A systematic consideration of the multiple relationships between aesthetics and religion demands a sorting-out of concepts and issues. “Aesthetics” may be understood as practice (art) and as theory. It can refer to a number of overlapping subjects, including art, symbol, feeling, beauty, taste, imagination, and perception. A theological or religious aesthetics considers any of these topics in the light of God, revelation, and the sacred. The contemporary world has seen a renewal of interest in religious aesthetics. Art has been increasingly recognized as an important theological “text” that complements the written word, and as a crucial component of communication of the Christian message. The theological consideration of art and beauty is made complex by the secularization of the contemporary world, which raises the question of the relation of aesthetics to Christian “conversion.”
Frank Burch Brown
When the arts are mapped onto the terrain of religion, art itself looks different, as does religion, and one sees more plainly how each shapes the other and, at times, becomes part of the other. There is a progressively wider distribution of religion scholarship concerned with artistic and aesthetic matters, whether explicitly religious or implicitly so (when it is often termed “spiritual”). That ever widening interest in religion and the arts is not, however, accompanied by an equally wide distribution of expertise. The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts is designed to draw on the best international scholarship to open up cross-disciplinary conversation that is increasingly needed so as to understand a fuller range of artistic ways of being religious, and of religious ways of being artistic. Artistry, far from receding in religious significance, as Hegel had predicted, has developed a life of its own that, nonetheless, transfigures the realm of religion, and is in turned changed by the forms of religion, both old and new. The mutual transfiguration of art and religion, in a variety of modes, is something scholars of both art and religion need to acknowledge and study as that transpires in new ways, some of which are only now coming into view.