Book Chapter

Augmented Graves and Virtual Bibles: Digital Media and Material Religion


Chapter Author
Timothy Hutchings



Material culture has emerged in recent decades as a significant theoretical concern for the study of religion. This book contributes to and evaluates this material turn, presenting thirteen chapters of new empirical research and theoretical reflection from some of the leading international scholars of material religion. Following a model for material analysis proposed in the first chapter by David Morgan, the contributors trace the life cycle of religious materiality through three phases: the production of religious objects, their classification as religious (or non-religious), and their circulation and use in material culture.

The chapters in this volume consider how objects become and cease to be sacred, how materiality can be used to contest access to public space and resources, and how religion is embodied and performed by individuals in their everyday lives. Contributors discuss the significance of the materiality of religion across different religious traditions and diverse geographical regions, paying close attention to gender, age, ethnicity, memory and politics. The volume closes with an afterword by Manuel Vásquez.

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This chapter seeks to explore and question this understanding of the material object by applying it to the realm of mediation. First, what would it mean to think of websites, mobile phone apps or QR codes as objects, to be studied as part of material cultures? Second, how can we apply David Morgan’s approach to “production” – in terms of medium, design and manufacture – to generate insights into the place of digital media in contemporary religion?

I will begin by tracing the Internet’s shift over time from the alternative reality of “cyberspace” to its contemporary status as the mundane, often invisible infrastructure of everyday life. Understanding this change in our relationship with computer-mediated communication provides an important foundation for material analysis. I will then discuss digital technology and online content as kinds of “materiality”, drawing on recent discussions in material religion and digital media studies.

To apply a material approach to the study of digital production, I will introduce examples taken from two rather different fields: digital Bibles and online memorials. As we shall see, the materiality of digital media is not limited to the level of technologies and devices. Digital software and content also function just like material objects: they are produced, classified and circulated, and they guide, structure, constrain and make concrete our actions and relations. By paying attention to the different dimensions of the materiality of media, we can gain a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which religion today is structured and provoked by material objects and their creators.

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About the Author

Timothy Hutchings

Dr Hutchings is a sociologist and ethnographer of digital religion. His research explores new digital forms of authority, community and ritual, the relationship between online and offline activity, and the role of media technologies in social chan... Read more


Hutchings, T. (2016). Augmented Graves and Virtual Bibles: Digital Media and Material Religion. In: T. Hutchings and J. McKenzie, eds., Materiality and the Study of Religion: The Stuff of the Sacred, London: Routledge, pp. 85-99.