621-640 of 651 Results

Article

U.S. Foreign Relations and American Religious Liberalism  

Cara Lea Burnidge

Scholars of American religious liberalism, like the historical subjects they study, wrestle with the place and power of modernity in American history and culture. Recognizing and articulating the influence of modernity requires constant attention to what is, broadly speaking, “foreign.” It includes religious people, groups, ideas, and practices that developed in relationship to liberalism as a historically transnational ideology and movement, as well as those people, groups, ideas, and practices classifiable as “liberal” in relation to the contemporary moment. The historical events, figures, and ideas central to liberal ideological movements in America felt connected, through both their perception and experiences, to ideas, places, and people outside of “America.” This heightened the sense of belonging to an exceptional, if not universal, culture while also placing that culture in global perspective. Identifying who and what is and has been “liberal,” as well as narrating their history, thus requires attention to what Thomas Tweed and others have referred to as “global flows.” As a result, “American religious liberalism,” as a subject of study, does not merely denote a religious liberalism located within the geopolitical borders of America, but a religious liberalism formed, expressed, and experienced through a context of “America.” Consequently, foreign relations have a long and tangled history with American religious liberalism and liberalizing cultural moments and movements in the United States. Foreign figures, ideas, movements, and institutions are a constitutive element in the historical narrative of America’s religious liberalism. From German theologians who introduced American Christians to new biblical hermeneutics to transnational reform movements inspiring new forms of religious practice through social and political activism, global intellectual networks have encouraged Americans’ development of liberal modes of thought and practice. The politics of global empires and international society has also inspired liberal activism through international societies and nongovernmental organizations advocating for anticolonial, pacifist, abolitionist, suffragist, human rights, and many other humanitarian causes. This global context for American reform activism has been a significant factor in the development of liberal factions of numerous religious affiliations. The “global flow” of liberal reform pushed Americans toward spiritual experiences in developing areas of the world through both missionary efforts and individual spiritual exercises. Contact with the “outside” world often turned otherwise conservative or moderate missionaries toward liberal or liberationist theologies. Liberalism also brought “world religions” to American shores. Engagement with “others,” however, is not the only key factor in the intersection of American religious liberals with foreign relations. Religious liberalism has animated each “tradition” defining the history of U.S. foreign policy. Not least of all, religious liberals were instrumental in crafting and promoting internationalism in the long 20th century. Theologically liberal Protestants were in many ways the ideological architects behind interventionism as U.S. foreign policy. Liberal Protestant metaphysics and political activism assumed that intervention was necessary because it improved the lives of those deemed less fortunate and, consequently, was a universal agent for good in the world. Liberal religious institutions and the theologies they produced encouraged intervention (in all its various forms: economic, cultural, militaristic, diplomatic, etc.) on local, national, and international scales for the sake of a nebulous “greater good,” the more sectarian notion of “social salvation,” or even ultimately, and unironically, world peace. To liberal Protestant eyes, such intervention followed the example set by Jesus, fulfilled God’s will for humanity, and provided an opportunity to meet God in the natural world, either through encountering the “least among these” or establishing peace on earth. By the mid-20th century, liberal Catholics and Jews helped to reconstruct public perception of this “American way” around the notion of a shared Judeo-Christian foundation to American identity and action in the world.

Article

America’s Interactions with Islam and Judaism in North Africa  

Lawrence A. Peskin

Encounters between Americans, Muslims, and Jews in North Africa played a foundational role in Americans’ early understanding of Islam and Judaism. At a time when the United States population had few Jews and virtually no free Muslims, North Africa was one of the places Americans were most likely to meet individuals from these groups. Initially, American sailors and diplomats encountered North African Muslims and Jews as the result of frequent ship captures by Barbary corsairs beginning in the colonial period and culminating in the 1780s and 1790s. After 1815, the sailors and diplomats were joined by missionaries journeying to the Mediterranean region to convert Jews and Muslims as well as non-Protestant Christians. These encounters prompted a good deal of literature published in the United States, including captivity narratives, novels, plays, histories, and missionary journals. These publications reinforced two dominant views of Islam. First, the early focus on Barbary corsairs capturing American “slaves” reinforced old notions of Islam as despotic and Muslims as “savages” similar to Native Americans. Missionary accounts prompted more thoughtful approaches to Muslim theology at the same time that they reinforced existing notions of Islam as a deceitful religion and revivified millenarian hopes that the declining Ottoman Empire foretold the Second Coming. As a result of the captivity crises, Americans often had to deal with the area’s small but influential group of Jewish merchants in order to get terms and credit to free their countrymen. These fraught negotiations reinforced older European stereotypes of Jews as sharpers and Shylocks. As with Islam, the missionary period brought more thoughtful consideration of Jewish theology as Americans engaged in chiliastic hopes of bringing the Jews to Jerusalem. After 1850 or so, Americans interested in Jews or Muslims looked less frequently to North Africa. Growing immigrant populations, first of Jews and then of Muslims, meant that Americans could encounter people of all three Abrahamic faiths at home. At the same time, missionary interests moved east, into the Holy Land, Syria, Turkey, and ultimately East Asia. Nevertheless, the early impact of North Africa on American thinking retained its influence, as is evident from President Barack Obama’s 2009 speech on American-Islamic relations delivered in Cairo.

