Past Program

Sep 04 - Sep 11, 1999

The Arts, Religion, and the Shaping of Culture


The relationship between religion and the arts is as old as human experience itself. Indeed for most of human history, the relationship was so close it was simply assumed – and practiced. In much of the world that relationship still remains, and even in the west it may be closer than first impressions suggest. The issues involved in understanding this relationship are fascinating in themselves; they also provide a means to grasp more fully the significance of both religion and the arts and their impact on culture at the end of the twentieth century.


This session will explore the ways in which religions in all parts of the world have used the arts to give expression to their fundamental beliefs and practices. The one- week seminar will be built around case studies in which pairings of particular religions and particular art forms will be studied in order to understand their influence on the shaping of contemporary culture. The role of music, architecture, dance, and the visual arts in a variety of religious traditions will be analyzed to arrive at a deeper understanding of the aesthetics of spirituality, the religious dimension of artistic expression, as well as the social and political controversies that arise from the interface between religion and the arts. Some of the related topics to be explored will include: religious institutions as patrons of the arts, spirituality as an inspiration for art, the relationship between art and blasphemy, and the politics of religious art. Given the rich diversity of religious and artistic traditions worldwide, faculty and participants will be drawn from throughout East Asia, the Asian sub-continent, the Middle East, Western and Eastern Europe, and the Americas.