Material Religion in America
M/W 2:30-4, Chase 104, Spring, 2006

Ken Koltun-Fromm


Manna Mints


This class will explore the ways in which Americans express, explore, and negotiate their religious identities in and through material objects, rituals, and performance. The course is divided into four themes:

We will read theoretical literature to help us think well about material practices, and read, listen, and view various texts including written works, music, photographs, and movies. Students will create posters on some aspect of material religion for their final projects, and present them as part of a symposium on material religion in America on May 3rd and 4th.


Preparation for class discussions is required and necessary. You should be fully prepared to engage the reading material in class, and offer reflective comments upon the reading and the ideas of others.

You will write 3 four page, doubled-spaced papers during the semester, and produce a creative, dynamic poster for your final paper. The due dates for the papers are as follows:

First paper: February 3rd, Friday (5pm)
Second paper: Mar 3rd, Friday (5pm)
Third paper: March 31st, Friday (5pm)

Poster: May 6th, Saturday (5pm) for Seniors or May 12th, Friday (12pm) for everybody else

All papers must be turned in on the second floor of Gest building in the appropriate box labeled for this class. If coming to the Haverford College campus proves difficult on Fridays, you may email a copy of your paper to me by the 5pm deadline, but only if you inform me before then that you wish to do so, and I confirm. I suggest that you cc a copy to yourself, and seek a reply from me that I have received and can open the document. I will not consider the paper to be turned in until I can open the document and print it from my computer. Your paper will be marked down for each day late.


Your final grade will be based on the above assignments, with significant weight placed on your engagement in class discussions. I do not evaluate each task with percentage accuracy (your final paper is not worth, say, 30% of your grade, for example), but instead examine all your work as a piece, and provide a grade that I hope fairly expresses the work and attention rendered to the class assignments, your peers in class, and your class participation. This process also allows me to take into account improvement over the course of the semester. Your final poster session grade will be partially based upon the amount of time and effort you put into it over the course of the semester.

Students who think they may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a disability are encouraged to meet with me privately early in the semester. Students should also contact Rick Webb, Coordinator, Office of Disabilities Services (, 610-896-1290) to verify their eligibility for reasonable accommodations as soon as possible. Early contact will help to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and delays.

Texts to Purchase

Magdalinski and Chandler, With God on their Side
Marini, Sacred Song in America
Arthur, Religion, Dress and the Body
McDannell, Material Christianity

Cash, Living Shrines (buy at, not in our bookstore)

Jan. 16th

  • Introduction to class

Religion and Sports

Jan. 18th

  • Durkheim, Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, pp. 13-63 (for background on Durkheim, see this website)
  • Movie Showing: "Go Tigers" at 7:30pm in Gest 101

Jan. 19th (Thursday)

  • Moving Showing: "When We Were Kings" at 7:30pm in Gest 101

Jan. 23rd

  • Magdalinski and Chandler, With God on Their Side, pp. 1-16
  • Demott, “Jocks and the Academy,” in The New York Review of Books, pp. 29-32
  • Chandler, “Manly Catholicism,” in With God on Their Side, pp. 99-116
  • Discuss “Go Tigers”

Jan. 25th

  • Borish, “Women, sport and American Jewish identity in the late 19th century,” in With God on Their Side, pp. 71-90
  • Smith – “Muhammad Speaks and Muhammad Ali: intersection of the Nation of Islam and sport in the 1960’s,” in With God on Their Side, pp. 177-190
  • Discuss "When we were Kings"

Jan. 30th

  • Prebish, “Heavenly Father, Divine Goalie,” in Sport and Religion, pp. 43-53
  • Mathisen, “From Muscular Christians to Jocks for Jesus,” in The Christian Century, 11-15
  • Higgs, “Muscular Christianity, Holy Play, and Spiritual Exercises,” in Sport and Religion, pp. 89-101
  • Tom Krattenmaker Visit and Talk in Class

Feb. 1st

  • Student Research Projects and Technnology (meet with Jeff White at Computing Center, 2:30-3:15)
  • Student Research Projects and the Library (meet with James Gulick, 3:15-4:00)
  • Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," 217-251

Feb. 3rd (Friday)

  • Four page essay due

Religion, Music and Performance

Feb. 6th

  • Marini – “Introduction: What Is Sacred Song?” in Sacred Song in America, pp. 1-12
  • Slobin, “The Big Picture,” in Subcultural Sounds, pp. 11-23
  • Visit by Tom Porett

