Idol and Idolatry
Idol and Idolatry
- Stacy BoldrickStacy BoldrickDepartment of Museum Studies, University of Leicester
The concepts of the idol and idolatry are historically critical for many religions, playing fundamental roles in religious conflicts past and present. The word idolatry is from the Greek εἴδωλον “idol” and λατρεία “latria,” “service, worship,” which points to its main meaning: paying service to a material object. In Judeo-Christian religions, idols were the objects of forbidden worship—objects designated as “other”—and idolatry was a sin. Idols in contemporary Western popular culture are also remote figures, but they are revered rather than denigrated. Over the course of the Renaissance to the present, the nature and definition of idolatry have dramatically changed, as the material and conceptual forms of the idol also changed over this period.
The terms idol and idolatry have long and wide geographical histories, and an ever-changing relationship with religion and art in the period from the Renaissance to the present in the West; they are best understood within specific temporal and cultural contexts. For example, during the Reformation in England, changes in how idols and the practice of idolatry were defined and scrutinized in churches and in public space demonstrate the complex and paradoxical nature of these concepts in particular places and times. Additionally, the idol and idolatry are important subjects for artists working in a range of media from the Renaissance to the present. In contemporary art, more secular meanings of the terms appear as political and ideological critiques of conceptual idols: the idols of the market, of authoritarian regimes, or of changing contested perspectives and belief systems.
- Religion and Art