Article

US–Mexico Borderlands and Religion  

Anne M. Martínez

The border between the United States and Mexico has artificially divided languages, cultures, landscapes, and religions for more than a century and a half. This region is the crossroads not only of Anglo-America and Latin America, but also of multiple empires; the Aztec, Spanish, and US empires each staked a claim on this region, leaving political, economic, cultural, and religious markers on the landscape and its peoples. These imperial bodies brought their preferred religious practices and religiously inspired social, economic, and political cultures, which reshaped populations and landscapes from the 15th century to the present. Religion has been a significant dimension of this region from prior to the arrival of the Spanish through the early 21st century.

Article

The Vajrakīla Tantras  

Martin Boord

Belonging to an esoteric corpus of Buddhist texts known as the teachings of secret mantra (Skt. guhyamantra), the tantras of Vajrakīla have been carefully guarded through the centuries and handed down from teacher to disciple under a strictly ethical code of conduct. Although the texts themselves often seem to advocate a violent and unrestrained lifestyle, under the skillful guidance of a suitably qualified guru, who must be seen by the disciple as none other than the Buddha himself, one who seriously engages in the systematic practice of their profound series of meditations becomes quickly and thoroughly purified in body, speech, and mind. The wrathful deity Vajrakīla is described in all the tantras that bear his name as the manifestation of heroic power for the overthrow of Māra. During times of peace he manifests as Vajrasattva, and his mind abides in tranquility. During times of activity he manifests as “Vajra of Total Destruction” (Skt. *Ativināśanavajra) and, when manifesting as a bodhisattva, he is Vajrapāṇi, “the One with a Vajra in his Hand.” With regard to his name “Vajrakīla”: vajra as a prefix is found everywhere within the Buddhist tantras. Originally meaning “the hard or mighty one” and referring in particular to the thunderbolt as a weapon of Indra, it subsequently became so intimately associated with the development of tantric ideas in Buddhism that the entire system of practice came to be known as the Vajrayāna or Vajra Vehicle. Indeed, as a symbol within the Buddhist tantras it is as pregnant with meaning as the very texts themselves. Characterized as abhedya, “unbreakable,” and acchedya, “indivisible,” the term may be said to represent nothing less than the full enlightenment of the samyaksaṃbuddha, who himself came to be referred to as Vajradhara, “Holder of the Vajra.” The Sanskrit word kīla means “nail,” “peg,” or “spike,” and thus Vajrakīla may be taken to mean “the unassailable spike” or, on a higher level, “(He who is) the nail of supreme enlightenment.” Introduced to Tibet during the 8th century ce, the Buddhist tantras of Vajrakīla were received with great enthusiasm and quickly became established as a vital element in the religious life of the Tibetan empire. Said to encompass every aspect of the ground, path, and goal, the Vajrakīla tantras present a coherent and complete system of spiritual practice that culminates in the attainment of perfect liberation from the round of rebirth. The roots of Kīla mythology, however, may lie buried deep within the pre-Buddhist religion of ancient India where, in the Ṛgveda, the story is told of the god Indra who slew the demon Vṛtra. It is said that, at that time, Indra stabilized the earth and propped up the heavens with a kīla and thus, at the outset, we have clearly discernible indications of a path along which a simple wooden stake might travel so as eventually to become deified as a terrifying god of awesome power, one by whom all demons are vanquished and enlightenment realized for the benefit of the world.

