93011 - History of Religions: Objects and Heritages (1) (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Blended Learning
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology (cod. 0964)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student is able to understand religious phenomena in their historical variety starting from material culture and heritage processes. He also knows the main interpretative theories and methods of analysis and is able to apply them to religious phenomena of different historical periods and different contemporary realities, taking into account the religion-society relationship. He/she is able to autonomously conduct scientific research in the field and to exercise autonomous judgment on specialized production.

Course contents

Classes begin 8 November 2023 (I semester, 2 period) DISCI

Mon, Wed h 9-11 aula Fumagalli SGM

Tue h 9-11 aula Torresani DISCI SGM

The course participates in the University's teaching innovation project (hybrid model, Blended). See the additional explanatory material, with the structure of the lessons, uploaded to Virtuale, in the first section Progetto di innovazione didattica.

Fetishes, objects of affection and ‘sacred’ objects

Starting with the definition of material culture, the aim of this course is to address the notions of instrumentality and expressivity in ‘religious’ objects, and to discuss how these are treasured and patrimonialized. By analyzing objects it is possible to reinterpret some of the main issues involved in the history of religions, such as sacred/profane, belief/ritual, and affection/devotion.

Attending students will be involved in research activities starting with the observation of real data, which will provide the basis for specific theoretical reflection. Students will be asked to carry out activities to acquire basic research skills related to fieldwork.

During the course the following subjects will be addressed:

  • history of material culture
  • the value of objects in religious field
  • -objects and relationality
  • ‘sacred’ objects
  • ‘sacred’ objects and beliefs
  • Objects in action
  • positioning and exhibition
  • cultural objects and assets
  • patrimonialization processes

Some of the issues discussed in the course will also be reconsidered by watching the movies: Les dieux objects, Marc Augé, Jean-Paul Colleyn, Jean-Pierre Dozon, Catherine Clippel (2010); On fait les reliques, Francesca Sbardella (2002).

At the end of the course the student shall be able to:

  • Collaboratively develop a model to analyze a museum and to be applied to fieldwork ethno-anthropological research.
  • Take advantage of the Internet as a framework enabling self-study and collaborative learning; also knowing the implications of an open, real, and participatory space to develop collaborative writing techniques and strategies online using IOL platform.
  • Read, analyze, summarize, understand, and explain explicit and implicit information (in particular scientific papers) on ethnographic theories related to objects and museums.
  • Apply fieldwork ethnographic research techniques and develop the necessary skills to collect, process, analyze, and interpret genuine empirical data within a museum setting.
  • Recognize and manage the ethnographic variables involved in museum fieldwork research.
  • Use different research tools that are necessary to hypothesize an exhibition project.

Educational Innovation Project (for attending students)

The course foresees the organization of a field micro-experimentation (recommended, not mandatory) on the transformation process from object to semiophore. With the help of Virtuale, some of the practical-theoretical issues related to the concepts of sacralization and naturalization will be discussed.

Course structure

1-Opening of the course (6 hours in person)

Introduction of the course and of the proposed teaching structure, presentation of the main basic theoretical issues.

2-First part of online experimentation (6 hours via Teams)

Virtual opening of a monothematic forum with presentation of a situational and real case study: the work of the Foggia-based artist Luigi Forcella. Theme: process of representation/sacralisation/musealisation of the artifact. A meeting place and online discussion is created where, starting from the use of images of the author's works and virtual itineraries of his exhibitions uploaded to the Forum, students can intervene, even in written form and can in turn insert comparison/comparison materials. In this way, students are encouraged to analyze the proposed problem, identifying its specificities and critical issues. The teacher will stimulate the discussion starting from the students' observations, emphasizing their theoretical implications.

At the end of this phase, the Task Tool is launched in Virtual mode with a request for delivery of a short-written work enriched with digital content of different types (images, audio and video clips). The elaborate requires the representation of the transformation from an everyday object to a sacralized object, religiously connoted. Delivery for the beginning of the fourth part of the course (online).

3-In-depth study (14 hours in person).

Starting from the themes addressed in the Forum, in-depth lessons and conceptual explanations are proposed, understanding the topics and the authors in the programme. At the beginning of this presidential phase, a visit to an installation by the author is planned.

Students have additional in-depth content available in Virtual, both textual and video.

4-Second part of online experimentation: comparison and conclusions (4 hours online via Teams)

In this phase we proceed with the analysis of the papers, with digital contents, uploaded by the students in Virtual in the Compito Tool. Conclusive analysis.

Each of the activities carried out may include an intermediate evaluation, which also takes into account the student's commitment and participation.

For experimentation, see also the additional explanatory material uploaded to Virtuale in the Educational Innovation Project section.


Programme for attending students

1) Ugo Fabietti, Materia sacra. Corpi, oggetti, immagini, feticci nella pratica religiosa, Raffaello Cortina, Milano 2014.

2) Augé M., 2002, Il dio oggetto, Roma, Meltemi [tit. or. Le dieu objet, Paris, Flammarion, 1998].

3) Pomian K., Storia culturale, storia dei semiofori, in Che cos’è la storia, Mondadori, Milano 2009, cap. V, pp. 129-155


Programme for non-attending students

1) Ugo Fabietti, Materia sacra. Corpi, oggetti, immagini, feticci nella pratica religiosa, Raffaello Cortina, Milano 2014.

2) Augé M., 2002, Il dio oggetto, Roma, Meltemi [tit. or. Le dieu objet, Paris, Flammarion, 1998].

