Book Chapter

Introduction: The Body of St Cuthbert


Chapter Authors
Timothy Hutchings, Joanne McKenzie



This chapter introduces the field of Material Religion through a historical case study, identifies major themes in the field, and outlines the main points of each chapter of the book.

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The idea for this book emerged from “Material Religion”, a conference of the BSA’s Sociology of Religion Study Group (Socrel) hosted at Durham University in the spring of 2013. It seems appropriate, then, to begin our introduction with one of Durham’s most famous and disputed examples of the materiality of religion: the body of St Cuthbert, the relic that the city’s vast cathedral was built to contain. This introduction explores the history of Cuthbert's corpse, which has been reimagined over the centuries as an object of faith, deception, science and tourist curiosity. ‘Religion happens materially’ (Meyer et al. 2010 : 209), and so does society: this holy body tells a story of faith, power, money, violence, regional identity, nationhood and more.

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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. and McKenzie, J. (2016). Introduction: The Body of St Cuthbert. In: T. Hutchings and J. McKenzie, eds., Materiality and the Study of Religion: The Stuff of the Sacred, London: Routledge, pp. 1-13.