Article

Varieties of Spirituality: A Western Philosophical Analysis  

Joseph Kirby

In works like What Is Ancient Philosophy and Philosophy as a Way of Life, French classicist Pierre Hadot argues that, in the ancient world, the word philosopher was used primarily to refer to people who transformed their way of living through spiritual practices—and not, as in the modern world, to someone devoted to the reading and writing of specifically philosophical texts. Along similar lines, in You Must Change Your Life, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk argues that the concept of religion should be replaced by a concept of spiritual practice, or anthropotechnics, the regimens of spiritual training whereby human beings strive to shape themselves through repetitive actions. Importantly, both of these thinkers are attempting to revive spiritual practice not only as scholarly concept but also as a living exhortation, for human beings to once again take up the crucible of disciplined self-transformation. That being said, the ancient understanding of spiritual practice remains radically different from the way spiritual practice manifests for a contemporary thinker like Sloterdijk. This difference, in turn, stems from a profound disagreement concerning the nature of reality itself. Generally speaking, ancient philosophers understood reality to be fundamentally harmonious, peaceful, and good—and within this vision, spiritual practice was understood in terms of reconnecting to this fundamental goodness. In modern thought, by contrast, reality is generally understood to be fundamentally violent, chaotic, and ultimately indifferent to human flourishing—and within this alternative view, spiritual practice is then understood in terms of the cultivation of self-control, as part of a larger cultural project to transform the indifferent natural world into a comfortable human home. As for ancient spiritual practice and its concomitant cosmology, these are criticized from the modern perspective as being nothing more than a flight into illusion, motivated by terror at the as-yet-uncontrolled world of nature. If the modern critique of ancient spiritual practice begins with a critique of cosmology, the ancient critique of modern cosmology would begin from the opposite side of the spectrum, with a critique of modern spiritual practice. More precisely, the ancient practitioner would argue that modern cosmology is actually the result of a flawed approach to spiritual training. This critique turns on the location of what Hadot calls practical physics within the ancient curriculum of spiritual development. In short, the widespread historical narrative, whereby the infinite depths of space and time only became thinkable after Copernicus and Galileo, is actually not true; people have been contemplating the way human life appears from the perspective of the infinite abyss for thousands of years, and the moral upshot of this practical physics was the same in the ancient world as it is now: to inculcate a sense of humility, shared vulnerability, and universal human solidarity. In the ancient world, however, this perspective was not seen as the single, scientific truth of the human condition, but rather was understood as an imaginative spiritual exercise. Moreover, this exercise was itself set within a larger curriculum of training that began with the practice of selfless moral discipline. This is because the ego-dissolution that arises from this “view from infinity” can be spiritually dangerous, leading to a sense of fatalism or even nihilism—the idea that the only good is the power to ensure our own pleasure and survival within a fundamentally meaningless universe. According to the ancient philosophers, however, this conclusion, and the abyss of terror, as well as the sense of ontological despair often experienced by modern people, would be the logical results of an incorrect approach to spiritual training: namely, the precocious dissolution of the ego in the infinite, but without the preliminary cultivation of a relatively selfless ego that can peacefully endure its own dissolution. By the terms of this ancient curriculum, meanwhile, the proper pursuit of these two sides of spiritual life—moral selflessness and self-dissolution—would eventually give way to the experiences that Neoplatonists referred to with the word metaphysics, and which 3rd-century theologian Origen describes in terms of the experience of infinite love.

Article

Vinaya Rules for Monks and Nuns  

Ann Heirman

Vinaya rules are stipulations and advice that guide the Buddhist community (saṃgha) of monks and nuns. They are generally considered to be the basis of monastic life. Without these rules, there is no saṃgha; and without the saṃgha, so it is said, there is no dharma (doctrine). While the rules are attributed to the Buddha, it is clear that they developed over time, influenced by the continuous spread of the Buddhist community throughout the Indian subcontinent in the centuries following the Buddha’s demise. Different traditions gradually arose, each with its own set of vinaya rules. These rules display many similarities, but also differ in some significant respects. With the spread of the Buddhist saṃgha in South, Southeast, and East Asia in the first centuries ce, new guidelines were added to the traditional Indian vinaya rules. Although these rules have their own identifying terms—such as “bodhisattva rules” or “rules of purity”—they are often also designated by the term “vinaya,” in modern times used as a concept that encompasses all monastic, and sometimes even lay, Buddhist guidelines. In addition, many manuals and commentaries were written, adding further guiding principles. When written by very inspirational masters, these commentaries sometimes superseded the original vinaya guidelines. This phenomenon led to greater regional interpretation of how vinaya ought to be understood.

Article

Violence and New Religions  

Rebecca Moore

Although new religions have a reputation for being intrinsically violent, research shows that they are no more aggressive than the world’s major religious traditions. Memes in popular culture tend to stigmatize adherents of these marginalized groups because of their unusual clothing, habits, lifestyles, and beliefs. Rather than employing the neutral term “new religious movement” (or NRM), journalists and others often use the pejorative label “cults.” Nevertheless, violent outbursts involving members of NRMs have exploded at moments of crisis—or perceived crisis—throughout history. Scholars attempting to identify the factors involved in these eruptions have determined that external as well as internal elements dynamically collide to create conditions that precipitate violent outcomes. Internal causes may include apocalyptic beliefs, charismatic leadership, and social encapsulation. A few groups may develop a worldview that justifies, or even welcomes, the use of violence; they may stockpile weapons for self-defense or develop plans to prepare for a final reckoning. External influences include provocative, aggressive, or combative actions by government authorities prompted by news media and cultural opponents comprising family members and professional anticultists. This outside pressure may trigger violent measures within the group, as leaders and members tighten social controls, quash dissent, and demand unquestioning loyalty in the face of opposition. Since violence is a social relationship in which the actions of each opponent serve to shape the responses of the other, destructive interactions with new religious groups are not inevitable. They may be forestalled when dangerous situations are adequately identified and intelligently addressed through careful investigation, patience, and well-managed negotiations.

