Within the growing field of photography studies, particular interest has been devoted to the social and material qualities of photographs through which practices and meanings are produced. However, less attention has been given to the ways in which these qualities of photographs interact with and affect the sphere of religion. The aim of the conference is to investigate this relationship by showing that not only the visual information in photographs, but also their multi-material, sensorial, and haptic features play an important role in the shaping and transformation of religious communities, practices, and cults.
Ever since their introduction in the 19th century, photographic images have been used in religious contexts. Photographs of cult images, martyrs, religious leaders or pilgrimage sites circulated in both Western and non-Western religious traditions, including Buddhist, Christian, and, within limits, Muslim traditions. Despite their opto-chemical nature, which distinguished them from traditional means of image production, they were quickly integrated into the respective religious cultures, where they could serve different purposes. As devotional objects, photographs were not only looked at, but also touched and kissed; as part of religious rituals, they were treated with holy substances or relics, turning them into powerful agents of divine authority which could perform miracles. At a commercial level, they became collectible items, which were produced, marketed, and often collected in personal albums.