Birgit Meyer, University of Utrecht, Habitats and Habitus: Politics and Aesthetics of Religious World Making

    Professor Meyer’s project is not directly linked to the LDG. Rather this project is the background from which she has agreed to contribute to developing the theory and analytical models in the LDG project. Habitats and Habitus is the project in which Meyer currently develops her research on the transforming role of religion in our contemporary globalized world. While the empirical focus of her research as a cultural anthropologist is on religion in Ghana, her theoretical analysis is informed and stimulated by current research in related fields and disciplines (e.g. philosophy, history, media studies, visual culture, material culture, and religious studies/theology). Throughout her work Meyer has been interested in actual encounters between local populations and outside agents, as they unfolded in the frameworks of colonial modernity, post-Independence development and modernization, and current global neoliberalism. Informed by the concept of globalization, her research offers a multi-level analysis of how global processes instigate significant transformations in everyday life. Moving beyond the strongly concept- and meaning-oriented approach of religion that has long dominated the study of at least current Christianity, she advocates a “material” approach to the study of religion that takes seriously the human practices of forming the world in a concrete sense, whether in buildings and architecture or design, using audio-visual and material culture, or shaping (gendered) bodies, senses and sensibilities. This links up with her understanding of religion as a medium that operates via particular “sensational forms” that mould religious subjects, shape strong, desired identities and social relationships, and produce a shared environment. Envisaged is an exploration of the links between religious techniques of the self (building bodies, tuning/honing senses) – the habitus – and the shape of the material environment (home, city, religious spaces, architecture, circulation of images and soundscapes) – the habitats. In its search for analytical models for understanding local dynamics of globalization the CAS-project would be able to fruitfully draw on Meyer’s expertise with regard to the nexus of globalization and social, cultural and religious transformations. Meyer’s own thinking, on the other hand, is expected to benefit significantly from exchanges with the researchers in this project. Though working on a different period and region, the theoretical concerns overlap to a large extent and promise interdisciplinary cross-fertilization. 

Short CV

Birgit Meyer is Professor of Religious Studies, Dept. of Religious Studies and Theology, University of Utrecht, and also fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg Berlin (2010-11); Member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences  (2007 –>); Vice-Chair of the International African Institute, London (2005 –>); Co-editor of Material Religion; Anneliese-Maier-Forschungspreis, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2011. Birgit Meyer graduated in religious studies and pedagogy at Bremen University and then studied cultural anthropology at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). After defending her PhD in 1995 she was affiliated with the Research Center Religion and Society (UvA). Between 2004 and 2011 she was professor of cultural anthropology at VU University Amsterdam. Since Sept. 2011 she is professor of religious studies at Utrecht University. She directed several research programs. She published on missions and local appropriations of Christianity; modernity and conversion; the rise of Pentecostalism inside neo-liberal capitalism; popular culture and video-films in Ghana; religion, media and identity; material religion; and the role of religion in the 21st century.

Most Important Recent Publications in Relation to the LDG-project

(2012, fc), Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality.(ed with D. Houtman). New York: Fordham University Press.

(2011). “Mediating Absence - Effecting Spiritual Presence. Pictures and the Christian Imagination”. "Image as Action, Image in Action". Social Research, 78: 1029-56.

(2011). “Mediation and Immediacy. Sensational Forms, Semiotic Ideologies and the Question of the Medium.” Social Anthropology, 19(1), 23-39.

(2010) “Aesthetics of Persuasion. Global Christianity and Pentecostalism’s Sensational Forms.” South Atlantic Quarterly, Special Issue on Global Christianity, Global Critique, 9/2010: 741-763.

(2010) “There is a Spirit in that Image.” Mass Produced Jesus Pictures and Protestant Pentecostal Animation in Ghana. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52 (1): 100-130.

(2010) Pentecostalism and Globalization. In: A. Anderson et al (eds.), Studying Global Pentecostalism. Theories and Methods. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 113-130.

(2008) “Powerful Pictures. Popular Protestant Aesthetics in Southern Ghana.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 76 (1): 82-110.

(2009) (ed) Aesthetic Formations. Media, Religion and the Senses. New York: Palgrave.