Book: Constructing Data in Religious Studies
Chapter: 8. Surprised by History: A Response to Baldwin
In this essay, I draw attention to Matthew Baldwin's suspicions of recent discourses on materiality as just one more phenomenology. I agree with his frame of discourse analysis but think he too quickly skips over the materiality of history that funds his argument. This response addresses the potentials of historicization--potentials Baldwin labels as "surprises." By considering what informs scholarly surprise specifically, I extend the term and relate it to how to describe the movements of political economy generally. In reflecting how the social field produces its objects, I highlight that scholars are not the only site for object construction. Non-scholars, I argue, are under similar urgency to form objects; however it is the scholar who is tasked to give an account of these mechanisms of production. A more nuanced concept of history, what Fredric Jameson capitalizes as History, contributes to my own account of how materiality might appear as impersonal excess. It is this excess that is surprising and can occasion thought in scholars and non-scholars alike. To demonstrate the usefulness of broader notions of materialist surprises, I reflect on two mundane objects relevant to popular religion to highlight how particularity can give way to the overwhelming substance of history.