The Thing about Religion

An Introduction to the Material Study of Religions

By David Morgan

268 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 color plates, 54 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6283-1
    Published: April 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6282-4
    Published: April 2021
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6284-8
    Published: March 2021
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5567-1
    Published: March 2021

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Common views of religion typically focus on the beliefs and meanings derived from revealed scriptures, ideas, and doctrines. David Morgan has led the way in radically broadening that framework to encompass the understanding that religions are fundamentally embodied, material forms of practice. This concise primer shows readers how to study what has come to be termed material religion—the ways religious meaning is enacted in the material world.

Material religion includes the things people wear, eat, sing, touch, look at, create, and avoid. It also encompasses the places where religion and the social realities of everyday life, including gender, class, and race, intersect in physical ways. This interdisciplinary approach brings religious studies into conversation with art history, anthropology, and other fields. In the book, Morgan lays out a range of theories, terms, and concepts and shows how they work together to center materiality in the study of religion. Integrating carefully curated visual evidence, Morgan then applies these ideas and methods to case studies across a variety of religious traditions, modeling step-by-step analysis and emphasizing the importance of historical context. The Thing about Religion will be an essential tool for experts and students alike. Two free, downloadable course syllabi created by the author are available online.

About the Author

David Morgan is professor of religious studies and art, art history, and visual studies at Duke University. His most recent book is Images at Work: The Material Culture of Enchantment.
For more information about David Morgan, visit the Author Page.


“Academics with an interest in religion or anthropology will most appreciate this broad examination of religious practice.”—Publishers Weekly

“All in all, The Thing About Religion is a wonderful book that clearly explains the relevance of studying religion not only as a belief system, but also as a system of things, performances, rituals, and much more.”—Reading Religion

“David Morgan’s engaging and accessible primer sets out how and why religion matters. Brimming with great cases, the book is both judicious and capacious in addressing a large swath of religious traditions, as well as a range of fields and methodologies. Morgan, who helped to define this approach to religious culture, demonstrates to students as well as scholars in religious studies, anthropology, art history, and related fields how to push beyond articulations of religion as all about questions of meaning and belief.”—Matthew Engelke, Columbia University

“David Morgan has again proven himself to be the leading voice for the modern study of material religion. Rich in fascinating details and broader reflections, this book offers pause and practical wisdom for all who are interested in significant and novel ways to study religion. It is also ideally suited for teaching at a variety of levels.”—Justin McDaniel, University of Pennsylvania