The Religious Body Imagined

This symposium will probe the porous edges of the religious body and examines the ways in which it has been imagined, imaged, and discursively produced in particular places, times, and religious traditions. It seeks to theorize the religious body’s various functions, roles, and transformative effects through a range of disciplinary and theoretical lenses. It asks, “How does our experience of the body shape our conceptions of the sacred (however defined), and conversely, how do the invisible contours of the sacred re-instantiate or re-embody themselves in concrete physical form? The symposium explicitly seeks to engage theories of the body, materiality, performance, and visual culture, as well as cultural studies, space / place, ritual, postcolonial theory and / or social justice as it pertains to embodiment.

Conference co-conveners:

Pamela D. Winfield, Associate Professor of Religious Studies (Elon University)

Mina Garcia, Associate Professor of Spanish (Elon University)

Direct all inquiries to Dr. Brian K. Pennington, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society, at


Searching for the Soul in the Doll’s Body: Spiritual Technologies from Golem to Barbie, Sex Dolls to Artificial Intelligence

S. Brent Plate (Hamilton College)

Convinced that religion has less to do with beliefs than with bodies, Professor S. Brent Plate’s research, teaching, and writing center on the ways people connect with physical objects through sense perception. The things we humans see, hear, smell, taste, and touch are what give us our spiritual dimension. He is the author of four books, including A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects, and editor of another ten books, including Key Terms in Material Religion and Religion in Museums. His essays have appeared in Newsweek, Slate, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Christian Century, The Islamic Monthly, Huffington Post, and Religion Dispatches. He is the President of the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life/Cross Currents, co-founder and managing editor of the academic journal Material Religion, and serves on the board of the Interfaith Coalition of Greater Utica, in upstate New York, where he lives with his partner, two kids, and a black mutt. He is Associate Professor by Special Appointment of Religious Studies at Hamilton College.


Prof. Elizabeth Rhodes

Professor of Hispanic Studies and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Boston College, will offer closing remarks.




Symposium Schedule

(Unless otherwise indicated, all sessions are in the Numen Lumen Pavilion)

Thursday, Feb. 7

  • 3:00: Check-in, Coffee
  • 3:45: Welcome, Brian K. Pennington, Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society
  • 4:00-5:15: Session 1: Transfigured Bodies
    • Ariela Marcus-Sells (Elon University), presiding
    • Shuxi Yin (Hefei University of Technology, China), “Formation and Transformation of Virgin Mary’s Image in Ming-Dynasty China”
    • Clyde Ellis (Elon University), “The Son of Power: Indigenized Christianity and the Image of Christ in Native North America”
  • 5:30-7:00: Keynote Address (Yeager Recital Hall)
    • S. Brent Plate (Hamilton University), “Searching for the Soul in the Doll’s Body: Spiritual Technologies from Golem to Barbie, Sex Dolls to Artificial Intelligence”
  • 7:00: Dinner (Isabella Cannon Room)

Friday, Feb. 8

  • 9:00-10:15: Session 2: LGBTQ Bodies
    • Lynn Huber (Elon University), presiding
    • Saqer Almarri (Binghamton University), “The Khuntha in the Congregation”
    • William Gilders, (Emory University), “Harvey Milk’s (Sacred and Sexual) Body”
  • 10:15-11:00: Coffee, Sponsored by Religious Studies Department
  • 11:00-12:15: Session 3: Traumatized Bodies
    • Sarah Bloesch (Elon University), presiding
    • Sarah Dove (The Ohio State University), “A Myth of Holism: In/Visible Fragmentations and Wounded Being”
    • Mina Garcia Soormally (Elon University), “Lope’s Hamete de Toledo: The Infidel’s Body as Conquered Land”
  • 12:30-2:00: Lunch (McEwen Hall)
  • 2:15-4:00: Session 4: Lived Bodies
    • Evan Gatti (Elon University), presiding
    • Katherine Zubko (University of North Carolina, Asheville), “The Embodied Palimpsest: Dancing Kinesthetic Empathy in Bharatanatyam”
    • Anandi Silva Knuppel (Emory University), “The Body of the Senses, Imagined and Lived: Seeing Krishna in Transnational Gaudiya Vaishnavism”
    • Megan Adamson Sijapati (Gettysburg College), “The Instrumentality of the Body in American Shadhiliyya Sufism”
  • 4:30-6:00: Opening reception for exhibit of Cowan Collection of Religious Art
    • Undergraduate Research Poster Presentations
  • 7:00: Dinner (Home of Brian Pennington and Amy Allocco)

Saturday, Feb. 9

  • 9:00-10:15: Session 5: Dead Bodies
    • Andrew Monteith (Elon University), presiding
    • Anca Sincan (University College Cork), “The Afterlife of Bishop Evloghie Oța’s Dead Body and its Disputed Ownership”
    • Pamela Winfield (Elon University), “Body Building: The Architectural Corpus of the Japanese Zen Monastery” (monastic vs. lay memorial halls)
  • 10:15-11:30: Elizabeth Rhodes (Boston College), Concluding Remarks