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American Muslim Comedy  

Samah Selina Choudhury

That Muslims are both consumers and practitioners of comedy may run counter to the otherwise ubiquitous notion that Islam, seemingly above all other religious traditions, is devoid of humor. Yet comedy, especially its staged performance version known as stand-up, is an occupation readily taken up by a number of Muslim comedians during the 21st century in North America. Muslim comedians are also South Asian comedians, Arab comedians, Iranian comedians, or Black comedians, among others, and the naming of their comedy explicitly as “Muslim” can be traced to how openly they speak of their common experiences of being subject to anti-Muslim hostility as a racialized act of violence. This racialization of Islam relies on “looking” Muslim: phenotypic features like dark hair, skin, and beards that simultaneously sweep up others that may share these attributes and make them targets of institutional and interpersonal violences. This common refrain can be seen especially in the material of comedians from the Allah Made Me Funny and Axis of Evil tours during the early 2000s, while later comedians like Hasan Minhaj, Aziz Ansari, and Kumail Nanjiani describe similar experiences in added terms of a racialized solidarity with other minoritized communities of color in the United States. These later comedians of the 2010s and their brand of politically oriented comedy have been upheld by dominant arts industries as examples of American multiculturalism and diversity, coinciding with the large-scale and cross-sectional social justice efforts to support undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo movement. Far from being a mark of their non-belonging in North American society, this racialized association with Islam is platformed as emblematic of North American societies: their exceptional openness and unparalleled freedoms. At the same time, however, women and Black Muslim comedians are rarely bestowed a similar entrée of visibility as “Muslim” comedians due to the hegemonic racialized image of Muslims as terrifying “terrorists”—a distorted privilege accessible usually only to male comedians of South Asian or Middle Eastern heritage.

Article

Architecture, the Built Environment, and Religion in America  

Peter W. Williams

The development of religious architecture in what is now the United States is tied closely to continuing immigration and the development both of de facto and de jure religious pluralism. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, seminomadic Native Americans built temporary structures, while those farther south erected more permanent temples, most notably those of the Aztecs in Mexico. Spanish settlers in what is now the U.S. Sunbelt built mission chapels, with those in California incorporating a mixture of styles and building techniques derived from Spanish, Moorish, and indigenous traditions. Puritans in New England and Quakers in Pennsylvania erected meeting houses, architecturally simple structures based on secular models and eschewing the notion of “sacred space.” Anglicans from Boston to Charleston imported English neo-classical models devised by Sir Christopher Wren and Sir James Gibbs in the mother country, devised to accommodate Anglican sacramental worship. Later classical styles, especially the Roman and Greek revivals, reflected the republican ethos of the New Republic and were adopted by a whole range of religious traditions including Catholics and Jews. Urbanization and enhanced immigration following the Civil War saw adaptations by Protestants, including auditoriums, institutional churches, and the Akron Plan; by Jews, who invented a new, eclectic style for synagogues and temples; by Anglicans, who revived English Gothic traditions for churches and cathedrals; and by Roman Catholics, who turned to Continental Gothic for their inspiration. Mormon temples, beginning in Salt Lake City, took on new forms after that faith spread across the nation. During the post-WWII era, the colonial revival style became popular, especially in the South, reflecting patriotic and regional values. Following the immigration reform of 1965, waves of newcomers from Asia and the Middle East brought their traditional mosques and temples, often considerably modified for worship in the diaspora. Religious architecture, like the nation at large, has reflected an ongoing process of change, adapting old forms and inventing new ones to accommodate changing demographics, settlement patterns, and the necessities of living in a pluralistic society where religion is protected but not supported by the government.

