When Art is Religion and Vice Versa. Six Perspectives on the Relationship between Art and Religion

Perichoresis 18 (3):3-20 (2020)
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Abstract

In the discussion of religion and art, it is quite difficult to exactly define what makes art ‘religious’. In this article, the author suggest six different perspectives in which a work of art—any work of art—could be interpreted as ‘religious’, as an embodiment of the complex relationship between art and religion. These perspectives are not mutually exclusive: one and the same art work could be approached on multiple levels at once. Nor do they disqualify other methodologies of studying art and religion. These perspectives provide conceptual windows to understand what people (could) mean when they discuss religious art. The six perspectives are: (1) material, (2) contextual, (3) referential, (4) reflexive, (5) ritual, and (6) existential. They vary from the more or less objective to the more subjective, and as such from artist-intended to viewer/listener-perceived (with or without help of clues provided by the artist and/or the object itself). The author illustrates who these different perspectives can vary in defining certain pieces of art as religious by using three very different case studies: the Isenheimer Altarpiece, one of Hugo Ball’s famous sound poems, and the digital game Child of Light.

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