Special Issue "Religion and Art: Rethinking Aesthetic and Auratic Experiences in 'Post-Secular' Times"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2018)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Davor Džalto

1. Associate Professor (Art History and Religion) at The American University of Rome, Via Pietro Roselli, 4, 00153 Roma RM, Italy2. President of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity
Website | E-Mail
Interests: religious philosophy; theory of creativity; theological aesthetics; history and theory of modern art

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Since the beginning of modernity, the relationship between art and religion has been a multifaceted one, characterized both by tensions and by productive exchanges.

One can claim that the modern concept of “art” (and the corresponding modern institution of art) has been one of the “secular religious” expressions of modernity. The language we have been employing to characterize the domain of “fine arts” and “aesthetic” experiences has been remarkably “religious.” We “meditate” in front of artworks; art allows us to experience a “spiritual” excitement; we make pilgrimages to see and venerate masterpieces in their (secular) sacred spaces (e.g., museums) that require a special decorum, inspiring the atmosphere of devotion.

This way (and following the lead provided by Walter Benjamin) we witness to an exchange between the “aura” of devotional (religious-aesthetic) objects, and the “aura” of (secular-religious) artworks. This exchange of “auratic” experiences can also be seen in switching the roles between traditional sacred spaces (churches) and modern (secular–sacred) museums: modernity turned museums into the places of silent warship of sacred objects (artworks), while churches became exhibition spaces, were most of the visitors go to see artworks, not to celebrate the Eucharist.

Most recent developments testify to yet another reversal. The increasingly busy museum spaces—with ever expanding use of technology and under the constant pressure of embracing “participatory culture”—are becoming less and less spaces of the old-fashioned quiet and focused aesthetic contemplation in front of a piece of art. Churches, on the contrary, are providing such a context, in which the traditional role of the museum is being widely practiced, outside the time of church services.

All of this presents us with the need to reconsider the question of the relationship between art, religion and the sacred. How can we think of the “aura” of (sacred) contexts and (sacred) works? How to think of individual and collective (aesthetic/religious) experiences? What to make of the manipulative dimension of (religious and aesthetic) “auratic” experiences? Is the works of art still capable of mediating the experience of the “sacred,” and under what conditions? What is the significance of the “eschatological” dimension of both art and religion (the sense of “ending”)? Can theology offer a way to reaffirm the creative capacities of the human being as something that characterizes the very condition of being human?

This Special Issue aspires to contribute to the growing literature on contemporary art and religion, and to explore the new ways of thinking of art and the sacred (in their aesthetic, ideological and institutional dimensions) in the context of contemporary culture.

Prospective authors are strongly encouraged to submit abstracts of their planned papers prior to submitting the full manuscript. Deadline for abstract submission is July 31, 2018. Complete abstract submission consists of proposed title of paper, abstract (250-500 words in length), name, affiliation and contact of the author. Abstract should be sent to [email protected] (with “Special Issue: Religion and Art” in the subject line).

Deadline for submitting complete manuscripts is December 31, 2018.

Prof. Dr. Davor Džalto
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charges (APCs) of 550 CHF (Swiss Francs) per published paper are partially funded by institutions through Knowledge Unlatched for a limited number of papers per year. Please contact the editorial office before submission to check whether KU waivers, or discounts are still available. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • art
  • religion
  • sacred
  • secular
  • aura
  • ideology