Article

Art and Religion in Ancient Greece and Rome  

Robin Osborne and Caroline Vout

One of the challenges shared across cultures and faiths is the intangible, ineffable nature of the divine. One problematic, yet theologically productive, solution to this problem is to embody the divine in sculpture and painting; another is to seek divine aid and attest to divine presence by making votive offerings. In the absence of a sacred text, it was sculptural and graphic representation of the divine that made sanctuaries and temples in Greece and Rome theologically active places. But the need to experience god was not confined to these centers. Greek and Roman gods were everywhere—on coins, gems, drinking vessels, domestic wall paintings. Even when they were not there, their power could be felt in the representation of those who had felt their power. They were as pervasive as they were all seeing. This article examines how this material culture worked to bring gods and mortals into contact. It does so by tackling three major issues: first, it discusses how a wide range of artifacts, monumental and modest, shaped sanctuary space and guided and recorded the worshipper’s interaction with the divine; second, it looks at images of gods themselves and how these affected epiphany, while maintaining a critical gap and insisting on their strangeness; and third, it uses art to rethink the relationship of religion and myth. Although there are some continuities between cultures, the rise of Hellenistic and Roman ruler cults created a new subcategory of gods, creating additional representational challenges. Out of this came Christ, who was god incarnate. We briefly explore how early Christian artists used the problems of anthropomorphism to their spiritual advantage.

Article

Arts and Ethics: Questions  

David Fenner

The world of art, across the globe and especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, has presented a range of challenges to those who attend to that world. These challenges span various spectra, but one set is ethical in character. How one responds to these ethical challenges will depend on one’s general ethical commitments and perspectives, but it will also depend, first, on one’s view of the relationship between the arts and ethics and, second, on understanding the context in which the challenge is made and the ethical challenge itself. Censoring a work of art, which can itself take many forms, is the result of meeting a particular challenge with the judgment that the work violates in important ways some ethical precept or set of precepts.

Article

Autobiography, Biography, and Theological Questioning  

John D. Barbour

Autobiography and biography (which together will be called “life writing”) raise theological questions in ways different from systematic or constructive theology. These forms of life writing tell a story that may or may not be correlated with traditional doctrines. They integrate the first order discourse of symbol and narrative with secondary hermeneutical reflections that interpret and analyze the meaning and truth of religious language. The probing and disturbing questioning in a profound autobiography such as Augustine’s contrasts with the assurances and settled answers expected of theology by religious institutions and communities. Particular religious questions shape specific genres of life writing such as Puritan discourses, nature writing, or African American autobiographies. The theology in autobiography may be either explicit or implicit and involves both questioning and affirmation, as may be seen in works as different as Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua and Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. Conversion has been a central theme and shaping influence on Christian texts, even when authors challenge this focus and create alternative forms. A central theological question posed by autobiography concerns the authority of individual experience when it contrasts or conflicts with traditional norms asserted by orthodox believers and ecclesiastical hierarchy. In spiritual autobiographies by contemporary writers, we see serious attention given to communal norms for life stories and a search for a distinctive personal apprehension of what is sacred. Autobiographical writing has been stronger in the history of some religious traditions than in others. Yet in the modern world, almost every culture has produced life writing that questions or challenges established patterns of thought and practice. In contrast with autobiography, sacred biography has been an important part of every religious tradition, usually describing an exemplar to be revered and imitated. Its strong didactic interests often curb theological questioning of established norms. While modern scholarly biographies often mute theological questions, some writers raise normative issues and argue for why the subject’s life should be valued. As well as the theology explored within life writing, many works reveal a theology of life writing, that is, beliefs about how this kind of writing may bring the author or readers better understanding of God or deeper faith.

Article

Bible and Film  

Richard Walsh

For most, the designation “Bible and film” refers to the studio epics of the 1950s, as well as Mel Gibson’s financially successful The Passion of the Christ. This designation, however, also includes silents, travelogues, documentaries, musicals, comedies, parodies, television miniseries and serials, shorts, and avant-garde art films. Other than Jesus, who starred in numerous passion plays, the most popular biblical film subjects are those characters or stories already successful in 19th-century theater, operas, or novels. Since at least the 1990s, “Bible and film” has also referred to the work of biblical critics. Such scholars deal in semiotics, ideology, and reception criticism rather than the theology and apologetics of their precursors. These scholars have vastly expanded work under the “Bible and film” umbrella to include the Bible’s cinematic use as artifact, quotation, and so forth; the Bible and film (films that seem biblical, like so-called Christ figure or messianic films, only after convincing arguments); and film as Bible (where film functions as some biblical texts do). The most important recent developments in Bible and film, however, are technological advances in delivery systems and niche marketing. These developments, not Gibson’s success alone, appear to be driving the recently renewed interest in biblical films. Now, old films, including silents, and films from more diverse cultural perspectives (e.g., Indian and Islamic biblical films) are available to more people than ever before. While Christian Bibles may still dominate film, one can find other cultural perspectives as well as films or interpretations that challenge “the dominant.”