Article

Violence in the Old Testament  

Jerome F. D. Creach

“Violence in the Old Testament” may refer generally to the Old Testament’s descriptions of God or human beings killing, destroying, and doing physical harm. As part of the activity of God, violence may include the results of divine judgment, such as God’s destruction of “all flesh” in the flood story (Gen. 6:13) or God raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24–25). The expression may also include God’s prescription for and approval of wars such as the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 1–12). Some passages seem to suggest that God is harsh and vindictive and especially belligerent toward non-Israelites (see Exod. 12:29–32; Nahum and Obadiah), though the Old Testament also reports God lashing out against rebellious Israelites as well (Exod. 32:25–29, 35; Josh. 7). Christians have wrestled with divine violence in the Old Testament at least since the 2nd century ce, when Marcion led a movement to reject the Old Testament and the Old Testament God. The movement was substantial enough that key church leaders such as Irenaeus and Tertullian worked to suppress it. In the modern era interpreters have taken up the problem with new vigor and have treated it from fresh perspectives. Some attribute the Old Testament’s accounts of God destroying and killing to the brutality of the society that produced it, but they believe modern people are able to see the matter more clearly. They find support for this view in the apparent acceptance of cruel practices of war by Old Testament authors (Num. 21:1–3; Judg. 1:4–7; 1 Sam. 15). Within this way of reading is also a feminist critique that sees in the Old Testament a general disregard for women, illustrated by some passages that present sexual abuse as well as general subordination of women to men with no explicit judgment on such atrocities (Judg. 19; Ezek. 16, 23). Assessment of the significance of records of or calls for violent acts in the Old Testament are difficult, however, because of the complex literary and canonical context in which such passages appear and because of the incongruity between ancient Israelite culture and the culture(s) of readers today. Studies that compare the Old Testament presentation of violence with that of contemporary ancient Near Eastern nations offer potentially more controlled results. Comparative studies alone, however, cannot account for the multiple layers of tradition that often make up Old Testament references to violence. That is, while Assyrian and Babylonian records of warfare presumably describe what Mesopotamian kings actually did in battle, the Old Testament often reports wars and military conflicts, and the aspirations of the leaders of Judah, from the perspective of a defeated people. Thus, even Judah’s desire to defend itself militarily morphed into an expression of hope in God. Given the complexity of the development of the Old Testament canon, a fruitful and ultimately more accurate way of treating the subject is to determine how ancient Israelites thought about violence and how the subject then affected the overall shape of the Old Testament. A logical starting point in this endeavor is the Hebrew word ḥāmas. This term connotes rebellion against God that results in bloodshed and disorder and a general undoing of God’s intentions for creation. Thus, violence appears to intrude on God’s world, and God acts destructively only to counteract human violence. For example, in Gen. 6:11–13 human violence ruined the earth and thus prompted God to bring the flood as a corrective measure. This way of understanding violence in the Old Testament seems to identify the Old Testament’s own concern of violence and presses a distinction between divine destruction and judgment and human violence. Despite this potentially helpful approach to violence in the Old Testament, many problems persist. One problem is the violent acts that religious zeal prompts. Old Testament characters like Phinehas (Num. 25), Elijah (1 Kgs. 18:39–40; 2 Kgs. 1), and Elisha (2 Kgs. 2:23–25; 9) killed, ordered killing, or participated in killing in order to purify the religious faith and practices of the Israelites. Nevertheless, most texts that contain problems like this also contain complementary or self-corrective passages that give another perspective. The complexity of the material with regard to violence makes it possible to argue that the Old Testament opposes violence and that the ultimate goal, and divine intention, is peace.

Article

Visual Arts: Christian Visual Art  

Christine E. Joynes

Defining Christian visual art from the Renaissance to the present is a task fraught with difficulty. The diversity among Christian groups to emerge makes generalizations impossible, but common themes can be compared and contrasted to shed light on differing beliefs and practices. Widely acclaimed examples of Christian visual art highlight its role in contemplating the divine and offering pedagogical insights. It also functions to critique cultural attitudes and shape identity formation. Despite the decline in religious belief, Christianity continues to inform contemporary works of art in both ecclesial and non-ecclesial settings.

