Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen
The central role of the imagination in theology and religion has often been neglected by theologians. The chapter considers how the imagination and, in particular, artistic imagination, faith and theology are related. It provides a brief outline of perspectives on the meaning and function of the imagination in relation to faith and art by leading philosophers and theologians in history from the Hebrew Bible, Plato, and Aristotle to Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Kant, Burke, Schleiermacher, Schelling, and Kierkegaard. The chapter discusses the act of imagination as a fundamental source and requisite in faith, art, and creativity, in beauty and the sublime, in aesthetics, and in any development of human knowledge. The role of art is explored as a locus theologicus with reference to Tillich and contemporary theologians. Finally, the eschatological dimension as the ultimate link between artistic imagination and Christian faith concludes the chapter.
Albert C. Labriola
In line with its Greek etymology, ‘iconography’ refers to all forms of visual images, including any material means of artistic representation. Religious iconography typically refers to visual images of personages, events, and objects in the Bible. As such, religious iconography is a means of investigating how the Bible was received and interpreted in various eras. Included in religious iconography are illustrated Bibles, manuscript illuminations, books of hours, missals, sacramentaries, ectionaries, paintings, sculptures, murals, frescos, mosaics, metalwork, stained glass, and the like. This article surveys religious iconography by emphasizing medieval illuminations from the 10th through the 16th centuries, the seedbed of religious imagery. Religious iconography in the Middle Ages, moreover, profoundly affected art in the Renaissance and afterwards. The article focuses on selected but representative personages, events, and objects from the Old and New Testaments.
This article explores Blake's reading of the Book of Job as a transformative text that shifts and changes meaning through its affective reception by readers. While the Enlightenment attempted to shame not only religious believers but those who approached their society through any form of intense feeling (rather than more polite forms of sensibility), Blake sought to re-emotionalize readers by teaching them how to read the Bible, and thus how to read their world. Blake's Elihu shows that religious experience is affective, but further implies that its cognitive significance has material effects: emotional perception informs the imagination while the imagination allows the individual to see the world as human. Feeling is then ultimately responsible for compassionate acts engendered by an affectively fuelled capacity for invention and vision. This aspect of Blake's poetry is sometimes buried by historical readings because they are more interested in the letter of Blake's work than in its spirit, regarding his texts and images as receptacles of ideas rather than guides to feeling. The article considers Blake's own implicit resistance to historical decodings of his work. First, through a discussion of his understanding of ‘opposites’ and ‘contraries’. Second, in a reading of the Illustrations, which argues that the imagination, or ‘spiritual sensation’, offers the reader a way into Brennan's ‘living attention’ as an artistic as well as ethical way of relating.
Margaret M. Miles
In the field of Religion and Art, gender plays an important role in developing methods for the analysis of artworks in relation to the cultures and societies in which they were created. Images offer a means to correct a pervasive contemporary misrepresentation of Western Christianity as focused on ideas, doctrines, and theology—that is, on language. Imagery and religious imagination are intertwined in the testimony of many historical people from Francis of Assisi to Catherine of Siena. This article examines the interrelationships between religion, art, and gender. It discusses disciplines that address the nexus of gender, imagery, and religious imagination, and how each field has spawned studies of historical women before studies of gender relations. These include Gender and Art, Film Studies, Gender Studies, Feminist Studies, Religious Studies, and Women’s Studies.
Distinguishing between “religious” and “secular” in terms of activity (worship), setting (temple), content (deities), intent (edification) is problematic in Hinduism, whose aesthetics often hovers ambiguously between transcendent values and worldly pursuits, while sometimes claiming to constitute a third and distinct domain. Sacred and profane are often superposed, such that the artistry may consist in playing upon the opposed registers, holding them together even while keeping them apart, or refusing to recognize the very distinction. This is best illustrated by the deployment of “humor” around the clown of the Sanskrit drama, whose obvious purpose is vulgar entertainment though his stereotyped role and characterization is intelligible only in terms of a “religious” function. Six fundamentally different approaches to the “sacred” are distinguished: sacrifice (Veda), renunciation, secularization (kingship), possession, devotion (bhakti), and transgression (tantra). This chapter extends the vantage point of Abhinavagupta’s poetics of rasa to the art of storytelling, riddling, and joking.
Cleo McNelly Kearns
While a literary and critical modernism seems on the surface independent of and at times oblivious to theological modernism, the modernist stances taken by major twentieth-century artists and writers raise theological issues and concerns with which they are very much engaged. These issues are incarnated in their stylistic and formal innovations as well as in their range of interests, often sensitive as well as challenging to conservative and orthodox understandings of Christianity and prescient with respect to problems to come. These include problems of comparative religion, esotericism, spiritualism, and pagan and natural theology, as well as questions of politics, ethics, and revolutionary change. Engagement with these matters did not prevent many moderns from finding their way towards religion, Christian and otherwise, on terms both new and old.
The story is fundamental in human life. As plot, narrative may embrace that which is finally mysterious, such as we find within the biblical narratives of Genesis and in the “counter-coherences” perceived by the narratologist Mieke Bal. This mystery of the biblical narratives is recognized in the rabbinical form of interpretation known as midrash and in the parables of the New Testament, relating to modern literature in writers like Kafka and Borges. The nineteenth-century novel is born from biblical narrative so that even within fiction narrative remains a way of being religious. The twentieth century saw the advent of “narrative theology” and the collapse of narrative form in postmodernism. Yet the story remains in our story-shaped world, drawing us back in fiction to the Bible and to the Gospel narratives.
Any general consideration of postmodernism must begin with more than a ritual bow to Jean-François Lyotard, whose The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge extended and accelerated the circulation of the word. Lyotard uses ‘postmodern’ to denote the impact of twentieth-century cultural transformations ‘in the context of the crisis of narratives’, and thereby brings literature onto centre stage in discussion of the postmodern. In treating English literature and theology from the perspective of postmodernism, one can do more than reflect on fiction influenced by cultural postmodernism that also touches on religious matters, and theology marked by postmodernism in one or another sense. One also needs to take account of attempts in Britain to make ‘literature and theology’ into a discipline in its own right and assess the ways in which that has been shaped by postmodern concerns.
The religious sublime is a key concept in our understanding of the relationship between humans and God. Historically the sublime had a deep connection with religion but it underwent considerable refinement after Kant and Hegel’s reflections on the sublime. The chapter examines the humanist tradition of the sublime beyond Edmund Burke and the Romantics and analyzes how the sublime may be viewed through both aesthetic and religious lenses. The argument that the sublime is linked to reason and makes sense only in the context of a theistic mysticism is critiqued to show that as a category of the mind it is not exclusive to monotheistic religions alone. By examining a classic Hindu text it attempts to give it a different order of epistemological legitimacy.