Article

Buddhism and Media  

Scott A. Mitchell

Many approaches to the study of Buddhism and media overlap with traditional Buddhist studies methods such as textual analysis, art theory, ethnography, and ritual studies, as well as studies of material culture. Media studies may concern itself with contemporary media messages and forms, but it need not be limited to the realms of mass media and popular culture. In foregrounding media and material cultural, scholars can trace the development and flow of Buddhism as a global religion and cultural phenomenon. Such studies also invariably draw attention to the lived aspects of the religion: How do Buddhists enact or perform Buddhism? How do Buddhists communicate ideas about Buddhism both to other Buddhists as well as to outsiders? And how do these communicative acts change one’s understanding of Buddhism? Such questions go beyond the merely textual, historical, or philosophical and call us to answer deeper questions about the nature of Buddhism in the contemporary, global age.

Article

Buddhism in Film  

Sharon A. Suh

Film serves as one of the most recent contributions to the variety of Buddhist visual forms that can offer a perspectival shift in interpretation for its viewers akin to other meditative devices such as mandalas. As a relatively recent subject of study, Buddhist films present innovative opportunities to visualize the Buddha, Buddhism, and the self in nuanced ways. Buddhist film can be understood as a spiritual technology that reshapes vision, and the act of viewing becomes a ritual process and contemplative practice. Ranging from films with an explicitly Buddhist theme and content to more abstract films without obvious Buddhist references, Buddhist films have become the subject of scholarly studies of Buddhism as well as occasions to reimagine Buddhism on and off screen. Buddhist films found in Asia and the West have proliferated globally through the rise of international Buddhist film festivals over the past fifteen years that have increased both the interest in Buddhism and the field of Buddhism and film itself. Most studies of Buddhism in film indicate that what constitutes a Buddhist film continually evolves and, as such, can be seen as a contemporary instantiation of the skillful means of the Buddha.

Article

Buddhist Art and Architecture in Tibet  

Erberto Lo Bue

Tibetan Buddhists view images primarily as religious supports and secondarily as works of art. Buddhist images are aimed at improving one’s karma by earning merit in view of future existences, at removing obstacles, and at creating wellbeing. Their commissioning may be occasioned by various circumstances, including illness and death, besides the need for a specific religious practice. Since they are primarily expressions of faith, their age has a limited importance and their originality hardly any: a religious image is valued less for its rarity and aesthetic value than for its apotropaic virtues and for its particular connection with a holy place or master. Hence the application of Western post-Medieval aesthetic criteria to the appreciation of Tibetan art ought to be complemented by an appreciation of the specific religious meaning of an image, the interpretation of its particular symbolism, and the aim of its client within the specific cultural and historical context in which it was produced. This article is preceded by a historical introduction sketching the development of Buddhist art and architecture in Tibet from the 7th to the present century, mentioning the role played by foreign artists, mostly Newars from the Nepal Valley, and dwelling on particularly significant monuments, such as the monastery of Sàmye (8th century) and the Great Stupa of Gyantsé (15th century), representing the two highest moments in the history of Tibetan religious art and architecture, the Pòtala being basically a fortified palace. The first section, on Tibetan Buddhist art, deals with iconography and iconometry as well as materials and techniques, contrasting the prevalent approach to the subject by collectors, and even art historians, with that of Buddhist masters and devotees, pointing out the importance of the consecration of images, without which the latter remain worthless from a religious point of view. The second section, on Tibetan Buddhist architecture, deals with the construction of religious buildings, their materials, their religious functions and their symbolism. Although stupas are referred to throughout the article, they are dealt especially in this section. Sanskrit terms, whether in phonetic transcription or in transliteration, prevail in the first section because the relevant terminology is largely the Tibetan translation of Indian Buddhist terms, Tibetan terms in phonetic transcription and transliteration prevail in the second section, except in the part dealing with the stupa.