Article

Visual Arts: Abstraction  

Paula Wisotzki

For avant-garde European and American artists at the turn of the 20th century, a nexus of developments encouraged the rejection of naturalism, which had driven most of Western art for more than four centuries. Despite the increasing secularization of Western society throughout the 19th century, religious beliefs and practices were one important source for artists’ experimentation with abstracting forms from nature. Christianity and other world religions aided artists who sought to shift the focus of their art from description to expression. Around 1910, certain European and American artists pressed forward to make art that they considered to be fully nonrepresentational. Still, the bridge between abstraction and nonrepresentation was a challenging one to cross and artists frequently invoked religious beliefs to justify leaving the natural world behind. The evolution of abstraction in Western visual arts was intimately linked to the modern era. As important as religious concepts may have been to individual artists around 1900, artists had gradually moved to the periphery of society in the 19th century, leaving behind the institutions, including churches, that had been their primary means of support. These changing relationships gave individual artists the freedom to explore new ideas but eliminated stable sources of income previously available to them. On the other side of the patronage divide, mainstream religions were already threatened by the radical modernization of Western society, so even though religious dogma was replete with abstract concepts, churches were reluctant to embrace abstraction in the visual arts. At the same time, while artists were committed to expressions of spiritual truth in their abstract art, their objects were rarely produced with a conventional church setting in mind. Emerging in the 19th century, the complex relationship among modern society, abstract art, and religious practices persisted well into the 20th century.

Article

Visual Arts: Modern Art  

Jonathan A. Anderson

The dominant histories of 19th- and 20th-century art in the West have tended to depict modernism as making deep and decisive breaks from religious thought, practices, and institutions. There are good reasons for scholars seeing the history this way. On the one hand, the development of modern art coincided with major sociocultural shifts that deeply reshaped not only religion (as established religious traditions became increasingly contested and pluralized) but also the functions of art itself, which thrived in forms and spaces that seemed significantly detached from religious subjects, patronage, and purposes. On the other hand, there were also significant theoretical factors shaping the ways that religion was presented—or often conspicuously not presented—in the writing of modern art history. An especially strong secularization theory (a sociological thesis positing that a society’s modernization necessarily entails its secularization) has tended to dominate the scholarship of modernism, coupled with a heavy reliance on critical models that privilege highly suspicious hermeneutics (in the lineages of Marxian, Nietzschean, and Freudian critical theory), which tend to dismantle whatever “religious” content persists in modern art into questions of social power, ressentiment, sublimated desire, and so on. In all these ways, religious traditions became largely invisible and unreadable in the history of modernism, even in cases where they were important factors. Since the 1990s, however, several of the key historical and theoretical underpinnings of this depiction of modernism have been increasingly called into question, and a more complicated, ambiguous picture is emerging—one in which modern art and religion remain deeply entangled in fascinating and confusing ways. There are various ways of identifying and understanding these entanglements, which require not only careful reexamination of the particularities of the histories involved but also reconsideration of the interpretive assumptions and priorities through which those histories are construed. There are at least five focal points where the nexuses of art and religion are being reexamined and brought more clearly into view in the histories of modernism—namely, through object-oriented, practice-oriented, artist-oriented, context-oriented, and/or concept-oriented studies of particular instances in those histories. These focal points provide concrete loci for perceiving and exploring the functions, formations, and effects of “religion in modern art”—an inquiry which also can be reversed to explore examples of “modern art in religion,” including instances where major artworks are situated in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and other religious contexts. There are, however, varying ways that scholars interpret what they find at these focal points and how they discern the larger implications of these particular entanglements of art and religion in the history of modern and contemporary art. These differences are clarified by recognizing at least four interpretive horizons—anthropological, political, spiritual, and theological—within which scholars are understanding these focal points and rereading these histories. Though often diverging in the accounts they produce, these four horizons (and the potential interplay between them) are vital for a continued rethinking of the relations between modern art and religion.

Article

Visual Arts: Postmodernism  

Meredith Munson

Postmodernism is notoriously difficult to define in any concise manner. Its start dates (and end dates, for that matter) exist in a state of flux, often varying by decades in the historiographies of major disciplines. In an attempt to begin to understand postmodernism, many theorists, art historians, and philosophers choose to take a rather apophatic approach by describing that which it is not, namely starting by understanding modernism. After all, that is embedded into the term postmodernism itself; at its core, postmodernism is connected to modernism. Essentially, modernism as a movement was predicated upon an avant-gardism that envisioned modern art as the cure-all for the broken world, working toward a utopian ideal. In understanding art’s engagement with religion in the postmodern era, it is also necessary to consider the shifting social landscape of institutional religion and politics at this time. The culture wars of the end of the 20th century both shaped and were shaped by postmodern art, with famous clashes between artists and the emerging religious right and/or prominent political figures dominating the headlines. Largely because of these events, many critical narratives have promoted the idea that art and religion had little to do with each other in this period. While secularization theories are gradually unraveling in the field at large, these ideas still figure prominently in many discussions of modernism and postmodernism. Regardless, artists have continued to engage with religious subject matter throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The appearance of secularization is imperative to note, particularly as a number of postmodern artists (indeed, some of the most recognizable names in the art world) have engaged with religion in their work. This is not to say that postmodern artworks with religious themes all celebrate religion uncritically, nor do they all examine religion from outside the realm of belief in a strictly anthropological manner. One of the main difficulties in interpreting postmodernism’s rather vexed relationship with institutional religion is the multivalence of many of the artworks. Multiplicity of meaning in both artistic intent (if such a thing is granted) and reception is common in postmodernism, which should caution critics from attempting to make concrete assertions about any presence of pure religiosity or pure secularism. Trends in postmodern artistic practices, such as the mixing of high and low art forms and media, the use of appropriation, pastiche, institutional critique, and more, along with the increasing diversification of artists and contexts, have resulted in the examination of religious subjects in ways that are particularly postmodern.

