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is it a sin to sell a statue? Catholic Statues and the Traffic in Antiquities in Vietnam

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Abstract

When antique wooden saints were offered for sale in a Hanoi shop window, they provoked uncomfortable responses from Catholic observers living outside Vietnam who could not imagine their co-religionists voluntarily selling statues that had once been blessed. To explore this question—how things considered too sacred for commerce came to be sold—we bring together two usually discrete domains of research on material culture: object biographies that trace their movement from local sites of production and use into global markets, and studies on material religion that address how embodied and sensate encounters with the material world are productive of religious experiences and understandings. The social life of things collides with material religion at the place where statues and other religious paraphernalia are first transacted into artifact, art, folk art, or native handicraft. The bridge between these two domains of inquiry is the recognition that object biographies are propelled in part by notions of object agency that assume particular protocols for interactions between people and things. [Vietnam, Catholicism, material religion, circulation of goods, sacred objects, statues]

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