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The Spirit of Matter: Modernity, Religion, and the Power of Objects

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Volume 45

Methodology & History in Anthropology

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The Spirit of Matter

Modernity, Religion, and the Power of Objects

Peter Pels

387 pages, 21 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-80539-014-5 $145.00/£107.00 / Hb / Published (July 2023)

eISBN 978-1-80539-015-2 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


“I consider this to be a brilliant piece of research creating a highly original intervention in material culture studies. In particular the debates on materiality and matter and the intellectual history of the concept of fetishism and its transformation of meaning in Europe from the 16th century to the present.” • Michael Rowlands, University College London

“[A book] with considerable value. It is a compelling read, that has some important interventions to make concerning the nature of the material within modernity.” • Jon Mitchell, University of Sussex


A range of meaningful objects—exhibits of human remains or live people, fetishes, objects in a Catholic Museum, exotic photographs, commodities, and computers—demonstrate a subordinate modern consciousness about powerful objects and their ‘life’. The Spirit of Matter discusses these objects that move people emotionally but whose existence is often denied by modern wishful thinking of ‘mind over matter’. It traces this mindset back to Protestant Christian influences that were secularized in the course of modern and colonial history.

Peter Pels is a Professor of Anthropology of Africa at the University of Leiden. He edited the journal Social Anthropology (2003-2007) and advised the Çatalhöyük excavation project led by Ian Hodder (2005-14). His most recent publication is Museum Temporalities: Time, History and the Future of the Ethnographic Museum (Routledge, 2023) which is co-edited with Wayne Modest.

Subject: Anthropology of ReligionArchaeologyMuseum Studies


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