramics; religion, architecture and material culture; fashion and dress; sustainable design and recycling; museum and exhibition representations; travel, tourism and design, minority identities and consumer culture.

This strand (hosted by the Centre for Studies in the Visual Culture of Religion) addresses the relationship between faith and form. It argues that religious groups express their convictions regarding the nature of God, humankind, and (at their interface) worship not only through literary and oral modes (such as creeds, confessions, hymns, prayers, and preaching) but also in the design and function of their contexts and material artefacts associated with religious life (devotion, teaching, and commemoration). Contributing papers would deal with the material architecture or artefacts of a variety of faith cultures including: the Established, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Christian Churches, Nonconformist and Dissenting denominations, Judaism, cults, sects, occult and New-Age religious groups, as well as major religions and their sub-sets outside the Judaeo-Christian tradition. These could be studied within either a global or a geographically- and socially-specific context. The following topics are examples suggested for guidance, and are not exclusive of other possibilities:

  • The impact of theology, liturgy, and the means of teaching and devotion on the architectural design of places of worship
  • The artefacts and contexts of communal celebration, ritual, and theatre: Christmas, Easter, christening, baptism, marriage, thanksgiving, and committal
  • Death and design: funereal artefacts, cemeteries, and memorials
  • Religious buildings as the context of broader cultural, political, social, and educational pursuits 
  • The influence of literary and oral styles on visual and material design 
  • The architects of religious buildings
  • The influence of secular and vernacular architecture on the design of religious buildings
  • The adaptation of traditional religious buildings to accommodate new modes of worship 
  • The material expression of religious identity
  • Costume, dress-codes, and vestment as an expression of spiritual values, office, gender, and identity
  • Conflict or tension between spirituality and materiality, the intangible and the tangible
  • The assimilation of colonial religious architecture and artefacts in the ‘New World’ and in ‘heathen’ countries, following the rise of emigration and missionary enterprise in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
  • The propagation or marketing of religious outlooks through teaching materials, pictorial illustrations, and devotional aids 
  • The design and operation of religious artefacts in the home
  • The growth of nineteenth-century-religious consumerism
  • Contemporary religious kitsch

Religion, Architecture and Material Culture Programme