This article begins with a review of studies in perception and depth psychology concerning the experience of exposure to sacred artworks in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox contexts. This follows with the results of a qualitative inquiry involving 45 Roman Catholic, Eastern and Coptic Orthodox, and Protestant Christians in Canada. First, participants composed narratives detailing memories of spiritual experiences involving iconography. Then, in the context of a darkened room evocative of a sacred space, they viewed artworks depicting Biblical themes and interpreted their meanings. Stimuli included “Western” paintings from the Roman tradition—a selection from the Gothic, Northern Renaissance, and Renaissance canon—and matched “Eastern” icons in the Byzantine style. Spiritual experience narratives were analyzed in terms of word frequencies, and interpretations of sacred artworks were analyzed thematically. Catholics tended to utilize emotional language when recalling their spiritual experiences, while religious activity was most often the concern of Protestants, and Orthodox Christians wrote most about spiritual figures and their signifiers. A taxonomy of response styles was developed to account for participants’ interpretations of Western and Eastern artworks, with content ranging from detached descriptions to projective engagement with the art-objects. Our approach allows for representation of diverse Christians’ interpretations of sacred art, taking into consideration personal, collective, and cultural-religious sources of meaning. Our paradigm also offers to enrich our understanding of the numinous or emotional dimension of mystical contact.
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DOI 10.1177/0084672420933357
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The Varieties of Religious Experience.William James - 1903 - Philosophical Review 12 (1):62-67.
An Aesthetic Approach to Byzantine Art.P. A. MICHELIS - 1955 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 14 (4):506-507.
Psychology and Religion.Carl Gustav Jung - 1939 - Philosophy 14 (54):248-249.

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