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Do Catholics See Things Differently? On Photographs and Museum Objects in Missionary Representations of Africa

Do Catholics See Things Differently? On Photographs and Museum Objects in Missionary Representations of Africa

A podcast of a public lecture by Professor Peter Pels, Leiden University

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Duration: 58:00

It has been argued by a number of scholars that material culture studies have only recently returned to social scientific favour because of a persistent dematerializing bias in social theory.  This bias – the “tyranny of the (human) subject” (Miller) – has Protestant roots.  The question therefore becomes to what extent modern Catholics have escaped this tyranny of the subject.  The position and use of exotic photographs in a Dutch Catholic mission journal, and the use of objects in a Dutch Catholic Africa Museum, suggest that this question can be answered in the affirmative, at least in some cases.  The analysis, however, also suggests that such “pre-modern” sentiments are actually displaced towards the modern forms of advertising and art.

About the speaker

Peter Pels is a Professor of African Anthropology at Leiden University. His research spans the study of the introduction of modern political institutions in African countries, the history and anthropology of colonialism, the representation of Africa in modern European history, the history of anthropology and African studies, social science ethics and methodology, and the globalization of religious repertoires (especially in terms of Christianity, “animism” and New Age discourse). His recent interests include prehistoric archaeology and global heritage, the religious and secular aspects of conceptions of nature and technology, of the modern culture of materiality and object categories, and of science fiction. Peter Pels has supervised research in African politics and conflict-management, the heritage of African slavery, US American cyberculture, and consumerism in Greece. He currently supervises research into landscapes of water development in Kenya, World Heritage in Kenya, cinematic culture in rural Benin, software startups in Singapore, the representation of refugees in Eritrea and Sudan, nomadism and conservation policies in Mongolia, and "brand" nationalism at the Shanghai World Exhibition.

African Studies Center