chapter  8
Reading, listening, watching
Pages 17

Understanding media, religion, and culture requires paying attention to the material “stuff” of religion, to religious texts, physical and digital spaces, and the sounds that give religion a voice, as well as to what people do with this stuff. Without a clear picture of the material, we are unlikely to understand what people are doing with it. Consider, for instance, the elaborate carvings of saints in the Convento e Igreja de São Francisco (Convent and Church of Saint Francis) in the city of Salvador, Brazil. Many people describe it as a beautiful example of early eighteenth-century Portuguese-inspired religious architecture and call attention to the exuberant gold leaf that gilds the multitude of carvings and statues of Christian saints and angels. A more careful examination, however, reveals that many of these statues are distorted. Faces appear to be anguished. Female saints appear to be pregnant. Cherubim have enlarged sexual organs. Attention to these surprising details might lead us to ask who carved these statues. This “Portuguese” church was built by African slave labor and the carvings done by enslaved artisans. Tourists who merely tick it off as one more of many churches that they will visit during their trip are likely to miss the slave resistance built into the church. And if they miss that, they are likely to misunderstand the complex relationship of Afro-Brazilians to the religion of their oppressors.