Touching, crafting, knowing

religious artefacts and the fetish within animism


  • Amy Whitehead Massey University



touch, religious artefacts, animism personhood, fetish, performance


Based on a small ethnographic study at the shrine of the Virgin of Alcala in Andalusia, Spain, this article asserts that 'touch' is not only an intrinsic part of religion, but the principal facilitating medium through which the performances, expressions and relationships with the Virgin, take place. The article uses the relational discourses of animism and the fetish to critically explore the dynamics of touch, focusing primarily on the ways in which powerful religious statues such as the Virgin are creatively forged from raw materials, the gendered ways in which her statue-body is ritually touched, cared for and maintained, and the potentiality of her personhood. Personhood, it is argued, emerges co-creatively between 'persons' (artefact persons and human persons) during moments of active relating that involve touch. It is concluded that 'to fetish' is both to apprehend beloved religious statues with the senses and to be invited into creative religious, relational engagements with so called religious objects. 'To touch' is 'to fetish'. 

Author Biography

Amy Whitehead, Massey University

Amy Whitehead is a Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Massey University in New Zealand, and managing series editor for ‘Bloomsbury Studies in Material Religion’. Her research focuses on the material and performance cultures of religion, including the dynamics of ritual and the relationships that ensue when power is understood as inherent in matter.


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How to Cite

Whitehead, A. (2019). Touching, crafting, knowing: religious artefacts and the fetish within animism. Body and Religion, 2(2), 224–244.