Art and the Religious Impulse

Art and the Religious Impulse

Art and the Religious Impulse

Art and the Religious Impulse


This collection explores the relationship between religion and arts and challenges presumptions held in society about these two fields. Topics covered include church architecture, folk art, nineteenth-century classical music, contemporary fiction, recent film, performance art, and the battles over public funding of the arts. The essays also explore the religious impulse in contemporary society and argue that, while the religious impulse has become deinstitutionalized, it has suffered no significant diminution of importance. This leads to two conclusions. First, in such an environment, the investigation of religion can no longer be limited to institutional settings but must include all aspects of human activity. Second, it explains how seemingly secular forms of human expression can be viewed as religious threats to traditional religious worldviews. If religion in contemporary society is to be understood at all, it must be explored in all aspects of human activity -- including the arts.


What is to become [our world] must first be [created,] and
every creation has a paradigmatic model—the creation of the
universe by the gods.

—Mircea Eliade

IN the beginning, God created …] With these opening words, the sacred scriptures of both Judaism and Christianity proclaim the relationship between divinity and creativity. The first act of the deity is a creative one—God creates—and from that action the entirety of the cosmos comes into being. Indeed, this relationship is not limited simply to these two religious traditions: note David and Margaret Leeming, [virtually all cultures have creation myths.] Each of these myths, which provides their respective cultures with a [sense of its particular identity,] also serves as [a symbolic model for the society's way of life, its world view.] As Leeming and Leeming conclude, this model manifests itself in a variety of ways within a society, including in its [ritual, culture heroes, ethics, and even art and architecture.]

Though it is likely that the Leemings add the [even] before [art and architecture] only to suggest the range of a religious worldview's impact on a culture, we should be careful not to be cavalier when we examine the relationship between religion and art. The Leemings themselves compare the role of the creation myth to the artistic impulse in the painter or poet as they explain how the process of retelling the creation myth works within a culture. Creation myths enable societies to see themselves [in relation to the cosmos,] and the basic stories generally follow a similar pattern regarding [the process by which chaos becomes cosmos, no-thing becomes some-thing.] They argue that the telling of creation myths (along with other religious myths), [like painting, singing, dancing, lovemaking, and eating,] is therefore not only a form of recreation, but . . .

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