Article

Visual Arts: Protestant  

Bobbi Dykema

The story of Protestant visual art begins well before Luther posted the 95 Theses. It is a story bound up with iconoclastic revision and destruction as well as with new ways of telling the Christian story in a distinctly Protestant visual mode. In the centuries since the Reformation, artists have emphasized prophetic themes such as the peaceable kingdom, the abolition of slavery, the suffering of women, and the plight of the homeless.

Article

Visual Arts: Reformation and Counter-Reformation (Reforms of Trent and Catholic Art)  

Richard Viladesau

The reformers of the 16th century brought to the fore questions regarding sacred images that had arisen in the context of changes in society, religion, and art in the late Middle Ages. Late medieval Catholicism already produced warnings against idolatry in the cult of images, superstition, and the misuse of popular devotional practices for monetary gain. Reformation-era re-evaluations of sacred images arose primarily from three overlapping impulses: (1) the humanistic enlightenment and critique of external religion; (2) concern for the Scriptures, including the Old Testament prohibition against idolatrous images; and (3) the ethical complaint against ecclesiastical luxury and neglect of the poor. Some of the Reformers fostered a more or less complete iconoclasm (e.g., Karlstadt, Bucer, and Hätzer). Others had positive attitudes toward art in general, but had reservations about religious representations (Calvin). Yet others had more ambiguous attitudes. Zwingli thought that images are inherently dangerous because of the temptation to idolatry, but his position softened toward the end of his life. Luther’s ideas on sacred representations changed through his career from a somewhat negative to a fairly positive evaluation. He held that the Old Testament prohibition pertained only to idols, not to images themselves. His primary concern was that images and devotion to them could foster a spirituality of external works as the means to salvation. This problem could be met by uniting images with texts and stressing their didactic function. The Council of Trent dealt with sacred art in 1568. The Council agreed with the reformers that abuses were possible in the cult of the saints and in the use of art, and also that much of the art itself was “inappropriate” for sacred use because of its worldliness. However, its decree insisted on the validity and usefulness of images and their veneration. The decree of Trent did not give specific guidelines for sacred art, but only general principles, leaving implementation in the hands of bishops. The vagueness of Trent’s decree made room for a wide range of practical judgments about what was “appropriate” or “fitting” in sacred art. But in the second half of the 16th century, several bishops and theologians wrote treatises on painting to guide artists. The Tridentine reforms, although put into practice in varied ways, included several general characteristics: (1) elimination of “sensual” and secular elements from sacred art; (2) faithfulness to Scripture and tradition; (3) concern for doctrine and devotion above artistry; (4) use of art as a means of education, indoctrination, and propaganda; (5) the valuing of visual naturalism; (6) polemical concentration on contested dogmatic themes in content; and (7) the sensual as a means of entry into the spiritual. With the advent of the Baroque in the later stages of the Counter-Reformation, a spirit of triumph prevailed. Art that was pleasing to the senses brought an atmosphere of spiritual exaltation. Baroque art was purposefully theatrical, artful, and dramatic. An unintended result of the image controversies was the separation of sacred and secular art and the formulation of separate criteria for each.

Article

Visual Arts: Renaissance  

Heidi J. Hornik

With regard to European visual arts, the Renaissance is the period of artistic production (painting, sculpture, and architecture) from 1280 to 1520. The Renaissance style appeared in Western Europe and in particular on the peninsula of Italy (Italian Renaissance) and the north of the Alps (Northern Renaissance). These regions and this time frame were characterized by immense of creative productivity and although other regions are important to the Western tradition, in the history of art the focus historically has been on Italy and northern Europe. Artistic styles are often understood chronologically while combining the regions both north and south of the Alps and the three different media.

