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ReligionMaterial Dynamics$
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David Chidester

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780520297654

Published to California Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520297654.001.0001

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(p.179) 14 Touching

David Chidester

University of California Press

This chapter undertakes a tactile exploration of the sense of touch in modern American culture and religion. After briefly recalling the denigration of tactility in Western thought, the discussion considers the usefulness of the work of two theorists, Emmanuel Levinas and Walter Benjamin, in recovering the sense of touch—the intimate caress, the violent shock—as deep background for tracking basic modes of religious tactility. By paying attention to sensory media and metaphors, the chapter proceeds from cutaneous binding and burning to kinaesthetic moving and to haptic handling in order to enter this field of tactile meaning and power. Specific cases of tactility are quickly considered, including binding covenants, firewalking, flag burning, alien abduction, global capitalism, and cellular microbiology. By exploring the religious dynamics of the sense of touch, this chapter points to the presence of a tactile politics of perception circulating through religion and popular culture.

Keywords:   alien abduction, capitalism, Emmanuel Levinas, firewalking, flag burning, haptics, kinaesthetics, senses, tactility, Walter Benjamin

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