Materiality and the extended geographies of religion: the institutional design and everyday experiences of London’s Wesleyan Methodist circuits, 1851 – 1932

Slatter, Ruth (2019). Materiality and the extended geographies of religion: the institutional design and everyday experiences of London’s Wesleyan Methodist circuits, 1851 – 1932. Journal of Historical Geography, 64 pp. 60–71.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhg.2019.01.001

Abstract

Using and adapting the ideas of material religion, this paper considers Wesleyan Methodist circuits: the organisation of chapels within specific geographical areas into co-dependent communities. Interested in circuits as an example of the extension of religious space beyond institutional contexts – the extended geographies of religion – it highlights the importance of thinking about such spaces as material things. Using two circuits in London (Bow and Highgate) as case studies, this paper focuses on representations of circuits and their visual and material qualities. It then explores how material approaches facilitate insights into the differences between how religious leaders designed these spaces and how individuals experienced them. Taking a material approach to congregational bodies, objects and (sub)urban landscapes, it simultaneously considers how material things gain meaning through their participation in humans' social networks and as a result of their inherent material properties. In particular, it argues that taking this material approach to the extended geographies of religious practice is an effective method of gaining insights into individuals' everyday experiences of religious spaces. Most specifically, it emphasises how the insights that material approaches provide into everyday religious practices are especially useful when studying individuals in the past, as their voices are generally unrepresented in the official archival documents of religious institutions that historical research into religious communities is often dependent on.

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