Humanities Center Director: Thomas Wilson

Sally M. Promey

Professor of American Studies, Professor of Religion and Visual Culture, Deputy Director, Institute of Sacred Music, and Director, Initiative for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion, Yale University

“Always a Golden Calf: Materialities and Sensational Religions in ‘Secular’ Modernity”

Thursday, October 7, 2010 • 4:10pm • Taylor Science Center G027

The weight of secularization theory settled disproportionately on the material practice of religion. Materiality and material agency presented special problems for the construction of “secular” modernity. The repetition of a supersessionary pattern that applied progression to binary pairings was familiar to the West: polytheism/monotheism; Judaism/ Christianity; Catholicism/ Protestantism; religion/ modernity. For each supposedly chronological example, value accrued to the later, right-hand term - and, close to the core of the rupture, there was always a golden calf. To a startling degree, secularization’s “re-formations” concerned properly constraining and transforming the material world. Among the objects most often left stranded by this set of obsessions numbered the things that gave shape to religious devotion. This lecture, an exercise in interpretive historiography, mines these subjects to propose a revised approach to the study of the visual and mate rial cultures of modern religious practice (adapted from Promey and Brisman, “Sensory Cultures,” 2010).

Sally M. Promey is Professor of American Studies; Professor of Religion and Visual Culture; and Deputy Director, Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. She holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religious Studies and an affiliation with History of Art. She convenes the Sensory Cultures of Religion Research Group and directs the Yale Initiative for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion, generously supported by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Her scholarship explores the visual and material cultures of religions in the United States from the early colonial period through the present.
Current book projects include volumes titled Religion in Plain View: Public Aesthetics of American Belief and Written on the Heart: Christian Material Practice in the United States. Among earlier publications, Promey’s Painting Religion in Public: John Singer Sargent’s “Triumph of Religion” at the Boston Public Library received the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Historical Study of Religion, and Spiritual Spectacles: Vision and Image in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Shakerism was awarded the Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art. She is also contributing author and co-editor, with David Morgan, of The Visual Culture of American Religions (California, 2001).

Sponsored by Dean of Faculty, the Yordán Lecture Fund, Emerson Gallery, the Chaplaincy, and the Religious Studies and Art History Departments