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Religion and Touch

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Religion is, at its very root, a sensual and often tactile affair. From genuflections, prayer, dance, and eating, to tattooing, wearing certain garments or objects, lighting candles and performing other rituals, religions of all descriptions involve regular bodily commitments which are mediated by acts of touch.

Contributors to this volume have isolated the ‘sense of touch’ from the general sensorium as a particular ‘sense tool’ from which to creatively innovate and operationalize fresh concepts, theories, and methods in relation to a diverse range of case studies in Africa, South America, Polynesia, Europe, and South and Southeast Asia. Common and overlapping themes include how touch mediates direct physical (often deliberate) contact between physical bodies (human and other than human) and the things that are crafted, blessed, related with, engaged with, or worn. Understanding touch as the vehicle to alternative forms of knowledge-making in specific religious contexts is the driving force behind the contributions to this collection.

The volume argues that touch is not only an intrinsic part of religion but the principal facilitating medium through which religion, religious encounters and performances take place. The diverse contexts presented here signal how investigations that centralise the body and the senses can produce nuanced, culturally specific knowledges and allow for the development of new definitions for lived religion. By placing both ‘body’ and the sense of touch at the centre of investigations, the volume asserts that material practice and bodily sensation are lived religion.

Published: Sep 13, 2021


Section Chapter Authors
List of Figures Christina Welch, Amy Whitehead
Acknowledgements Christina Welch, Amy Whitehead
Series Foreword Graham Harvey
Religion and Sense of Touch Christina Welch, Amy Whitehead
Part I. Reciprocity and Knowing: Being in Touch with Things
1. Tattooing Ritual and the Management of Touch in Polynesia Sébastien Galliot
2. Touching Deities: Offerings, Energies and the Notion of Touch in Guyanese Hinduism Sinah Theres Kloss
3. Accommodating Crisis: Exploring the Dynamics of Touch and Material Devotion in Alcalá de los Gazules Gabriel Bayarri, Amy Whitehead
4. The Heathen Lyre: On Religion, Music and Touch Andy Letcher
5. Being There: Anglo-Indian Roots Tourism Experiences Robyn Andrews
Part II. Crafting Devotion: Ritual Labour
6. The Senses and Their Absences in Balinese and Tamil Hinduism Graeme MacRae
7. Death Doulas and Coffin Clubs: Exploring Touch and the End of Life Suzi Garrod, Bronwyn Russell
8. Touch and Other Senses: Feeling the Truth in Basket Divination Sonia Silva
Part III. Touch, Ritual Efficacy and Communication
9. 'I am broken, I am remade. And I am held tightly through all that comes between.' - BDSM and Religioning on the Edge Alison Robertson
10. Religion, Touch and Death; Ritual and the Human Corpse Christina Welch
11. Immersive Hugging as a Ritual Act Michael Houseman
12. Handling Things Unseen: Tactile Aspects of the Christian Faith George Chryssides
End Matter
Index Christina Welch, Amy Whitehead


An intriguing, informative, and valuable contribution to be placed at the intersection between religion and anthropology.
Religious Studies Review