Thinking Religion Through Things, but not really.

“In recent years, the “material turn” has gained prominence in the humanities and social sciences, and it has also stimulated a shift toward a rediscovery of materiality in the scientific study of religion\s. The material turn aims to dissolve…”
— Read on

—— I am on and, as you may know, it sends papers to you depending on your searches and apparent interests. It often sends me papers that have something so to with New Materialism, like the one linked to this post. I am going to talk about the real intellectual avoidance of material mess.


If I had to define what kind of thinker I am, Id say I am a totalizer. When I begin to think, my thoughts immediate goto as much of ‘whole’ that there is; what my mind understands as details, at least when it starts doing things like thinking, it is really beginning at a place where most people I encounter feel is not really details. This is so much the case that even as I attempt describe this situation, I find my mind battling with this discrepancy, knowing that people who read this are beginning with details…

I call myself a totalizer because I have found through my own experience with interacting with others that they are missing the details that are assumed in my communication. It is from this approach that I am able to speak of things the way they are…


I find it interesting how people always think I am saying something I am not; I find that quite often, and especially in the writing-reading domain, that people do not start with reading what I am writing. Rather, they start reading with an assumption that I must not be saying (either me or themselves are reading, I am not sure) what the words are saying. It comes off to me like they are already on-guard to be decided, always ready to make the argument, and by this really miss what the words mean and what the sentences say.

In regular communication, we typically know this as not listening to what the person is saying. Indeed, this is so regular and prevalent that we have a plethora of “how to listen” things are out there. While I feel many of those instructions are good, I wonder that they never really happen like the teacher would wish, and if they did, it brings me to consider why there would be any need to have the teachers. Often, it is as though we have to be taught what we don’t know because we want to have another piece of information in our arsenal to argue why we dont have to really listen.

This is why I find the attention to details is not only a skill of communicating. Sure, it is good to learn some communication skills; I am not suggesting some nihilistic “actuality” as though people are dumb and I’m so smart. The attention to details appears more a method of understanding oneself and reality itself, but maybe not in the way you might be thinking. I am not trying to deceive you or lead to to some awareness of the situation that you are not understanding. This idea that I am trying to convince you of something is just part of a particular method for understanding how things are, and not from a mere intellectual grasping, but from the very frame through which we are able to understand anything at all. This is less something you do not know that I am trying to convince you of; it is more something that you are using in order to understand what I am saying and what you are supposed to do with it.


In my counseling practice, I find that in various exercises I have to be clear that I am not trying to deceive or trick clients into having some sort of “ah ha!” moment. For example, if I ask someone to close their eyes and breathe, they often immediately think I am trying to get them to relax, and tell me all sorts of ideas, experiences and conclusions they have around it. Sometimes, yes, but most of the time I am really just having them close their eyes and breathe. If they start to relax, then that’s great, but they assume a great amount and actually thereby often miss what I actually mean; but that’s a whole other thing.

There is no underlying meaning or therapeutic subversion there, and I feel I am not encountering something irregular or particular to people with “mental issues”. Everyone has issues; one might even argue that you would have no relationships with people if you didn’t have issues. lol. But that is beside my point.

People are so ready to have an “ah ha” moment of understanding that they defend against it, they ‘want’ to be right, and this usually means that you can’t be right unless I already knew it, or unless I give you permission to be right before me. I feel this caries into a regular methodological maxim of intellectual engagement. Yet further, that it is this mode of intellectual engagement that the New Materialism is actually describing.

…people are so ready to have an ‘ah ha’ moment that they actively defend against it…

Cedric Nathaniel.

The quick synopsis of NM is that everything is interrelated. Besically that everything is material, from thoughts, to discourse…every thing is real material and interrelated as such. Of course, they go further than that, which goes to another feature of my totalizing nature:

I find that every once in a while people have some great ideas, and then people take those ideas and, over time, in collective rush, turn them into mush. And really that’s what academics primarily is: its a mush-mash. I’m not suggesting this is bad or wrong; I am just telling it as it is. It is pot of boiling soup of flavors being put together. I think that’s good overall. However, good ideas have a tendency to be used to support so many things that the great idea often enough loses its impact, actually loses the reason itself that made it so interesting and important – because it comes to be used in a manner that is not really what it was saying or being. Indeed: it is this real motion of intellectual analysis that New Materialism accounts for through, yes, more intellectualization.

Its very Alfred Whitehead, but that just goes to my point of reality.


It is interesting to me how New Materialism has come to encompass Object Oriented ideas; for example THIS PAPER is but one of a stream of discussion that lumps Objects Oriented discussions of things into New Materialism. Sure; there is good reason to think this way, as it redundantly argues itself through its own method, exemplifying its argument in the actual approach upon their activity. I get it: things are real material. Nonetheless, it does show how the argument is not able to pull itself out of itself own gravity well, if you will. One likes to think they are being so open minded in thinking about things, but more often they really are just defending against having to see the details for what they actually are.

I call this real manner of coming upon things reality. In reality, there is material that behaves and is acted upon in this very real manner that, really, cannot be argued against. It is thus due to this ubiquitous manner of ability to see things that I frame reality as that place where we all interact with materials and various material realities.

However, the reality of the situation is that I am talking about some thing specific, not mere relative interrelated mush. It is this specificity that I say finds objects. This must be the case simply by the fact that if someone rejects this proposal, my immediate response would be: how are you able to know what you are rejecting? If it is merely a moment of discourse, then how could you know of that? If it is an unknowable feature of reality, how could you know that? Is it just your mind’s ability to process? How do you know that? Isn’t it all relative material intersections? If it means that the universe is nothing, well…and so it goes. I am arising in a material reality that is always in flux, to be short. But then: How could I know that? Does it fall to pieces when I say it, or do my words mean nothing? What is arising ? When did my words coalesce to mean something particular? But wasn’t is all interrelated with every other piece of material? When did it stop being interrelated for me to locate it in a word? And so on…

The conclusion always argues it’s method.

Without going on into the years of papers and posts, indeed once we come to this juncture, the whole of phenomenalist discourse is reiterated in all is variety and verity, indeed, as an object. It is simply true, but in a manner which changes the epistemological operation.

Am I defending against this detail so I can make an argument about my better idea?

How is my way of knowing allowing me to look at things by excluding myself from the thing of my intellectual operation?

Or, how is my religion allowing me to exclude myself from the analysis of religion?



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