Article

Buddhist Wall Paintings  

Sonya S. Lee

Wall paintings are integral to the built environment of the Buddhist world. Images of deities, celestial spheres, and biographical narratives of all sorts constitute an integral part of Buddhist architecture, serving as the material and conceptual interfaces between art, society, and the ecosystem that link their viewers to the world they live in and realms in their imagination. Buddhist wall paintings are meant to make abstract doctrines and concepts comprehensible through visual means while promoting key moral lessons to devotees in vivid and memorable ways. They provide donors with an opportunity to express piety and accumulate merit for creating a beautiful home for the Buddha that would enable his followers to follow his footsteps and at the same time impress nonbelievers. Though far from a vehicle of individualism, the medium of wall painting challenges artists to be innovative with age-old iconographic formulae and compositional schemes in order to make the tradition anew for their own time and place. This important artistic medium developed in tandem with the emergence of Buddhism as a world religion during the 1st millennium ce. To underscore the remarkable flexibility that Buddhist concepts and practices exhibited as they were adapted into disparate local cultures, the present study will focus on major sites in the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts in China to explore the inter- and intraregional connections in the dissemination of Buddhist wall painting across Eurasia.

Article

Christian Feminist Theology and the Arts  

Elizabeth Ursic

Christian theology is the study of God and religious belief based on the Christian Bible and tradition. For over 2,000 years, Christian theologians have been primarily men writing from men’s perspectives and experiences. In the 1960s, women began to study to become theologians when the women’s rights movement opened doors to higher education for women. Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, female theologians developed Christian feminist theology with a focus on women’s perspectives and experiences. Christian feminist theology seeks to empower women through their Christian faith and supports the equality of women and men based on Christian scripture. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The arts have an important role in Christian feminist theology because a significant way Christians learn about their faith is through the arts, and Christians engage the arts in the practice of their faith. Christian feminist theology in the visual arts can be found in paintings, sculptures, icons, and liturgical items such as processional crosses. Themes in visual expression include female and feminine imagery of God from the Bible as well as female leaders in the scriptures. Christian feminist theology in performing arts can be found in hymns, prayers, music, liturgies, and rituals. Performative expressions include inclusive language for humanity and God as well as expressions that celebrate Christian women and address women’s life experiences. The field of Christian feminist theology and the arts is vast in terms of types of arts represented and the variety of ways Christianity is practiced around the world. Representing Christian feminist theology with art serves to communicate both visually and performatively that all are one in Christ.

Article

Christian Sacred Architecture  

David Bains

Beginning with the Renaissance, the architecture of churches in the West was shaped by new cultural and liturgical demands that reshaped the spaces of Christian worship. Renaissance Christians found models of urban monumentality and geometric harmony in the architecture of classical Rome that they deemed lacking in their existing Gothic forms. At the same time, both Catholics and Protestants placed new emphasis on preaching and on the ability of worshipers to see the liturgy. These factors decisively reshaped church architecture. The rational austerity of the Renaissance, however, soon gave way to the more exuberant decoration of the baroque and, in time, to a revival of the Gothic. Beginning in the late 18th century, it became valued for its association with mystery, organic development, and the endurance of faith amid the rise of scientific rationalism. By the mid-19th century, an eclecticism in architecture had developed where many church builders used varied styles to actualize buildings of many plans in order to bring the desired historical and emotional associations to the structure, or simply to distinguish it from its neighbors. Yet, architectural principles—often associated with the Gothic—that emphasized the integral relation of form, structure, and function led many church builders to embrace architectural modernism. They rejected applied ornament, especially that which hid the structure of the building. Concrete, steel, and glued laminated wood beams made possible new designs often with a minimalist aesthetic and innovative ground plans. As in the 16th, so in the 20th century this architectural shift was associated with new values and liturgical demands. For many there was a fundamental concern with the architectural expression of the immanence of God. Historical styles and dim light seemed wrongly to suggest that God was not part of the contemporary world. Along with this, liturgical ressourcement fostered throughout the 20th century by the Liturgical Movement and endorsed by the Second Vatican Council championed the idea that liturgy was “the work of the people,” a corporate activity in which all participated. This led to the development of the “modern communal church” as a liturgical form. Many historic buildings were significantly altered. Within thirty years, a sizable revolution was insisting on more traditional, often classical, architectural forms ensuring that future church building would be shaped by a dialogue between tradition and the modern.

