Why Is The Material Culture Of A Religion Important To Understanding It?


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Rachel Sharp answered
Importantly, material culture provides the 'physical facts' of how religion is practiced, aiding our understanding. A physical object that is used in religious ritual – whether it is an incense burner, a prayer cloth, a sword, or a cathedral – can illustrate in a literal way how and with what objects religious practice is carried out. If we aimed to understand religious doctrine, rather than religion as it is lived, material culture might not be so helpful. The murals painted on the walls of Cuzco Cathedral in Peru or the pillar that is stoned by Muslim pilgrims during hajj might seem cryptic if we were using them to find out about the Bible or the Qur'an, had we no prior knowledge of these religious texts. On the other hand, material culture has a very direct connection to religious practice, because it is used in practice. A mosque, temple, or church is easily distinguished from a religious doctrine; it is not so easily separated from religious practice.

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