Feb. 7th (Tuesday)

  • Movie Showing: "Powwow" at 7:30pm in Sharpless Auditorium

Feb. 8th

  • Marini – “Songway: Sacred-Song Traditions of Native America,” in Sacred Song in America, pp. 17-38
  • Discuss "Powwow"
  • Listen to Native Radio

Feb. 13th

  • Marini – “Klezmorim and Sephardim: The Jewish Music Revival, ” in Sacred Song in America, pp. 130- 157
  • Listen to Radio Free Klezmer

Feb. 15th

  • Marini – “Is It Going to Save Somebody?: The Black Church at Song,” in Sacred Song in America, pp. 100-127
  • Listen to Black Gospel Radio

Feb. 16th (Thursday)

  • Movie Showing: "The Jazz Singer" at 7:30pm in Gest 101
  • For background on movie, see this website

Feb. 20th

  • Lott, Love & Theft, 3-37
  • Discuss "The Jazz Singer"
  • Ari Kelman visit to Class
  • Ari Kelman's talk: "Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio in New York" (Gest 101, 4:15pm)

Feb. 22nd

  • Rogin, Blackface, White Noise, pp. 3-18
  • Rosenberg, "Rogin's Noise," pp. 221-239 (optional: this is a nasty review of Rogin's book)
  • Melnick, A Right to Sing the Blues, pp. 60-80

Feb. 27th

  • Rosen, White Christmas, pp. 65-91, 157-166
  • Melnick, A Right to Sing the Blues, pp. 114-119
  • Berlin, White Christmas (song)

Mar. 1st

  • Student Research Projects

Mar. 3rd (Friday)

  • Four page essay due

Spring Break

Religion and the Body

March 13th

  • Connerton, How Societies Remember, pp. 21-40

March 15th

  • Arthur and Graybill, “The Social Control of Women’s Bodies,” in Religion, Dress and the Body, pp. 9-28
  • Hamilton and Hawley, “Sacred Dress, Public Worlds: Amish and Mormon Experiences and Commitment,” in Religion, Dress and the Body, pp. 31-50

March 20th

  • Evenson and Trayte, “Dress and Interaction in Contending Cultures,” in Religion, Dress and the Body, pp. 95-113
  • O’Neal,“The African American Church, its Sacred Cosmos, and Dress,” in Religion, Dress and the Body, pp. 117-130
  • Joselit, A Perfect Fit, pp. 101-127
  • Crowns, pp. 2-5, 32-35, 56-59, 68-71, 124-127, 132-135, 184-187, 192-195

March 22nd

  • Daly, “The Paarda Expression of Hejaab among Afghan Women in a Non-Muslim Community,” in Religion, Dress and the Body, pp. 147-159
  • Anijar, “Jewish Genes, Jewish Jeans: A Fashionable Body,” in Religion, Dress and the Body, pp. 181-199
  • Prell, Fighting to Become Americans, pp. 177-194
  • Becoming American Women, 9, 32-33, 50-51, 56-57, 60-61, 92, 94-95, 123

March 27th

  • Student Research Projects

The Home as Sacred Space

March 29th

  • McDannell, Material Christianity, pp. 1-16
  • Brown, Mama Lola, pp. ix-xvi, 1-20

March 31st (Friday)

  • Four page essay due

April 3rd

  • Brown, Mama Lola, pp. 36-78

April 5th

  • Cash, Living Shrines, pp. 43-115

April 10th

  • Turner, Beautiful Necessity, pp. 26-59

April 12th

  • Passover (no class)

April 17th

  • Sciorra, “Yard Shrines and Sidewalk Alters” in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, III, 185-198
  • Seriff and Turner, “Giving an Altar” in Journal of American Folklore, 446-460

April 19th

  • McDannell, Material Christianity, pp. 17-66

April 24th

  • McDannell, Material Christianity, pp. 67-102

April 26th

  • Poster Sessions

May 3rd and 4th (Wednesday and Thursday) – Symposium

  • Read Marini, “Sacred Harp Singing,” in Sacred Song in America, pp. 68-97
  • Visit "Picturing Faith" Photography Exhibit

Final Posters due: May 6th, Saturday (5pm) for Seniors or May 12th, Friday (12pm) for everybody else