How do objects become "sacred"? Our panel tackles this question by focusing on humble materials that take on powerful meanings. Presentations will discuss how the status and power of materials and objects are defined by their participation in networks of practice, exchange, and disposal.
How do objects become "sacred"? Our panel tackles this question by focusing on humble materials that incidentally or deliberately get "stuck" with powerful meanings. If sacred objects are often said to derive their power from ritual manipulation, we wish to complicate this interpretation by exploring their participation in networks of practice, exchange, and disposal. We thereby strive to develop a more dynamic model for mapping agency among human and non-human actors in Japanese religious contexts.
To accomplish this, we propose a roundtable format, in which Benedetta Lomi and Caroline Hirasawa open the panel by fleshing out key theoretical questions surrounding the lives of non-human agents in sacred contexts. Then each presenter will have 5-10 minutes to discuss his or her research, framed as a response to these theoretical issues. David Quinter investigates the social and soteriological uses of rosters in Mantra of Light rituals performed by Eison and his Saidaiji order. Lucia Dolce analyzes the material and format of Nichiren's paper mandalas, and their talismanic functions. Christine Guth considers the relationship between the material attributes of the needle and its sacralization from the perspective of three ritual contexts involving needles. Fabio Gygi probes the boundaries between sacred practices and trash in contemporary Japan by examining the disposal of dolls at shrines and temples. Steven Trenson focuses on esoteric Buddhist discourses on rice grains that rely on an intricate web of conceptual connections between cereals, relics, and the human body.
We hope this format will foster a lively discussion with the audience around the following questions:
• How much of the life of a sacred object is actually sacred?
• What happens when we understand an object's sacrality as determined by use, neglect, accident, natural or historical forces, and other factors, rather than solely by its ritual manipulation?
• How then can we chart the social lives of objects in a way that can be used comparatively? In other words, can we theorize across the complex biographies of particular objects, without flattening our analysis, to develop a multi-dimensional model for analyzing sacred things?