The power of things. History and theory of sacral objects
Kohl analyzes fetishes and traces the origin of the idea, including the use or prohibition of sacral objects in Judaeo-Christian cultures, images in European antiquity, and the transfer and exchange processes since the age of discovery.
The import of Catholic cult objects and cult forms led to the emergence of the fetish complex in West Africa, and some of the most prominent phenomena generated by Christianity, namely the Catholic sacralization and cult of material objects e.g. in the cult of saints and relics (partly integrating cultural elements of ´heathen cults´ of the dead and heroes in antiquity), has a strong proximity to non-Western forms of sacralization. The verdict against images in Judaeo-Christian religions, perhaps partly a reaction to polytheistic cults in their early environment, is not explicit in Catholicism - which has been strongly criticized by Protestant travellers and missionaries. Thus, the cultural setting regarding fetishes in West Africa is introduced, the Judaeo-Christian history and logic of sacred objects - in relation to mission and influencing the emergence of West African fetishism, then the history of the emergence, or invention, of fetishism as an inter-cultural complex in early travelogues, European philosophy (the idea of this religio-magical complex in the works of Kant, Hegel, Comte, and Marx, who - following Charles de Brosses´s classic on fetishes - have considered fetishism implicitly as the archaic form of religion), and up to Freud´s "genesis of sexual fetishism". The next chapter systematizes fetish objects and their functions (in exchange, status, prestige, their hierarchy...), followed by a discussion on sacral objects as signs, the arbitrariness of sacral objects, exemplified in several detailed cases, tribal and high-culture ones. The final chapter deals with the ´use´ of sacral objects in museums - a different kind of utilization of these objects in modernity.
Keywords: fetishism, objects and religion, religious objects, magic and objects, images and religion, mission, cargo cult, ancestor cult, museal objects, Judaeo-Christian culture, Catholicism, Protestantism, Antiquity, Brosses, C. de, Kant, I., Comte, A., Marx, K., Hegel, G.W.F., Freud, S., sexual fetishism, semiotics