Article

Contemporary Visual Art and Religion  

Dominic Colonna

Contemporary visual art that uses themes and symbols of particular religious traditions has the potential to alienate both those who are adherents of those traditions and those who are non-adherents. Such art is often characterized as sentimental, superstitious, naïve, exclusivist, or triumphalist by modern standards of judgment. At the same time, efforts to avoid exclusivism or triumphalism in contemporary visual art can render the meanings of works so vague that it is hard to identify a work with any particular religion. For these reasons and more, the art world tends to disparage the benign use of religious themes and symbols in art and tends to accept works that are transgressive—that is, art that transgresses the boundaries of religious decorum. Material and visual culture studies provide ways for the art world to find value in and analyze the use of religious themes and symbols in contemporary visual art. These approaches have widened the scope of works that might be identified as contemporary visual art: popular, mass-produced, and folk art are all within the purview of analyses of contemporary visual art. These studies examine how religious themes and symbols function in religious communities and in the wider communities of which they are a part. Even when studying the function of visual and material culture within a particular religious tradition, these studies tend to identify common or essential themes in different religions. The contemporary preference for being “spiritual but not religious” emerges in the identification of common religious themes and symbols. Contemporary theological approaches to the study and appreciation of contemporary visual art are “insider” methods that religious adherents use to assess critically the value of the use of religious themes and symbols in modern culture. These insider methods identify orthodox uses of religious themes and symbols in contemporary visual art, not only to identify negatively that which is unorthodox or heterodox, but also to identify works of art that celebrate religious beliefs, make traditional beliefs relevant, and help to shape new ways of engaging the wider community. Theological methods often incorporate the work of material and visual studies scholars. Like these scholars, theologians seek to affirm the value of unique religious beliefs in an increasingly pluralistic world.

Article

Culture, Entertainment, and Religion in America  

Randall J. Stephens

Throughout American history, religion and entertainment have influenced each other and have intersected in fascinating ways. Native American rituals and games entertained and inspired. Early white settlers like the Puritans, though defining their faith over and against profane pastimes, engaged in sport, play, and elaborate storytelling. Still, stark contrasts appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries when it came to how Catholics and Protestants in the New World thought of the theater, music, and performance. The evangelical surge in the 18th century brought with it a lively and riveting preaching style—represented by celebrity ministers like George Whitfield and Gilbert Tennent—that faced the ire of their more traditional foes for using “vulgar” methods to reach the masses. In the 19th century, African Americans, in slavery and freedom, expressed their faith in ways that combined religious systems, dancing, and music traditions from Africa and the Americas. Evangelical churches and prominent figures used entertainment to proselytize, illustrate the drama of salvation and damnation, and to enliven services. Temperance, anti-slavery, and other reformist groups employed music, novels, and theater to spread their earnest message. Pentecostals and other evangelicals took up new forms in the 20th century. They eagerly made use of radio, film, and later, television. The well-known evangelist Billy Graham was a skillful pioneer of new media. In the 20th century, Hollywood films drew on Jewish and Catholic themes, as Jewish and Catholic writers, directors, and actors put their stamp on the silver screen. Late 20th and early 21st century combinations of religion and entertainment included Muslim rap music, Christian rock, Jewish folk music, and much more. A great deal of this innovation coincided with the rise of the performance-driven megachurch and the proliferation of religious organizations that catered to athletes and drew on sports imagery and symbols for the cause. In the long sweep of American history, the devout have found new, elaborate ways to draw on popular culture and to entertain as well as enlighten the faithful.

Article

Decorated, Illuminated, and Illustrated Bibles  

Jonathan Homrighausen

The earliest extant illustrated biblical manuscripts date to the 5th century, and their descendants continued through the medieval era and into the era of print, including children’s bibles, artists’ books, and comics. The study of this large corpus suggests a wide range of ways in which decorations, images, and other kinds of nontextual visualizations in Bibles generate meaning. Most obviously, biblical illustrations always involve interpretive decisions about biblical narratives. Traditions of visualizing biblical texts also respond to previous artistic representations of that scene or character, as well as textual exegesis; indeed, visual exegesis parallels its textual counterpart in complex ways. Further, decorated and illustrated Bibles often reflect the events of their time, including images of kingship, ecclesiastical concerns, ideologies of gender and ethnicity, and polemics within and between religious communities. Images also serve a wide range of functions: to teach, to accompany preaching, to facilitate memorization of text, and to instill moral and spiritual virtues. Finally, a wide range of nonillustrative features of Bibles create meaning: ornament, word-image interplays, and symbols.