Article

Visualization/Contemplation Sutras (Guan Jing)  

David Quinter

The “visualization/contemplation sutras” (Ch. guan jing觀經) refers to six scriptures in the modern Sino-Japanese Buddhist canon Taishō shinshū daizōkyō大正新脩大藏經 (“T”). The six scriptures are each devoted to particular buddhas and bodhisattvas, and in some cases, the pure lands or heavens linked to them. They include: (a) Sutra on the Sea of Samādhi Attained through Contemplation of the Buddha (Guan fo sanmei hai jing觀佛三昧海經; T 643); (b) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Guan Wuliangshoufo jing觀無量壽佛經; T 365); (c) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Two Bodhisattvas Bhaiṣajyarāja and Bhaiṣajyasamudgata (Guan Yaowang Yaoshang erpusa jing觀藥王藥上二菩薩經; T 1161); (d) Sutra on the Contemplation of Maitreya Bodhisattva’s Ascent to Rebirth in Tuṣita Heaven (Guan Mile Pusa shangsheng doushuaitian jing觀彌勒菩薩上生兜率天經; T 452); (e) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Cultivation Methods of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Guan Puxian Pusa xingfa jing觀普賢菩薩行法經; T 277); and (f) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha (Guan Xukongzang Pusa jing觀虛空藏菩薩經; T 409). All six scriptures use the Chinese term guan觀 (or kuan) in their titles. All also feature instructions on contemplative techniques, which include fantastic visual imagery and other visionary phenomena. Due largely to these visual qualities, in English-language scholarship since the late 1950s, the most common translation for guan in their titles has been “visualization.” There is, however, no scholarly consensus for an Indic-language equivalent to guan in these scriptures, and the “visualization” designation has been increasingly questioned since the 2000s. Thus many scholars prefer the translation “contemplation,” while some opt for “discernment.” Further complicating study of the visualization/contemplation sutras are persistent questions of their provenance. The traditional translator attributions preserved in the Taishō canon all credit Indian or Central Asian monks for the “translations.” However, all six scriptures are extant only in Chinese or in translations based on the Chinese, and those translator attributions have been widely contested. Scholars thus variously posit Indian, Central Asian, or Chinese origins for the individual scriptures. The consensus as of 2020 is that, as Chinese texts, they all date to around the first half of the 5th century ce, and many scholars do accept the influence of Indian or Central Asian meditation masters active in China then. Such influence receives support in the near-contemporary emergence in China of meditation manuals that share distinctive terminology with the visualization/contemplation sutras and are often grouped with them in modern studies. Further research into the sutras should thus enrich the understanding of scriptural translation processes, the emergence of specific deity cults in East Asian Buddhism, and interlinked developments in the devotional, visionary, and contemplative practices associated with those cults.

Article

Visualization in Hindu Practice  

Sthaneshwar Timalsina

Broadly, visualization stands for a specific mode of imagination in which certain objects or concepts are “viewed as” or “viewed in light of” something else. In the religious context, something is “discovered” as the sacred in the process of visualization. In essence, what constitutes an object or image as sacred is the way this entity is encountered through visualization: it is this act that provides a surplus of value to the entity. When we visualize something, we activate multiple cognitive mechanisms and the added meaning is gained through metonymic and metaphoric structures. The new value of an entity or the discovery of new meaning is often a consequence of the blend of the existing inputs. Historically, ritualized visualization evolved in the Hindu context alongside the Vedic rituals and later became a central feature of everyday Hinduism. Tantric traditions in particular utilize visualization to gain greater access to the mechanism of the mind. Studying visualization thus not only reveals how an imaginative life meshes with reality in constituting the sacred, but it also demonstrates the power of imagination in transforming everyday reality.

Article

War and Religion in American History  

Jonathan H. Ebel

As a subfield of the study of religion, the study of religion and war has access to but has not yet applied the methodological and theoretical tools of a diverse and vibrant discipline. For sound evidentiary reasons as well as out of force of habit, scholars writing about religion and war in American history have drawn heavily on explicitly theologically engaged textual sources, for example, sermons, diaries, and letters. Less common are studies that examine the stuff of popular culture and the military-industrial complex, for example, material culture, film, novels, weapons programs, and military training manuals, for their religious and moral investments. If the study of religion and war in American history is to remain vital and in touch with the changing relationship between the nation, its faiths, and its wars, scholars must assimilate broader definitions of religion and build their studies using a more diverse archive. The words of chaplains and soldiers remain important, to be sure, but consideration of the tools of war, how they are used, and what Americans believe about soldiers, leads to a fuller and more textured understanding of the many influences that religion and war have exerted and continue to exert on each other.