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Open AccessArticle “He Who Sees Does Not Desire to Imagine”: The Shifting Role of Art and Aesthetic Observation in Medieval Franciscan Theological Discourse in the Fourteenth Century
Religions 2019, 10(3), 205; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030205
Received: 13 February 2019 / Revised: 11 March 2019 / Accepted: 13 March 2019 / Published: 18 March 2019
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Abstract
In the thirteenth century, following Neoplatonic and Patristic trends, art and aesthetic experience were still treated as symbolic, as “vestiges” or “echoes” of the divine that lead us to it. However, in the early fourteenth century, attitudes to concrete sensory/aesthetic experience begin to [...] Read more.
In the thirteenth century, following Neoplatonic and Patristic trends, art and aesthetic experience were still treated as symbolic, as “vestiges” or “echoes” of the divine that lead us to it. However, in the early fourteenth century, attitudes to concrete sensory/aesthetic experience begin to shift and theologians adopted the model of concrete phenomenal observation of sensory experience. Concrete sensory-aesthetic experience is endowed with a much higher value: seeing something is not the same as imagining it, recalling it, or thinking about it. This new approach results in some heterodox views about our phenomenal experience and debates about the exact status of “intentional” (phenomenal) appearance. These debates lead to profound observations about the nature of aesthetic-sensory experience of art objects and a re-evaluation of the status of the artistic image, which is now seen as much more than the platonic “copy of a copy”. In other words, starting with the fourteenth century, theologians start to pay attention to concrete aesthetic (sensory) experience and use their observations to make conclusions about various cognitive and perceptual issues that could be relevant to a discussion of the divine. That is, quite separately from theoretical theological observations, art and aesthetic experience now provide independent approaches to the divine or spiritual via the experience of aesthetic wonder as a starting point. It is now our concrete experience of sensory and aesthetic objects that starts the train of thought, at times leading to some unorthodox conclusions that contradict the doctrine (such as the skeptical point of view). The intellectual shift in treating sensory and artistic objects in the fourteenth century invites some parallels with the current discussions of the experience of aesthetic wonder in “post-secular” thought. Full article
Open AccessArticle Contemporary Misticism: Recovering Sensible Aesthetics in an Age of Digital Production
Religions 2019, 10(3), 186; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030186
Received: 28 January 2019 / Revised: 3 March 2019 / Accepted: 6 March 2019 / Published: 12 March 2019
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Abstract
Materialist accounts of artistic development emphasize the ongoing revolution of media in the progress of history. Amongst the most popular accounts of modernity are Walter Benjamin’s essays on the relationship of photography to traditional art. His account of the loss of aura has [...] Read more.
Materialist accounts of artistic development emphasize the ongoing revolution of media in the progress of history. Amongst the most popular accounts of modernity are Walter Benjamin’s essays on the relationship of photography to traditional art. His account of the loss of aura has been subject to countless reinterpretations since its publication. The present essay addresses the contemporary production of a number of architects and artists whose work provides an interesting challenge to the Benjaminian account of the secularization of artistic ritual. The artists Adam Fuss, Vera Lutter, Alison Rossiter, Sally Mann, and others have recently been exploring photographic methods that contradict the Benjaminian account of the history of photography. They continue to explore techniques that Benjamin placed in the auratic pre-paper-print era, such as Daguerreotypes and photograms, as well as employing other more material/chemically based effects. Such artistic choices are often considered nothing more than a nostalgic reverie trying to stem the tide of materialist history, a flawed search for a lost aura of presence. However, when these works are set against the backdrop of contemporary digitized production and of the Dusseldorf School as well as most other contemporary photographers, these “retro” works stand as a critical counterpoint to our present seamless digital imperium. The soft and hazy effects of these works, what I am calling their misticism, occludes the particularity of digital bits of information in a search to connect to the material and the sensual, something denied by information-saturated technologies. Even within a materialist approach to history, there is room to view these architectural and artistic effects as critically productive rather than merely retrograde. The present essay argues for the timely relevance of contemporary retro-photographic techniques in fostering both a critical attitude and as evidence of attempts to recover a sense of spiritual presence. Full article
Open AccessArticle ‘… With a Book in Your Hands’: A Reflection on Imaging, Reading, Space, and Female Agency
Religions 2019, 10(3), 178; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030178
Received: 28 January 2019 / Accepted: 6 March 2019 / Published: 11 March 2019
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Abstract
The Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), created a series of singular paintings that might be identified as feminine soliloquies of solitude, silence, and space. Like seeing, reading is a mediated practice that occurs within the cultural matrix that promotes the appropriate social mores [...] Read more.
The Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), created a series of singular paintings that might be identified as feminine soliloquies of solitude, silence, and space. Like seeing, reading is a mediated practice that occurs within the cultural matrix that promotes the appropriate social mores of how to read, what to read, and who is able to read. Over the millennia of Western cultural history, books have been ambiguous symbols of power that have signified authorship, divine inspiration, wisdom, social position, and literacy. This led to the initiation of a singular Christian form of literature—the advice manual—specifically prepared for Christian women by Jerome (347–420), perhaps best known as one of the church fathers, translator of the Vulgate, and penitential saint. Simultaneously, an iconography of women reading evolved from these theological advisories, and paralleled the history of women’s literacy, particularly within Western Christian culture. The dramatic division that has always existed between male readers and female readers was highlighted during the Reformation when Protestant artists recorded the historical reality that readers were predominantly men of all ages but only old women, that is, those women who were relieved form the duties of childbearing and housekeeping, and who, as a form of spiritual preparation for death, meditated upon the scriptures. The magisterial art historian Leo Steinberg documented the tradition of what he termed “engaged” readers in Western art. Engaged male readers dominated numerically over female readers as reading, Steinberg determined, was not a primary, or perhaps better said appropriate, activity for women. Yet Vermeer’s portrayal of a young woman absorbed in textual engagement with a letter was an exquisitely nuanced visual immediacy of intimacy merging with reality that was highlighted by a refined light that illumined the soft, diffuse ambiance of this woman’s world. How Vermeer was able to focus the viewer’s attention on his female subject and her innermost thoughts as she is “lost in space” reading provides a starting point of this discussion of the images, reading, space, and female agency in Christian and in secular art. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Beyond Making and Unmaking: Re-Envisioning Sacred Art
Religions 2019, 10(2), 89; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020089
Received: 16 December 2018 / Revised: 18 January 2019 / Accepted: 28 January 2019 / Published: 31 January 2019
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Abstract
This paper engages with predominantly Eastern Orthodox thinkers in reassessing the conditions under which sacred art may be possible today. The sacred has both ontological and cultural aspects. An artwork is sacred, firstly, by virtue of partaking of transcendent realities; and secondly, by [...] Read more.
This paper engages with predominantly Eastern Orthodox thinkers in reassessing the conditions under which sacred art may be possible today. The sacred has both ontological and cultural aspects. An artwork is sacred, firstly, by virtue of partaking of transcendent realities; and secondly, by being embedded in a worldview which allows the work to be made and received as sacred. Drawing on the thought of Philip Sherrard, the paper suggests that current conditions are characterised by cultural forgetting and the loss of such a metaphysical worldview. This paper proposes that the possibilities of sacred art must be rediscovered from within the practices of particular arts; and that this goes hand in hand with the rediscovery of a sacred ontology and of a Christian understanding of freedom. The paper will follow David Bentley Hart in affirming a theological understanding of freedom—as the orientation towards, and the attainment of communion with, ontological goods—against the prevalent postmodern and ultimately nihilistic notion of freedom as spontaneous volition. It is crucial, therefore, to also identify those transcendent goods towards which art may fruitfully be directed. In this light, the paper proposes the need to revise our concepts of matter, form, and, above all, beauty. Full article

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Open AccessEssay Aesthetics, Music, and Meaning-Making
Religions 2019, 10(3), 215; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030215
Received: 13 February 2019 / Revised: 12 March 2019 / Accepted: 13 March 2019 / Published: 21 March 2019
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Abstract
The paper discusses the connection between rhythm and meaning based on Augustine’s De musica. This central topic is illuminated by the analysis of other particular aesthetic concepts that one can find in Augustine (such as sentience and desire, in its many [...] Read more.
The paper discusses the connection between rhythm and meaning based on Augustine’s De musica. This central topic is illuminated by the analysis of other particular aesthetic concepts that one can find in Augustine (such as sentience and desire, in its many Latin variations), as well as in reference to modern aesthetics. The result is the emergence of a relationship between aesthetics and the making of meaning in a co-creative operation between the divine and the human based upon an understanding of rhythm. Full article
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