Article

Devotional Art in Viceregal Latin America  

Marcus Burke

The art of devotion in colonial Mexico, Central America, and South America—called the “viceregal” period, from the division of the colonies into viceroyalties from 1521 to 1821—arose in the context of reformed Roman Catholicism, especially after the Council of Trent (1545–1563). Devotional images included stand-alone compositions, images from altar ensembles and serial contexts, and works of sculpture that could be the focus of a believer’s pious contemplation or an accompaniment to liturgy. These images document the establishment of the Christian faith and its iconography in the New World, including syncretic elements, principally in the initial decades of colonization and missionization. They embody doctrines and local devotions relating to the Blessed Virgin Mary; the importance of the religious orders to Latin American devotional art; orthodox and heterodox imagery; regional variations; and special iconographies particular to Latin America. The creation of viceregal images was conditioned by issues such as the relative importance of centers of viceregal power versus peripheries, differing ethnic and religious traditions of specific localities, relatively permissive church attitudes toward heterodoxy, and the use of European models.. In the almost exactly three centuries of the viceregal era, artists of the first rank such as Baltasar de Echave Orio, Luis and José Juárez, Alonso López de Herrera, Cristóbal de Villalpando, Juan Rodríguez Juárez, and Miguel Cabrera from Mexico; Bernardo Bitti, Mateo Pérez de Alesio, Angelino Medoro, Baltasar Gavilán, and Bernardo de Legarda from Peru and Ecuador; and O Aleijadinho from Brazil created religious works responding to European stylistic developments but expressing local artistic values even as they nourished an ongoing Roman Catholic devotional life.

Article

Dunhuang Art  

Michelle C. Wang

The oasis city of Dunhuang lies at the eastern end of the southern Silk Routes, in Gansu Province in northwestern China. In the 2nd century BCE, Dunhuang was established by the Chinese Han dynasty as a center for military operations and trade. Over time, Dunhuang became an important hub for multicultural trade as well as for the transmission of commodities, ideas, and religions. The status of Dunhuang as an important regional center for Buddhism is demonstrated by a wealth of paintings and manuscripts that provide crucial insights into the unfolding of religious praxis and developments in visual culture over many centuries. A few centuries after the establishment of Dunhuang as a military garrison, the construction of cave shrines in the area began. Four major groups of cave shrines were constructed in the Dunhuang region: the Mogao, Yulin, and Western Thousand Buddhas caves, and the Five Temples site. The most well-studied of these are the Mogao 莫高, or “peerless,” cave shrines, which are located 25 kilometers southeast of Dunhuang at the eastern edge of Mount Mingsha 鳴沙山 (Mountain of the Singing Sands). From the 4th to the 14th centuries, 492 man-made caves were carved from the sandstone cliffs, stretching 1,680 meters from south to north. They were painted with over 45,000 square meters of mural paintings and installed with more than 2,000 painted clay sculptures. To the north, 248 additional caves were carved. Mostly unadorned, the northern caves served as habitation chambers for monks. In addition to the mural paintings and inscriptions in the Mogao caves, more than 50,000 manuscripts and portable paintings were discovered in 1900 by the caretaker and Daoist priest Wang Yuanlu 王圓籙 from one cave, numbered Mogao cave 17, popularly though perhaps problematically known as the “library cave.” These objects were dispersed in the early 20th century to library and museum collections, the most prominent of which are the Stein collection in the British Museum, British Library, the National Museum of India, and the Pelliot collection in the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet and Bibliothèque Nationale de France. For this reason, the study of Dunhuang art and material culture encompasses both objects held in museum and library collections worldwide as well as mural paintings and sculptures located in situ in the cave shrines. Bringing these two bodies of material into conversation with one another enables a nuanced understanding of Dunhuang as a religious and artistic center, focusing in particular on the Mogao caves.

