Associate Professor of Religious Studies Brent Plate participated in several scholarly gatherings in Sweden and Korea this semester.
In Uppsala, Sweden, Plate was involved with the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture’s biennial conference. As a member of the society’s International Advisory Board, Plate has organized sessions on material and visual culture for the conference for the last 18 years. This year he organized two sessions on material religion, with papers on topics ranging from modern art exhibitions in Korea to mythic rune stones in Minnesota.
Plate also presented “Museum as Medium: The Public Understanding of Religion on Display,” a continuation of his work since co-editing the book Religion in Museums. In his presentation, Plate argued how “from history to natural history, art to archaeology, local to national, museums actively shape how people come to know about beliefs and practices other than their own, just as they challenge conceptions of one's own cultural, religious, and national histories.”
In Busan, South Korea, Plate presented a paper at the World Humanities Forum. The gathering of humanities scholars from around the world was sponsored by UNESCO and the Korean Ministry of Education. This year’s theme was “The Human Image in a Changing World.”
Plate’s presentation, “Created in Our Image: A Spiritual History of Dolls from Golem to Barbie to AI,” gave a brief overview of ways that humans have created anthropomorphic figures in their own image.
Through this, Plate explored the larger question of why we find these figures across so many human cultures. He suggests that dolls are a form of technology, a tool that humans use in their social and religious lives, and that have deep evolutionary roots. “Ultimately, by creating figures in our likeness,” Plate said, “we learn something about who we are, and what makes us human.”
Plate was also invited to present the same paper in Seoul at the Korean Institute for Religion and Culture, a gathering of religious studies scholars from several of the universities in Seoul.
“Created in Our Image” forms the basis of Plate’s latest book project, A Spiritual Life of Dolls. The presentations in Korea were the first for this new material.