Authored by: Leonard Norman Primiano

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415638661
eBook ISBN: 9781315724478
Adobe ISBN: 9781317531067


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A store for Catholic religious goods in suburban Philadelphia filled with inexpensive, mass-produced plastic and resin images of Jesus, Mary, and the pantheon of saints in all sizes and colors. (Figure 16.1)

The Mustard Seed Christian Books and Gifts in Parsons, Kansas, offering word-centered scriptural plaques and wall clocks, resin figures knelt in prayer, images of a kindly Jesus, and bracelets asking: “What would Jesus do?” (Figure 16.2)

A Lisbon tourist shop selling a statuette of a Catholic monk with a pull-string raising the figure’s carved wooden penis into a state of erection under his green robe. (Figure 16.3)

A kitchen in Latvia containing a box of wooden matches with a depiction of Jesus as the “Divine Mercy” and the Polish words: “Jezu, ufam Tobie” (“Jesus, I trust in You”). (Figure 16.4)

The official Thomas Kinkade Web site, offering for the purchaser’s consideration an “inspirational print” of the sentimental, bucolic “Forest chapel,” by the self-proclaimed “Painter of light.”

A north-west England newspaper’s death announcement and “In Memorium” pages in the 1960s offering as a public remembrance an often-used twee verse:

Trumpets Sounded

A Voice Said Come

Pearly Gates Opened

And in Walked Mum

A cup of green tea in Lisbon, served in a cup and saucer at the Bellisimo Café, emblazoned with God the Father and Adam from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.

A book titled Look It’s Jesus: Amazing Holy Visions in Everyday Life (2009): not a scholarly exploration of expressions of vernacular religion, but a novelty book of vernacular photography highlighting “dozens of documented religious visions” of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, even the Buddha appearing in sandwiches, wood grain, trees, gems, furniture, and the sky.

The Life of Pope John Paul II illustrated in a publication from Marvel Comics.

A solid, semi-sweet chocolate “Voodoo Doll” in a cardboard presentation box with the following product description: “Voodoo is an ancient mystical practice that can bring spectacular gifts and rewards to those who believe. Chocoholics Chocolate Voodoo Doll is even better because, whether you believe or not, you will be rewarded with a darkly delicious chocolate treat.”

While the examples above are all drawn from the last 50 years of Christianity (or a religion with a relationship to it), they illustrate a worldwide religious phenomenon, one found in all world religious traditions: religion and kitsch. 1 Figure 16.1 Small statues of holy figures (plastic), St. Jude Shop, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 2014. (Photograph by Leonard Norman Primiano.) Figure 16.2 “What would Jesus do” cotton wristbands, 2014. (Photograph by Leonard Norman Primiano.) Figure 16.3 Monks and other items on display in Lisbon tourist shop, 2014. (From the collection of Leonard Norman Primiano. Photograph by István Povedák; used with permission.) Figure 16.4 Divine Mercy of Jesus image on matchbox, 2014. (Photograph by István Povedák; used with permission.)

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