Small remnants of sacred fabric known as prayer cloths are among the most important devotional objects in the Pentecostal tradition. Despite the widespread use of these healing and apotropaic objects, however, there is a remarkable lack of published scholarship on this phenomenon within the fields of religious studies, folklore, and anthropology. Articulating the relationship between oral performances of group prayer and individual sensations of tactility, Prayer Cloths, or, the Materiality of Divine Communication will track the manufacture and exchange of these prayer-objects as they circulate among four independent Pentecostal church communities in northwestern Virginia. Situated within the “Prayer in Social and Institutional Contexts” research theme, my ethnographic work describes and theorizes the relationship between the performance of group prayer and the solidification and maintenance of the communal fabric through the circulation and manipulation of devotional objects. Focusing on the role of the materially mediating object in experiences of divine communication, my work will yield new models of a religiosity typically associated with interiority, spirituality, and individuality. Against such associations, whether religious self-definitions or anthropological theories, I will demonstrate just how profoundly inextricable are these performances of prayer from the exterior objects within which believers sense the opening of communicative relays between the everyday and the sacred. Tracking the movements of these materialized prayers, my research will articulate the way these devotional fabrics link the individual to more expansive networks of communal prayer and sensations of divine presence. During the early twentieth century, classic accounts of prayer in the fields of ethnology and religious studies predicted that the communal performance of prayer would undergo a progressive interiorization until it became a purely intellectual act within the silent recesses of the religious subject. Marking a significant departure from assumptions organizing the academic study of prayer, my exploration into the materiality of religious presence articulates the history and contemporary practice of Pentecostal and charismatic Christian prayer through its progressive exteriorizations enabled by material objects and media technologies. Describing the prostheses of prayer in the late modern world, my project makes explicit the way material objects and technologies enable specific sensations of sacred immediacy, and in so doing marks a new contribution to a growing body of scholarship on sensory formation in experiences of healing, conversion, and transcendence. Like the discernment of an excessive presence that subsists just beyond the boundaries of everyday perception, my project describes the production of ecstatic sensations at the interface of the assumed everyday capacities of the body and its technological extensions and material supplementations.

Tags: , , ,