Accepted Paper:

On the surface of oil  


Timothy Carroll (UCL)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the relationship between oil and skin within the ritual practice of Orthodox Christianity in order to explore the material constitution for ritual health practices.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the material qualities of oil as used in Orthodox Christianity, specifically as seen in the ritual anointing using Holy Myrrh and the hot oil taken from votive lamps. Oil is a material with specific properties and affordances, such that its surface comes into a specific relation with the skin of the devotee. The skin, too, is a material with specific properties and affordances, and the paper looks at the fusion of flesh and oil as a point of material engagement that opens up new ways to think through how the material properties of things and persons facilitate wellbeing. Drawing on the historical legacy of oil as it was understood in Greco-Roman antiquity, and the metaphors and ritual practices developed through the early Christian period, this paper situates contemporary Orthodox use of oil within the idioms and spiritual experience of health and athleticism. The paper argues that the material constitution of oil, and its capacity as a visual, tactile, and olfactory sensation upon - and dissipating into - the skin makes it a particularly potent medium for the transduction of blessings, health, and general wellbeing into the Orthodox body.

Panel Body03
Corporeality & material ecology: the affordances of stuff and wellbeing