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A History of Religion in 51/2 Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses Hardcover – March 11, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


“Plate’s provocative, contemplative, and beautifully written book aims to do just what its subtitle promises: to bring the spiritual and the religious ‘to its senses.’ Back to its senses, really. Religion, he makes powerfully clear, is first and foremost about things, and how our bodies relate to those things — that is, how we literally incorporate them into our beliefs and practices…. Plate’s very sensual, poetic style of writing encourages a kind of sensory mindfulness that, when you stop reading and look around, begins to change how you see things and your relationships with them.”
—Timothy Beal, Los Angeles Review of Books
“[Plate’s] book is an extended exercise in the materiality of faith. You might even call it a manifesto. Blurring the lines between inquiry and advocacy, it doesn’t just ask us to consider the multiple ways in which religion is a tactile phenomenon. It also calls on us to affirm and perhaps even to celebrate the sensory elements of faith….Plate’s interpretations, his reading of material culture, are often downright revelatory.”
—Jenna Weissman Joselit, The New Republic 

“A timely, lively, lovely conversation partner for students, as well as for the rest of us.”

“The well-written and accessible text surprises and intrigues…this is an elegant and sensitive book. Highly recommended to general readers open to a different perspective on religious practice.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Sometimes the title of a book is simply irresistible, and that’s true of A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses.”
The Jewish Journal

“[Plate] succeeds in helping us see that religion is best expressed not in transcendent experiences but in “sensual engagement with the physical objects of the world.” Hopefully, this poignant work will draw many to see and appreciate that objects have their own voice, worth, power, and magic.”
Spirituality and Practice

“Brent Plate has unspooled a deeply compelling, remarkably capacious lyric mediation on the primacy of our human connection to the world. This global survey deftly braids a rich consideration of five ubiquitous objects of faith and art with small experiences from our modern daily lives in an effort to reawaken us to our essential physical being and to resanctify that which has come to appear mundane. Rather than framing religion as an escape from this world, Plate argues for a ‘soul craft’ grounded in the fundamental and ongoing need to rebind our ideas and our language to our bodies as we rebind our bodies to the body of world.”
—Kathleen J. Graber, author of The Eternal City: Poems

“Contemporary debates concerning belief tend to focus on conflicting ideas at the expense of the practical ways religious traditions are actually lived by billions around the world. A History of Religion in 5½ Objects bucks this trend by grounding its lofty and contentious subject in the sounds, smells, textures, and tastes through which faith has always been experienced. With wit and verve, S. Brent Plate’s groundbreaking history suggests that understanding religion begins not with our souls, but with our bodies.”   
—Peter Manseau, author of Vows

“A deft, delightful incantation in praise of religion’s sensual grounding in the elemental things of earth, Plate’s work restores the link between the spiritual and material throughout the world’s religious traditions. Traversing the contemporary and the ancient, the local and the global, this book carries the reader home to the body, the senses, and the soul. Plate’s  elegant and insightful prose illuminates the creative human activities that make religion ordinary, ubiquitous, and powerfully important. A joy to read, one lingers in this book’s scent long after turning the last page.”
—Rebecca Ann Parker, co-author of Saving Paradise

“Brent Plate’s A History of Religion in 5½ Objects is a treasure. A book written by a scholar of religion that confuses as it clarifies, obscures as it illuminates, and challenges as it reassures; it takes an innovative approach to thinking about religion, feeling it in our lives, and highlighting its downright sensational aspects as a material, and spiritual, reality. A great joy to read.”
—Gary Laderman, author of Sacred Matters

About the Author

S. Brent Plate is visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College and co-founder and managing editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. His writings have been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Religion Dispatches. His books include Religion and Film: Cinema and the Re-Creation of the World and Blasphemy: Art that Offends

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (March 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807033111
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807033111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Plate is interested in the relations between sensuality and spirituality. That is, how sense perceptions affect ways of being religious, and how religious traditions change our ways of perceiving the world around us. He has authored and edited twelve books and writes regularly for the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, The Revealer, Killing the Buddha, and other sites. He is the co-founder and managing editor of "Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief," co-founder and president of SCRIPT (Society for Comparative Research in Iconic and Performative Texts), and serves on several advisory boards. His most recent book is "A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to its Senses." Having taught at the University of Vermont and Texas Christian University, he is currently visiting associate professor at Hamilton College.

Plate prefers spirals to circles, harmony to melody, savory to sweet, and was born in the year of the Fire Horse.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thatherton on May 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover
There are a lot of boring books about religion out there, that rehash a lot of the same stuff. But this one is different -- it is actually interesting! And profound without being pretentious. This not your standard "here's what the various religions say"... nor is it the sort of spiritual self-help book that popular books on religion sometimes are. Rather, by exploring the religious significance of the way humans manipulate the physical world around us, the author shows how the physical (or material) and the spiritual (or religious) are inseparable for what it means to be human...

But wait, I am actually making the book sound boring, when it is not! Bottom line: read it! It's the coolest book on religion since Russell Hoban's novel "Riddley Walker."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James Anesta on July 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover
With everything the material world has to offer, the idea of keeping in touch with the spiritual side of things seems antiquated and almost laugh worthy.  To be honest, in today's world it seems that there's something taboo about religion; it's not a typical discussion topic on a first date or at a dinner party, but somehow "5 1/2 Objects" lends itself to be exactly that.  It reads like an enlightening conversation you could have over a cup of coffee rather than a lecture.  While the subject matter is a spiritual one, Plate works hard to show how connected it is to the material world we live in and to make it pertinent to the average internet addicted reader - and he succeeds.

When picking out a book, I don't usually gravitate towards those with religious subjects.  They tend to be bland and predictable, like a story your grandparents have told you a thousand times, or a family tradition no one quite gets anymore.  "5 1/2 Objects" breaks this trend, and picks up the pieces to create something wholly original and refreshing.  It serves as a reminder to us that spirituality is intrinsic to the material world, and perhaps more importantly, that it always has been.

If I could give it five and a half stars, I would.
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By C. L Wilson on January 12, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Just a delicious, wonderful, savory book. So sorry to have finished it. One of the best things I've read in years. The objects in the title are: 1/2, the human body, which needs something, someone, else to be complete; then stones, incense, drums, crosses, and bread. All was to be relished and pondered over except for the chapter on crosses. There I think he puts too much importance on crossed lines. Children do sometimes draw circles first, not crosses.

But on the whole, his style of writing, his obvious research all over the world, in both time and place, made for delectable reading. I would like to meet the man. Probably the first writer I've ever thought that about.

All of these five objects are found in almost all of the world's religions, and Brent argues that it is in touching,smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing, relating to the world around us, not in any inner self, that we can access our souls.
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