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.”
This article examines the architectural traditions of the world’s religions, with particular emphasis on synagogues, churches, mosques, and Hindu and Buddhist temples. Using a comparative approach, it first describes common and distinguishing features of religious architecture. It then looks at issues and problems that tend to arise in church design, such as whether to aim for monumentality and splendor or rather for simple and modest design; what sort of symbolism to use in the design and decoration of buildings; in what ways architecture can and should be affected by currents of liturgical reform; whether to allow representational art or restrict ornament to non-representational forms; or how much emphasis to place on principles of harmony and mathematical proportion. Finally, it discusses various approaches used in studying church architecture.
Lee I. Levine
This article addresses three related, though not identical, academic fields of study that crystallized only in the twentieth century. Beforehand, it had generally been assumed, whether for political, social, or religious reasons, that Jews eschewed art and architecture, either because they were visually uncreative, preferring the audile to the visual, or owing to the restrictions imposed on them by the Second Commandment. However, there emerged in the Post-Emancipation era an awareness that, in the course of their history, particularly in the later Middle Ages and modern times, Jews had produced an impressive array of artistic, mostly ceremonial, objects worthy of appreciation and display. This realization that a uniquely Jewish art and architecture existed in the past crystallized in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, finding expression, inter alia, in the establishment of Jewish museums throughout Europe, America, and Israel.
Buddhism is characterized by considerable geographical and doctrinal diversity, but one feature shared by its many disparate strands is an emphasis on the ritual importance of images. These images constitute the core of the category of “Buddhist art” as it is commonly understood, but there is a significant difference between how such objects are viewed by Buddhist practitioners and how they are viewed by art historians and scholars of religion. This chapter investigates the role and status of images in Buddhism (beginning with the so-called “aniconic controversy”), the various critical approaches that have been used to interpret them, and the inherent tension between these two perspectives: the tension, that is, between images as “icons” and images as “art.” It also considers some of the ways in which such contemporary artists as Atta Kim and Montien Boonma have engaged Buddhist ideas and themes in their practice.
Hindu culture possesses unique ways of seeing and shaping religious art; this chapter explores the “keys” that are needed to interpret some of its characteristic art-forms. The visual arts, like music, provide a universal language that unites the immensely diverse regions of South Asia. Hindu art, in particular, reflects the belief in a polycentric and pervasive divinity that becomes visible in the plastic arts. Rooted in medieval traditions of aesthetic philosophy and ritual divinization, Hindu Art pervades the daily experience of the community, encountered in elaborate ornamental styles, spirits and gods crowding the temple-towers, ritually consecrated sacred architecture, statues and posters that are “alive” with the god’s presence, and evocative films that help the viewer to stay receptive to the effect of these intense art forms.
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.
Margaret S. Graves
The label “Islamic art” has at times served to conflate and confuse religious and non-religious impulses within popular understandings of the art of the lands that are now or have historically been majority Muslim. A selection of the manifold visual expressions that relate directly to the practices of faith and religious identity in Islam are here explored, using premodern examples to explore three different themes. The first of these presents the structural form and decoration of some of the earliest mosques and other major religious structures of the Islamic world. The second section considers the role of ornament, including calligraphic practices, in the elaboration and diversification of a religious visual identity, while the third examines the most widely misunderstood aspect of Islamic art—the purported universal aniconism of Muslim cultures—through the small extant corpus of book paintings of religious figures, particularly the Prophet Muhammad.
Edward van Voolen
The existence of Jewish art has long been denied by scholars. Indeed, Jewish art appears to be in conflict with the second of the Biblical ten commandments: “you shall not make for yourself a sculptured image… ” Literally interpreted, the verse prohibits visual arts among Jews and seems to reflect a Jewish aversion to images. This article examines art in Judaism and Jewish attitudes to art. It first considers evidence of art in Judaism, such as how Jews regard liturgical books and objects or how they decorate their sanctuaries. It then discusses Jewish art in modernity, focusing on Jewish artists such as Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Jozef Israëls, Camille Pissarro, Max Liebermann, Mauricy Gottlieb, Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky, Issachar Ryback, Ossip Zadkine, and Jacques Lipchitz. It also looks at contemporary Jewish art as reflected in the architecture of museums, memorials, and synagogues.
This chapter reviews the origin and development of the word Shintō as well as the basic beliefs, practices, and objects of worship associated with the religion. It then describes the emergence and development of plastic representations of objects of worship (sculpture) and permanent structures for worship (architecture). Shintō’s development in conjunction with mainland developments is stressed as well as the homogenizing influences of government control and modern training institutions.
Deborah A. Sommer
In this chapter, the term Daoist refers to beliefs and practices associated with the apprehension of the Dao, a term that literally means way, ways, road, or path. At the cosmic level, the Dao is the way the cosmos operates; at the level of the individual human being, it is the way a person lives their best life within that cosmos. Understandings of the Dao might be expressed artistically in many ways, from imaged forms to constructed spaces to lived performance. Daoist ways of being artistic here include such diverse phenomena as painting, calligraphy, talismans, diagrams, sculpture, architecture, constructions of sacred space, ritual performance, body movement, and visualization.