3) Parbuono D., Sbardella F. (a cura di), Costruzione di patrimoni. Le parole degli oggetti e delle convenzioni, Pàtron, Bologna 2017.

Recommended references

Bartoletti R., La narrazione delle cose. Analisi socio-comunicativa degli oggetti, FrancoAngeli, Milano 2007.

Baudrillard J., Il sistema degli oggetti, Bompiani, Milano 2004.

Caoci A. e Lai F., Gli “oggetti culturali”. L’artigianato tra estetica, antropologia e sviluppo locale, Franco Angeli, Milano 2007.

Cirese A.M., Beni volatili, stili, musei : diciotto altri scritti su oggetti e segni, a cura di Pietro Clemente, Gianfranco Molteni, Gli ori, Prato 2007.

Clemente P., L’antropologia del patrimonio culturale in L.Faldini, E.Pili, a cura di Saperi antropologici, media e società civile nell’Italia contemporanea, Atti del 1 Convegno Nazionale dell’ANUAC, Roma, CISU, 2011, pp. 295 – 317.

Clifford J., “I musei come zone di contatto” in Strade. Viaggio e traduzione alla fine del secolo XX, Bollati Boringhieri, 2008

Douglas M e Isherwood B., Il mondo delle cose, Il mulino, Bologna 1984.

Julien M. P. et Warnier J. P., Approches de la culture matérielle. Corps à corps avec l’objet. L’Harmattan, Paris 1999.

Kopytoff I., La biografia culturale degli oggetti: la mercificazione come processo [1986], pp. 77-111, in Mora E. (curatore), Gli attrezzi per vivere. Forme della produzione culturale tra industria e vita quotidiana, Edizioni di Vita e Pensiero, Milano 2005.

La Cecla, F., Non è cosa. Vita affettiva degli oggetti, Elèuthera. Milano 1998.

Latour B., 2005, Il culto Moderno dei fatticci, Roma, Meltemi [tit. or., Petite réflexion sur le culte moderne des dieux faitiches, Sinthelabo, 1996].

Maffi I. (a cura di), Il patrimonio culturale, Meltemi, Roma 2006.

Miller D., Per un’antropologia delle cose, Ledizioni 2013.

Perec G., Le cose: una storia degli anni Sessanta, Einaudi, Torino 2011

Pomian Krzysztof, 2004, Dalle sacre reliquie all’arte moderna: Venezia-Chicago dal XIII al XX secolo, Milano, Il Saggiatore [tit. or. Des saintes reliques à l’art moderne: Venise-Chicago, XIIIe-XXe siècle, Paris, Gallimard, 2003].

Rheims M., Le vie étrange des objets, Paris, Libraire Plon, Paris 1959

Riccini R., Imparare dalle cose. La cultura materiale nei musei, Clueb, Bologna 2003

Rigotti F., Il pensiero delle cose, Apogero, Milano 2007

Solinas P.G. (a cura di), Gli oggetti esemplari. I documenti di cultura materiale in antropologia, Ed. del Grifo, Montepulciano 1989

Warnier, J. P. La cultura materiale, Meltemi, Roma 2005.

Teaching methods

Traditional lectures will alternate with seminars for in-depth discussion in which students are invited to actively take part with personal investigations, presentations and reports concerning the proposed issues.

For those who accept to take part in the fieldwork assignment, part of the programme will be completed by using UNIBO’s IOL platform: this activity will be based on collaborative writing applied to ethnographic research through the use of collaborative digital tools. In order to familiarize with theory and put it into practice, the students will be asked to write some texts about museological analysis considering a case study.

Assessment methods

The final examination is an interview. The students will be asked some questions concerning the texts included in the syllabus and the subjects presented in them.

For attending students, the assessment of the final interview is complemented with the research report on the fieldwork simulation (for those who may take part in it) and with specific questions on the subjects discussed in class.

Exam reservations should be made via the Almaesami website.

Assessment criteria:

  • Teamwork and problem solving skills
  • Quantity and quality of each student’s participation on the IOL platform
  • Active participation in seminar and class discussion: ability to present, contrast and defend one’s ideas with data that are relevant to the proposed subjects
  • In-depth and detailed knowledge of the syllabus texts
  • Argument and critical skills
  • Language appropriateness
  • The evaluation of the written report will consider the typical conventions of academic writing (orthography, layout, and presentation), and also the ability to ponder, analyze, and draw conclusions.

The achievement by the student of an organic vision of the topics addressed together with their critical use, a good command of expression and of specific language will be evaluated with marks of excellence.

A mnemonic knowledge of the subject, together with ability to synthesize and analyze articulated in a correct, but not always appropriate language, will lead to discrete evaluations.

Training gaps and/or inappropriate language - albeit in a context of minimal knowledge of the exam material - will lead to grades that will not exceed the sufficiency.

Training gaps, inappropriate language, lack of orientation within the bibliographic materials offered during the course will be evaluated negatively.

People with disabilities and DSA
People with disabilities or specific learning disorders are entitled to special adaptations in relation to their condition, subject to evaluation by the University Service for students with disabilities and DSA. Please do not contact the teacher, but contact the Service for an appointment. The Service will be responsible for establishing which adaptations are appropriate. More information on the page site.unibo.it/studenti-con-disabilita-e-dsa/it/per-studenti.

Teaching tools

Multimedia tools will be used, e.g. audio recordings and videos. For some fieldwork activities the students will work in a team and use collaborative digital resources, such as IOL platform.

Slides and Power Point presentations will also be used in some classes.

Office hours

See the website of Francesca Sbardella