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
This chapter focuses on the applied aesthetics of Anglican worship. As a seventeenth-century development, with definitive roots in the sixteenth-century Reformation, as well as in the Western Catholic tradition, Anglican aesthetics is a complex interaction of all sorts of factors, theological, cultural, and historical, which at times make it appear contradictory, even dysfunctional. Beginning with the particular case study of the opening Eucharist of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the chapter goes on to show how Anglican identity in worship has from its very beginnings been constantly evolving and responding to new contextual challenges. After discussing the importance of church music and hymnody and charting its development through the centuries, it moves on to describe the architectural shape of the liturgy which has also evolved along with changing patterns of worship. It concludes by suggesting that it will continue to evolve into the future in as yet uncharted ways.
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.
Focusing on works by artists such as Rico Lebrun (1900–1964), George Segal (1924–2000), or Jerome Witkin (b. 1939), art critics and art historians have sometimes criticized too realistic art about the Holocaust for aestheticizing atrocity, presenting a gratuitous and repellent violence, and advancing a reductive and one-dimensional literalness. Similarly, curators have often preferred to show work that is abstracted or allusive, avoiding ‘morbidity, sentimentality, and overused visual stereotypes’ that have lost their power to shock. The guiding mandate for post-Holocaust artistic practice was laid down by Theodore Adorno's (1903–1969) interdiction of ‘poetry after Auschwitz’ (1981). Paradoxically, Adorno's refusal of aesthetics, which began as a refusal of art altogether, became the conventionalized, dominant aesthetic, or anti-aesthetic, although the negative and allusive Holocaust-related artwork that met this mandate took a wide variety of forms. More recently, however, younger artists have rebelled against this ethic of representation in provocative ways. This article explores the changing strategies of representation in the postwar era, moving from the modernist premise guided by Adorno's interdiction to the postmodernist rejection of that premise. The controversy surrounding the 2002 exhibition Mirroring Evil at the Jewish Museum in New York provides an exemplary case study that illuminates the continuing debate over visual representation of the Holocaust.
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.
This chapter discusses how the rise of interest in the materiality of religions that has taken place in the last twenty years or so has tended to focus on popular media, everyday life, and the material practices involving things, images, and devotional concerns of people facing the common problems of life. It is important to recognize that lived religion is not a degenerate form of refined religion, a corruption of theology, or the beliefs of simple people, but rather a range of practices and ideas that exhibit a discrete aesthetic that depends on objects. The disinterestedness that is vital for the evaluation of fine art does not capture the experiences of lived religion. This chapter explores the visuality of everyday religion.
John W. de Gruchy
This article examines visual art and its relationship with morality and justice. It first considers justice-related ethical issues raised by the relationship between art and morality, including censorship, plagiarism, and property rights. It then discusses the link between aesthetics and ethics, or beauty and morality, and situates art within particular historical contexts and cultures. It also analyzes the views of four post-Enlightenment philosophers toward aesthetics: Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Søren Kierkegaard. Furthermore, it comments on the extent to which bias of race, gender and class can influence the work of artists. The article also looks at the connections between art, beauty, morality, and social justice and the moral power of art to change society for the better. Finally, it describes the role of the arts in the struggle against apartheid and liberation.
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.
Worship and its practices occupy a central place in every religious tradition, from Christianity and Judaism to Buddhism and Hinduism. Understanding aesthetics in religion requires paying attention to the role of the human body and its artistry in devotional acts, such as the use of paintings and sculptures as aids to prayer and meditative practices. Artistic means are employed in communal worshiping traditions; sacred rituals involve artistic expressions such as dance, song, poetry, story, images, and symbolic acts. This article examines artistry and aesthetics in modern and postmodern liturgy and worship practices of the world’s religious traditions. It first looks at scholarly sources that provide evidence on the aesthetic dimensions of liturgy. It then discusses the history of worship, whether communal or individual, in a cultural context, along with the concept of worship as verbal and non-verbal performance. It also considers the “art” of leading a worshiping community and concludes with a discussion of improvisation in religious worship.
