Sensational Religion


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Sensory Cultures in Material Practice

Edited by Sally M. Promey

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The result of a collaborative, multiyear project, this groundbreaking book investigates the dynamic constellation of religion, sensation, and materiality, exploring the interpretive worlds of sensory phenomena in material practices of religions.
Under the rubric of “making sense,” the studies assembled here consider how people have used and valued sensory data. How have they shaped their material and immaterial worlds to encourage or discourage certain kinds or patterns of sensory experience? How have they framed the sensual capacities of images and objects to license a range of behaviors, including iconoclasm, censorship, and accusations of blasphemy or sacrilege? Exposing the dematerialization of religion embedded in secularization theory, editor Sally Promey proposes a fundamental reorientation in understanding the personal, social, political, and cultural work accomplished in religion’s sensory and material practice. Sensational Religion refocuses scholarly attention on the robust material entanglements often discounted by modernity’s metaphysic and on their inextricable connections to human bodies, behaviors, affects, and beliefs.

Sally M. Promey is professor of American studies and professor of religious studies (Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Yale University); and professor of religion and visual culture (Yale Institute of Sacred Music). She is founding director of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion (
“Sensational Religion blazes a trail in sensory culture studies. Sally Promey has brought together prominent scholars from varied disciplines to examine multisensory religious experiences, focusing on corporeal perception and bodily practices across continents, from historical periods to the present.”—Carolyn Dean, University of California, Santa Cruz
“Sensational Religion is more landmark than compendium.  It suggests just how far the study of religion in all its sensuous, material density has come over the last two decades—not only in Religious Studies, but also in History, Anthropology, American Studies, and beyond.”—Leigh Eric Schmidt, Washington University in St. Louis
“Promey’s volume makes a significant contribution that will be transformative and lasting. The clarity of expression of the essays, the compelling quality of the material addressed, and the rigor of each author’s analysis make this an exciting and invigorating read. It is hard to imagine a humanistic discipline that would not have interest in this volume.”—Rachael Z. DeLue, Princeton University
“A monumental achievement. The wide-ranging essays in this brilliant and authoritative anthology will transform thinking across several fields -- not only religious studies and sensory studies, but also studies of aesthetics, imperialism, ethnicity, modernity, and materiality.”—Jennifer L. Roberts, Harvard University
"At the busy crossroads of debates on secularism, post-structuralist work on embodiment and subjectivity, sensory cultural studies and the philosophical turn to the materiality and agency of things, we find this brilliant collection of 37 essays on Sensational Religion. Their empirical robustness and theoretical sophistication assures that the analysis of religion remains on the crucial, cutting edge for understanding social life.”—Angela Zito, Center for Religion and Media

“As befits a large volume covering historically and geographically diverse contexts, Sensation’s reach can exceed its grasp, but as an initial (and beautifully illustrated) foray into exploring sensation and materiality in religion, this book provides an invaluable starting point.”—Bobby L. Smiley, Religious Studies Review
ISBN: 9780300187359
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
720 pages, 7 x 10
81 b/w + 103 color illus.