December 8, 2022

About the Expert

Dr. Wallace D. Best is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. His research and teaching center on African American Religious History, Migration, Religion and Literature, Pentecostalism, the Nation of Islam, Religion, Gender and Sexuality, and Womanist Theology. He is the author of Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952 (Princeton University Press, 2005) and Langston's Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem (New York University Press, 2017). 

Start a Conversation

  1. Before you watched this video, how would you have described what religion is about? What would you change or add to that description now that you’ve heard Dr. Best talk about the material culture and sensory experiences in Black churches?
  2. What aspect of religion comes into focus when you begin with the senses?
  3. Take a look around you and notice the objects, architecture, scents, and textures of the space you’re in. Who put them there, and why? What kind of experience did they want the space to provide?
  4. Next time you’re in a religious space, look for elements that are the product of human labor. Dr. Best identifies, for instance, the altar of a Black church and how it’s decorated by the women of the church for a service. Where do you see religion “made by hand”? Who does the work of making?

Additional resources

American Religious Sounds Gallery. “Gallery.” Archive, n.d.

Bloom, Rebecca. “Sensational Buddhism.” Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art (blog), November 29, 2021.

Kaell, Hillary. “Wayside Crosses—Objects That Reveal and Conceal.” Reverberations (blog), September 25, 2013.

MAVCOR. “Material Economies of Religion in the Americas.” Archive. (check out “digital spaces” to see religious buildings)

Tolentino, Jia. “Losing Religion and Finding Ecstasy in Houston.” The New Yorker, May 27, 2019.