Theorizing the Relation of Religion and the Arts.

I have recently worked in a number of related areas in the study of religion, completing two articles focusing on a reconsideration of the philosophy of religion. These articles concern a very broad reappraisal of the academic study of religion. However, growing from this is a more specific and focused topic of study concerning religion and the arts. Although a great deal has been written on the history of Christian art, and to a lesser extent on Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, or Confucian art, very little has been written on the theoretical relationship of religion in general—as a global human phenomenon involving the wide range of religious traditions and cultures—and the arts, involving all expressions of human creativity and skill definable as “art.” The twin trajectories of the study of religion—on the one hand the theological stance that expounds upon a pre-existing religious tradition, which, in the case of the Western Academy means primarily Protestant Christianity; and on the other hand the secular academic initiative towards a scientific study of religions—appear to have actively created a vacuum concerning the role of artistic creativity in the history of religions.

In fact, my experience teaching the course in “Religion and the Arts” clearly demonstrated that there is an enormous gap in our understanding of this relation reflected in a paucity of publications on the subject. The edited volume that I currently use for this course (Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, ed. Art, Creativity, and the Sacred) is the best one that I can find in the area. First published in 1984 and has gone through multiple editions, but it contains little about religions of the non-Western world and no clear theory of the relations of art, creativity, or religion.

I am researching for a potential volume on the subject, tentatively entitled Religion: The Art of Attention that would propose a scholarly theory relating the arts of all human cultures to religion in a way that explains their close relation. Support for the proposed theoretical relation of religion and the arts comes mainly, but not exclusively, from recent cognitive studies in religion, art, and attention. The specific intersection of these areas has yet to be explored. This project grows directly out of my research into the history and philosophy of religions, especially concerning the Romanian/American historian of Religions, Mircea Eliade, whose arch but imprecise writings on art and religion were anthologized in a single volume by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts.

During my sabbatical in the Spring of 2012 I began work on an explanation of my theoretical understanding of the relation of religion and art and to collect supportive evidence and documentation. Potential chapters include:

Introduction: Statement of the Problem

Partial Bibliography:

Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane, ed. (1984). Art, Creativity, and the Sacred: An Anthology in Religion and Art. New York: Continuum.

Aruz, Joan (2003). The Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

Barkow, Jerome H., Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby (eds.) 1992. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Boyd, Brian (2005). “Evolutionary Theories of Art.” In Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson (eds.). The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (Rethinking Theory). Chicago: Northwestern University Press: 147-176.
——— (2008a). “Art and Evolution: The Avant Garde as test case: Spiegelman in The Narrative Corpse.” Philosophy and Literature 32: 31-57.
——— (2008b). “Art as Adaptation: A Challenge.” Style 42:138-143.
——— (2009). On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Boyer, Pacal (1994). The Naturalness of Religious Ideas: A Cognitive Theory of Religion. Berkley: University of California Press.
——— (1998). “Cognitive Tracks of Cultural Inheritance: How Evolved Intuitive Ontology Governs Cultural Transmission.” American Anthropologist 100: 876-889.
——— (2001). Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books.

Brennan, Marcia (2010). Curating Consciousness: Mysticism and the Modern Museum. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Brumfield William C. (2008) Christianity and the Arts in Russia. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bruya, Brian, ed. (2010). Effortless Attention: A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bulbulia, Joseph, Richard Sosis, Erica Harris, Russell Grenet, Cheryl Grenet and Karen Wyman, eds. (2008). The Evolution of Religion: Studies, Theories, and Critiques. Santa Margarita, CA: Collins Foundation Press.

Dissanayake, Ellen (1988). What is Art for? Seattle: University of Washington Press.
——— (1992). Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes from and Why. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
——— (2000). Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Dutton, Denis (2009). The Art Instinct. New York, MY: Bloomsbury Press.

Eliade, Mircea (1986). Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts. (ed. Diane Apostolos-Cappadona.) New York: Crossroad.

Gell, Alfred (1998) Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hogan, Patrick Colm (2003). Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts. New York: Routledge.

Jaeger, C. Stephen (2012). Enchantment: On Charisma and the Sublime in the Arts of the West. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Khan, Hazrat Inayat (1996). The Mysticism of Sound and Music. Shambhala; Revised edition.

Lehrich, Christopher (2011). “Overture and Finale: Lévi-Strauss, Music, and Religion.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 305-325.

Luhmann, Niklas (1984). Religious Dogmatics and the Evolution of Societies, translated with an introduction by Peter Beyer, New York and Toronto: the Edwin Mellen Press.
——— (2000). Art as a Social System. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

McGilchrist, Iain (2009). The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Mithen, Steven (1996). The Prehistory of the Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science. London, UK: Thames and Hudson.

Pyysiäinen, Ilkkya and Veikko Anttonen, eds. (2002). Current Approaches in the Cognitive Science of Religion. London and New York: Continuum.

Reid, Jennifer I. M. (2004). Religion and Global Culture: New Terrain in the Study of Religion and the Work of Charles H. Long. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Rennie, Bryan (2012). “The History (and Philosophy) of Religions.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 24-32.
——— (2011). “Fact and Interpretation: Sui Generis Religion, Experience, Ascription, and Art.” Archaeus: Studies in the History of Religions 51-74.
——— (2010) “After this Strange Starting: Method and Theory and the Philosophy of Religion(s)” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 22/2-3 (2010): 116-135.
——— (2009). “Myths, Models, and Metaphors: Religion as Model and the Philosophy of Science.” Religion 39/4: 340-347.
——— (2007). “Mircea Eliade: The Perception of the Sacred in the Profane, Intention, Reduction, and Cognitive Theory.” Temenos: Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 43/1: 73-98.
——— (2002). “Il n’y a pas un Solution de la Continuité: Eliade, Historiography, and Pragmatic Narratology in the Study of Religion.” ARC: The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University, 30: 115-137.

Root-Bernstein, Robert (1996). “The Sciences and Arts Share a Common Creative Aesthetic.” In The Elusive Synthesis: Aesthetics and Science, ed. A. I. Tauber. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 49-82.
——— (2000). “Art Advances Science.” Nature 407: 134.

Scharfstein Ben-Ami (2009). Art Without Borders: A Philosophical Exploration of Art and Humanity. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press.

Sperber, Dan (1975). Rethinking Symbolism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tooby, John and Lisa Cosmides (1995). “The Psychological Foundations of Culture.” In The Adapted mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Barkow, J. H., L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby (eds.) Oxford: Oxford University Press: 19-136.
——— (2001). “Does Beauty Build Adapted Minds? Towards an evolutionary theory of aesthetics, fiction and the arts.” Substance 30 (2001): 6-27.

Weisbuch, M., & Ambady, N. (2008). “Non-conscious Routes to Building Culture: Nonverbal Components of Socialization.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 15, 159-183. Reprinted in C. Whitehead (Eds.), The Origins of Consciousness in the Social World. Exeter, UK: Imprint: 159-183.

Wiseman, Boris (2007). Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology and Aesthetics. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wrangham, Richard (2010). Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Vásquez, Manuel (2010). More than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion. Oxford University Press.

Zunshine, Lisa, ed. (2010). Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Please see my publications and presentations for previous research


Please e-mail inquiries to:

Bryan Rennie