Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America

Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America

Yale University Press

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What can the religious objects used by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americans tell us about American Christianity? What is the relationship between the beliefs of the faithful and the landscapes they build? This lavishly illustrated book investigates the history and meaning of Christian material culture in America over the last 150 years.

Drawing on a rich array of historical sources and on in-depth interviews with Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons, Colleen McDannell examines the relationship between religion and mass consumption. She describes examples of nineteenth-century religious practice: Victorians burying their dead in cultivated cemetery parks; Protestants producing and displaying elaborate family Bibles; Catholics writing for special water from Lourdes reputed to have miraculous powers. And she looks at today's Christians: Mormons wearing sacred underclothing as a reminder of their religious promises, Catholics debating the design of tasteful churches, and Protestants manufacturing, marketing, and using a vast array of prints, clothing, figurines, jewelry, and toys that some label "Jesus junk" but that others see as a witness to their faith. McDannell claims that previous studies of American Christianity have overemphasized the written, cognitive, and ethical dimensions of religion, presenting faith as a disembodied system of beliefs. She shifts attention from the church and the theological seminary to the workplace, home, cemetery, and Sunday school, highlighting a different Christianity—one in which average Christians experience the divine, the nature of death, the power of healing, and the meaning of community through interacting with a created world of devotional images, environments, and objects.


Colleen McDannell is Sterling McMurrin Chair of Religious Studies and associate professor of history at the University of Utah. She is the co-author of Heaven: A History, published by Yale University Press. 

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