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Ecofeminism, Religion, and the Arts in the West  

Jane Caputi

Since its inception in the 1970s, ecofeminism has maintained a persistent and extensive engagement with the arts. This manifests itself when theorists take up analyses of ecologically relevant worldviews enmeshed in works from the fine arts, literary texts, musical compositions, political activist art, and popular and commercial arts. Many writers, composers, and artists also produce ecofeminist works (implicitly or explicitly). The curator of the 2020 exhibit ecofeminism(s), Monika Fabijanska, lambasted “Western patriarchal philosophy and religions” that legitimate both misogyny and ecocide. In her view, “the foundation of ecofeminism is spiritual feminism, which insists that everything is connected . . . nature does not discriminate between soul and matter.” In the branch of ecofeminism that pays close attention to spirituality and religion, some seek to reclaim and/or generate an ecofeminist theology, often by invoking a non-heteropatriarchal and decolonial understanding of Mother Nature/Mother Earth as the original terrestrial force/source. This force/source contains female, male, and everything else, and holds powers of creation, destruction, transformation, and rebirth. Art historian Mary Garrard observes that Western culture demoted Nature from a “power” to an “environment.” Arguably, this has been to eliminate a rival, as the ruling notion of God is purely male, a father, heavenly, transcendent, the sole and omnipotent creator, and, as prophesied in the New Testament, the ultimate righteous destroyer of the elements and Earth. Ecofeminism has evolved to become more pointedly anti-essentialist, intersectional, and decolonial as it makes connections between men’s violence against women (including both trans and cis women) and other marginalized peoples and the treatment of land, animals, plants, and elements. Ecofeminist theorists and artists demand total social, political, and spiritual transformation. Many also acknowledge that the active and intelligent life force/source (sometimes called Mother Nature/Mother Earth) is changing irrevocably in response to the egregious actions of some humans. What is especially apparent in the fusion of ecofeminist and Afrofuturist perspectives is that the exigencies of the current environmental crisis demand awareness that nature is and always has been the “power,” including the power that is understood as God.

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Exhibitions and Displays of Religious Art  

Maia Wellington Gahtan

Exhibitions and displays of religious art have been an integral part of religion since the manufacture of the first religious objects and the adornment of the first sacred places. Growing more complex and varied with time, such manifestations within religions provided models for art exhibitions associated with academies, galleries, museums, and other institutions with secular purposes by the mid-18th and 19th centuries. Typically organized around the works of an artist, a group of artists, art academies, or the holdings of private lenders, such exhibitions included works with both sacred and secular subjects. Exhibition design drew on the shapes and materials of the works, privileging formal qualities over meanings, including any religious content, even for works that had once belonged to sacred settings but had migrated to private collections. The final decades of the 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized by both exhibitions organized by religious authorities for the general public and exhibitions of specific genres of sacred art organized by museums and galleries. These, together with international exhibitions and World’s Fairs which showcased non-Western religious objects, helped form the modern notions of material religion that would find voice in the exhibitions of recent decades which have focused on particular faiths in geographical, historical, cultural, and iconological terms. These exhibitions have addressed the major religions of the world, especially Christianity and Islam, in both multi-faith and single-faith contexts. Input from practitioners and source communities at the planning and installation stages, as well as for public programming and events, has helped ensure greater authenticity in the displays and encouraged a movement away from considering religious objects exclusively in terms of art.

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Faith and Devotion: Reading the Ceramic Architectural Programs of the Baroque  

Rosário Salema Carvalho

In Portugal, the use of azulejos (glazed ceramic tiles) in architecture has a long history, extending uninterruptedly from the late 15th century to the present 21st century. For more than five centuries, the azulejo reinvented itself periodically to meet the demands of different historical periods, and one of its most expressive transformations took place in the Baroque period (1675–1750). Baroque azulejos stand out not only for the almost exclusive use of blue and white painting, but above all for the exploration of narrative programs, which were displayed in vast ceramic walls. These decorations covered the interiors of different buildings, but mostly churches. The use of azulejos, dominating the interiors or in connection with other arts, was instrumental in creating a unique spatial form, which echoed Baroque spirituality by appealing directly to the senses and exploring the brightness and color of the tiled surfaces within majestic and lusciously decorated settings. But the azulejo was also a medium for religious painting and, as such, a vehicle for the doctrine and values of the Counter-Reformation, which were dominant at the time. Therefore, these ceramic architectural programs resort both to devotional and visual discourses. On the one hand, azulejo compositions relate to central aspects of Christian faith and liturgy, and particularly to the religious discourse and practice of the Baroque period. On the other hand, their visual features add new layers of meaning, mostly related to the organization of azulejos within a church’s architecture, the frames and inspirational sources, as well as issues linked with the creation and running of azulejo workshops.