At a Glance


Learn about American material culture and its relation to the nation's religious history.

James Hudnut-Beumler, Dean, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

Material History of American Religion Project

Logo, The Material History of American Religion Project

In 1996, eight historians of religion and three advisors embarked on a five-year project to illuminate ways that material culture and economic history can be used in the study of American religion, a discipline traditionally dominated by ideas. The site presents annotated photographs of 39 objects, including an evangelical coffee bar, chewing gum packed with biblical verses, artwork in a family Bible, and a church stick used to awaken sleeping congregants. Thirty-eight documents from the 1850s to the 1960s, range from an 1854 book steward report for the African Methodist Episcopal Church to a chain e-mail from the 1990s. The site also includes 23 essays and interviews by the project's participants on such eclectic subjects as "Material Christianity," religious architecture, how Catholic practice has shaped children's experiences, the role of costume in the Salvation Army, how to practice economic history of religion, and "what makes a Jewish home Jewish." Includes eight issues of the project's newsletter; a bibliography of 22 titles; and links to 18 related sites. This site will be especially valuable to university students interested in evaluating the value of material culture scholarship in religious studies, students of economic history curious about applying their discipline to non-traditional fields of inquiry, and scholars within the field of material culture and the broad discipline of American cultural history.