Whether we are trying to judge issues of immediate interest or fathom matters of long-standing concern, history gives us the key for understanding the complex and often tangled relationship of evangelicalism to the arts. We need the help of that history for two reasons, the first of which is that the story of the evangelical engagement with the arts has largely been one of action and adaptation rather than one of theory and reflection. A second reason has to do with the fact that evangelical Christianity and the contemporary arts are fluid realities rather than fixed entities. Throughout their history, evangelical Christians have faithfully borne witness to what Karl Barth calls the “covenant of grace,” and in works of mission and mercy they have brought the message of the cross into virtually every culture and corner of the world. This article discusses the relationship between evangelicalism and the arts. It also examines Romanticism, Reformation, Protestantism, modernism, and fundamentalism as well as the resurgence of the relationship between evangelicalism and the modern arts in the mid-twentieth century.
Beauty is probably the least considered of God’s attributes nowadays. After looking at the Biblical, Platonic, and Patristic roots of the topic, the chapter discusses briefly a few modern writers who have treated divine beauty, especially Jonathan Edwards, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Simone Weil, and then some non-Christian sources. Next it considers first the world’s beauty, regarded as brought about through Creation (including works of art as inspired by God’s spirit), and secondly the beauty ascribed to God Himself. It reviews the grounds for such an ascription, including mystical experience and natural theology. It concludes by suggesting ways in which a recovery of the concept of beauty in theology might benefit the Church more widely, especially by fostering joy in worship.
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.
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.
A Christ figure in film illumines a theological dimension of the person of Jesus. The Christ figure in Babette’s Feast is a French Chef, Babette. The feast which she provides at great cost and sacrifice heals and illuminates a small Lutheran community in Denmark. The movie’s lesson is that, in a world gone wrong, there is no communion without sacrifice. The Shawshank Redemption illuminates the way in which Christ liberates us from the prison of sin. Gran Torino illustrates the theme of Christ’s defeat of evil and the devil. Its illustration of this theological theme is made much more powerful by the fact that the protagonist is Clint Eastwood. We expect Clint to play Clint, and blow the villains away. Instead, like Christ, Clint conquers by dying. Clint here plays Christ as the trickster who defeats the devil by a cunning and self-mortifying trap.
This chapter focuses less on the relationship of artists to Christian religious institutions, and more on how an artist’s Christian identity, ideas, and personal beliefs are themselves instrumental in shaping, even determining, artistic self-expression. An identifiable art-historical trajectory is followed, incorporating relevant and revealing case studies, including Fra Angelico, El Greco, Rembrandt, Holman Hunt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, and Rouault. The twentieth century—with two World Wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War, globalization, secularization, mass communication, and modernity itself—profoundly transformed both the “traditional” relationship of art to Christianity (and vice versa) and that of Christian faith to artistic practice. In our own “post-modern” era, most artists and their publics are increasingly aware of two major cultural phenomena. One is the paradox of a highly visual culture in which Christian imagery is now, at best, intermittently visible. The other is a marked, perhaps inexorable, mutation away from religion and toward spirituality.
Deborah A. Sommer
In this chapter, the term “Confucian” refers to East Asian beliefs and practices influenced by a corpus of historical, ritual, and philosophical literature compiled by the fourth century BCE in China. “Being religious” includes such phenomena as personal self-cultivation, interpersonal human relations, participation in family rites, governance of the state, and the quest for sagehood. These activities were expressed artistically through the creation of imaged forms, the construction of sacred spaces, and ritual performance.
Deborah J. Haynes
What does creativity mean in the study of the arts and religious traditions? In discussing this question, the chapter begins with general definitions of creativity and the creative process, then examines in more detail how creativity intersects the arenas of visual art and religion. Using an interpretive model based on categories of creator, object, viewer, and context, examples are drawn from diverse cultures. Issues of diversity and cultural differences in the interpretation of creativity within and outside of religious traditions, as well as the relationship of creative artistic work to contemplative practice, are also addressed.
Anne-Marie (Anjali) Gaston and Tony Gaston
Dance has accompanied religious ceremonies and sacred rites since prehistoric times. Most religions have included dance as part of worship at some period or in some places. However, because of its association with fertility and its celebration of the body, dance has equally been proscribed at times in different religions. Historical data on the use of dance in Christian rites indicate wide fluctuations in acceptance over the centuries. The presentation of dance as part of worship was highly developed in India, where dancers were employed by Hindu temples for many centuries. Such dances were highly formalized and required long training, and were largely the preserve of a specific community (caste) of dancers and dance-associated musicians. In the last century the movement for Sacred Dance has sought to revive and promote religious dances, creating a diversity of hybrid and innovative movement styles. Dance as a form of sacred art continues to evolve and diversify.