Article

Western Buddhism and Race  

Joseph Cheah and Sharon A. Suh

The phenomenon of Western Buddhism has its roots in colonial encounters in Asia and began in earnest with the translation, study, and transmission of traditional Buddhist texts by Western linguists and classicists. Western Buddhism refers to both the study and practice of Buddhism outside of Asia, predominantly in Europe and North America. It therefore refers to a field of study and denotes non-Asian convert Buddhists in the West. The term itself can best understood, on the one hand, within the systematic study of Buddhism in Europe beginning in the 19th century and, on the other hand, in light of the impact of race, racialization, and Whiteness in defining Western Buddhism. Thus, any discussion of Western Buddhism would do well to proceed with a discussion and analysis of race as they are inherently intertwined. Buddhist studies emerged during the height of European colonization and imperialism in Asia, and the scholarly study of Buddhism became a focus and product of colonial discovery and political reshaping. Studies of Western Buddhism and their contemporary manifestations have their origins in the efforts of Western linguists and historians who relied upon and contributed to the process of Orientalist knowledge production, epistemologies, and methodologies to translate and interpret Buddhist texts. Directly linked to colonial policy and power, Orientalist scholarship directly shaped Western perceptions of Buddhism which, in turn, also shaped Asian realities, whereby Asian forms of Buddhism, and Asian Buddhists, were filtered through and measured against prevailing Western ideological and political agendas. Western Orientalist scholars translated Buddhist texts and presented Buddhist philosophy and religion through a distinctly modernist lens that prioritized individual meditation over ritual, Buddhist cosmology and devotional practices. By prioritizing the scientifically “rational” aspects of Buddhism and meditation as a primarily psychological practice, Western Buddhism also favored a narrative of “pure origins” that emphasized the search for a “true Buddhism” beyond its purported Asian cultural accretions. Thus, much Western scholarship produced during this time period emphasized the search for an “ancient” Buddhism wisdom that could hold its own against Western enlightenment ideals. Such modernist agendas thus shaped the formation of Buddhist studies as a scholarly discipline, whose merits were measured according to textual translation and the veracity of purportedly original texts. The development of Western Buddhism is not only shaped by forces of Orientalism, Protestantization, and modernism but also by the historical context of race and racialization. Therefore, to study Western Buddhism without paying attention to its entangled history of racialization and racism would be inaccurate and incomplete. Today, several Euro-American convert Buddhists continue to hold up meditation as the most authentic component of Buddhist practice at the expense of the devotional religiosity. In so doing, this valorization of meditation reproduces the very same devaluation of devotional practice that was rendered backward both in Orientalist scholarship and its modernist inflections in the United States. Western Buddhism continues to be largely defined in the American context primarily through an Orientalist lens and has become enmeshed and nearly synonymous with largely White convert Buddhists’ focus on meditation and the continued exertion of authority within convert communities. With the primacy of meditation as the most authentic form of Buddhism and the power to continue to define the contours of legitimate practice, White convert Buddhist lineages have retained the authority to determine what counts as real Buddhism. In turn, Asian American Buddhists have been promoted in the scholarly literature as overly immersed in popular religion and therefore less capable of determining what constitutes authentic Buddhism. Historically, Western scholarship avoided utilizing race as a category of analysis in the study of Buddhism in the United States and tended toward more generalized terms such as “American Buddhism” and “ethnic Buddhism” to signify the difference between White and non-White practitioners. While these terms have certainly transpired over time and have received an increasingly healthy dose of backlash from marginalized Buddhists and White Buddhist sympathizers, in the unfolding narrative of Western Buddhism and race, labels matter; and the residue of Buddhist Orientalism remains to the degree that “ethnic Buddhism” has become a term synonymous with nonmeditating, superstitious, and overly popular forms of religion practiced primarily by Asian Americans. Through the racialization of Asian and Asian American Buddhists, Western Buddhism continues to reproduce the White privilege and White supremacy operative in earlier scholarship; however, there are many notable challenges to the problem of Buddhism and Whiteness that this article will discuss.

Article

Western Christendom, c. 1000–1400  

Timothy M. Thibodeau

The liturgy of Western Christendom (c. 1000–1400) was the product of sweeping ecclesio-political and religious reforms that had a broad and lasting impact on the content and performance of the rites of the Latin Church in the later Middle Ages. Beginning with the reforms of monasticism at Cluny and culminating in the reformed papacy in the age of the Investiture Controversy, a sharp division between the clerical order and the laity was imposed on Christian society. This fostered a heightened sense of divine mystery in the liturgical rites (principally, the Mass) that could only be administered by properly ordained clergy, under the authority of the pope. The triumph of the clerical rule of Christendom coincided with more concrete expressions of the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements in both formal theology and liturgical practice. The Mass liturgy became the summit and quintessence of liturgical piety in this era, eclipsing other forms of liturgical service and becoming the focal point of sacramental theology. With the construction of monumental new churches in the Gothic style, from the 12th through 14th centuries, liturgical performance (including costly vessels and vestments) achieved levels of ostentation that caused some conflict between ascetically minded reformers (the Cistercians) and the proponents of lavish liturgical spaces (the Cluniacs). A thriving tradition of liturgical exposition or formal commentary on the divine offices worked in tandem with these dramatic architectural and artistic developments in the liturgical spaces of Europe. Despite the new scholastic methods of the universities, allegorical exegesis of the liturgy, following a tradition that began in the 8th century with Amalarius of Metz, continued to predominate in the lengthy treatises of expositors who worked in the peak period of scholastic theology, down to and including William Durandus of Mende (c. 1296). The performative aspects of the liturgy also witnessed major advances with the introduction of polyphonic chant, liturgical drama, and para-liturgical processions (such as the Feast of Corpus Christi).