It was a fantastic experience to present my doctoral research at the Landscape Surgery seminar series on 12th January. Mine is an interdisciplinary practice-based PhD, using photography and film to explore the relationship between religious practices and home of the different faith communities that form the case studies of the overarching project Making Suburban Faith, in which the PhD is embedded.
I structured my presentation through the key terms of home, faith and material culture, which I juxtaposed to the presentation of both visual work by artists that have explored these concepts and my own visual work developed over the first year of my PhD. The purpose was to create a dialogue between the theoretical and visual approaches underpinning my research.
I first drew on a critical geography of Home (Blunt and Dowling, 2006) to examine what might constitute “domestic” religious practices for different faith communities. This critical theoretical framework is poignant for my research as it enables an interrogation of home which is not limited to the physical space of a household, and which takes into account: imaginaries of home; relations of power which are constitutive of people’s identities and their experience of home, and how home is open to and constituted through the relationship of different scales.
Second, I drew on Sophie Watson’s paper ‘Performing Religion: Migrants, the Church and Belonging in Marrickville, Sydney’ (2009), which explores the role played by various Christian churches in Sydney from different religious traditions to accommodate and integrate migrant cultures, as well as Blunt and Dowling’s (2006) idea that experiences of home are multiple and mobile, to interrogate to what extent the congregational spaces of the faith communities in our case studies are experienced as home.
Linked to this question, I introduced an undergoing visual pilot project (with the provisional title of ‘Looking after Faith’), which reflects on the experience of people who undertake typically “domestic” tasks in congregational spaces, such as cleaning, cooking, decorating and caring. This project has a visual approach that combines interviews and images of objects, as well as portraits, which aim to make visible the more “behind the scenes” practices involved in the daily functioning of such congregations. Here, I drew on my experience as a photographer (lauracuch.com) to also elaborate on how visual practice and the interplay between image and text might be particularly relevant for the study of embodied and affective religious experiences.
Betty cleaning at Our Lady & St Joseph Church in Hanwell (© Laura Cuch, 2015)
Throughout my presentation I also reflected on the significance of material culture, especially that which relates to food, in mediating religious practices at home, as well as those practices that cross the boundaries between the house and the congregational space. By paying particular attention to the material culture of food and food practices, my research also aims to contribute knowledge on the relationship between food, religion and home. This will be the focus of one of the main visual practice elements of my research and I ended my presentation with some preliminary visual notes.
Shri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman Temple in Ealing (© Laura Cuch, 2015)
Despite the limitations of time, some really interesting questions came up in the discussion, which I hope will develop further in conversation with the LS community. These covered: issues of representation and consent; the meaning and significance of ‘inter-faith’ research and; the necessity of making visible the significance of the particularity of the locality of our case studies.
Finally, it was very inspiring to see how presenting alongside other members of the Making Suburban Faith research team, David Gilbert and Natalie Hyacinth, generated a dialogue between some of the different dimensions of the overarching project, which people engaged with and gave really interesting feedback on.
AHRC Project: Making Suburban Faith
Laura Cuch’s photographer website:
Laura Cuch’s academia.edu website: