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The development of web

The Practice and the Study of Art and Religion

The position of art—whether in the broadest frame of religious studies, or a specific category such as church history or history of Buddhism—locates a useful parallel in traditional distinctions between the study of religion and the practice of religion. Applicable to art as well as to religion, this dichotomy exceeds the categories of objectivity and subjectivity, for “the doing of” religion (or art) is physically and intellectually distinct from “the thinking about” religion (or art). The telling distinctions here include recognition of class, gender, and ethnicity as well as education and the revelation of the privileging of the study of religion, and of art and religion, as a Western scholarly phenomenon. The practice of religion is primarily sited in worship and religious education, or catechesis, in which art either iconographically or figuratively envisions established narratives to transmit religious ideas and practices, to convey religious truths and practices, and to promote worship individually and communally.

Historically, Western scholars, especially those intrigued by religious art, or what they may have identified as the interconnections between art and religion, emphasized the primary role that art played in religious practice, for example, an altarpiece or a bronze sculpture of Śiva Nataraja, and were unaware the fact that this mode of study could be read as restrictive, exclusivist, and parochial. Further interpretive difficulties arose as these scholars—including theologians like were committed members of the religious communities whose art was being examined. This style of scholarly investigations is better identified as theology and art, not art and religion. The significance of both the choice of category names and the order of their arrangement—that is, art and religion as distinct from religion and art—announces more than the focus of intellectual attention.