For 2009-10, we considered some of the complexities and challenges surrounding religion and art.

Religion has long played the role of both muse and censor for works of art. Music, drama, visual arts, and literature are among the most ancient of media for the staging of aesthetic and moral questions. Newer technologies—radio, film, video, digital media—have multiplied the avenues for artistic expression in public spheres while also fuelling religious imaginations. With this proliferation of popular media has come a proliferation of audiences and artists from diverse religious perspectives and communities. The RPS examined how the arts, both ancient and modern, have made a space for the public contestation of religious aesthetics, heretical expressions, and secular critique.

Religious silence in a communism context

“Religious silence in a communism context” by Nicolás Santiago Romero Escalada
CC by-nc-nd 2.0


Featured Events

Public Forum, March 26, 2010, 2:30-5:00 pm, Munk Centre, University of Toronto

In a discussion moderated by Professor Ato Quayson, Professor of English and Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, our distinguished panel reflected on religion, artistic expression, and the line between blasphemy and devotion..Guest speakers were Jonathan Goldstein, David Morgan Kajri Jain. (The director and screenwriter Patricia Rozema was also slated to appear: regrettably, due to illness, she was unable to attend.). The forum took place before a capacity audience in the Campbell Conference Facility at the Munk Centre, and was followed by an enthusiastic Q&A session.

The writer and broadcater Jonathan Goldstein captivated the audience with readings from his intelligent, humorous work. David Morgan, Professor, Duke University (Religion/Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies) spoke on “Enchantment, Disenchantment, Reenchantment”: the relationship between modernity and the influence of magical and religious ideas. Kajri Jain, Professor, U of T (Graduate Department of Art and the Centre for Visual and Media Culture) considered contemporary religious imagery in India and discussed how clashes between art and religion are engendered by a decidedly modern reconfiguration of Hindu religiosity.

The event was generously co-sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion, Centre for Jewish Studies, Department of Art and Cinema Studies Institute.

About the speakers

Jonathan Goldstein The host of CBC Radio One’s WireTap, Goldstein is a frequent contributor to Public Radio International’s This American Life, and a member of the Public Radio Exchange editorial board. He attended McGill University and then Concordia, where he completed a Master’s in creative writing. His work has appeared in The Walrus, The New York Times, GQ, the National Post, the Journey Prize Anthology, and The New York Times Magazine. In 2002 he was co-recipient of the Third Coast International Audio Festival’s Gold Prize and in 2004 he was awarded a Canadian National Magazine award for humour. Goldstein is author of the novel, Lenny Bruce is Dead and co-authored Schmelvis: In Search of Elvis Presley’s Jewish Roots. His 2009 book, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible!, reimagines the Bible’s greatest heroes and recasts them in witty contemporary parables, revealing the timelessness and poignancy of these most human of stories.

David Morgan Professor of Religion with a secondary appointment in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke University, David Morgan received his PhD at the University of Chicago in 1990. He has published several books and dozens of essays on the history of religious visual culture, on art history and critical theory, and on religion and media. His book The Lure of Images: A History of Religion and Visual Media in America (Routledge, 2007) is a history of mass-produced religious visual media from 1800 to the present in the United States. He edited and contributed to Key Words in Religion, Media, and Culture (Routledge, 2008). Earlier works include Visual Piety (University of California Press, 1998), Protestants and Pictures (Oxford, 1999), and The Sacred Gaze ( California, 2005). Morgan is co-founder and co-editor of the international scholarly journal, Material Religion, and co-editor of a book series at Routledge entitled “Religion, Media, and Culture”. Another project is an edited volume, Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief, a collection of essays by fifteen authors from around the world who investigate the relevance of materiality for understanding belief – not as creedal, propositional assent, but as embodied, material practice in several religious traditions.

Kajri Jain Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Graduate Department of Art and the Centre for Visual and Media Culture, Kajri Jain received her PhD at the Department of Art History and Theory, University of Sydney. Her academic interests include South Asian visual culture, contemporary art and cinema, with a focus on vernacular business cultures and contemporary religion. In 2007 she published Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian Calendar Art (Duke University Press), and has contributed to Beyond Appearances? Visual Practices and Ideologies in Modern India (Sage, 2003), Bollyworld: Popular Indian Cinema Through a Transnational Lens (Sage, 2005), and the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture (CUP). Awarded an SSHRC grant for her project “Highways to Heaven: Religious Spectacles and their Publics in Post-Reform India”, Jain was nominated for the 2009 Aurora Prize for outstanding new research. This work on the economies, aesthetics and iconopraxis of religious monumental art in India and the diaspora since the 1990s ties to broader questions of the political and commercial nature of “religious” artistic expression.

RPS Faculty Fellows’ Workshop, March 25, 2010

Four Faculty Fellows were appointed following the submission of proposals by University of Toronto faculty on the theme of Art and the Public Contestation of Religion. The aim of their work and discussions was to foster interdisciplinary conversations about how the arts, across diverse eras and traditions, have made a space for the public contestation of what counts as religion, heresy, and ‘secular’ critique.They presented their research at a one-day workshop, with international and U of T scholars acting as respondents. The workshop was a lively and stimulating event, attracting attendees from a wide variety of disciplines to participate in the discussions.

Fellows, topics and respondents

Elizabeth Legge (Art) “Tao, cabbala, Africa, rumour, Dada: the codings of Tristan Tzara”
Respondent: Prof. David Morgan, Department of Religion and Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies, Duke University

Andrea Most (English/Jewish Studies/Religion) “Theatrical Liberalism: Jews and Popular Entertainment in America”
Respondent: Prof. Paul Franks, Senator Jerahmiel S. and Carole S. Grafstein Professor of Jewish Philosophy, U of T (Philosophy/Jewish Studies/ Religion)

Jennifer Purtle (Art/Religion) “The City of Olives (Where There Are No Olives): Forms of Cosmopolitanism in Sino-Mongol Quanzhou”
Respondent: Prof. Patricia Berger, Department of the History of Art, University of California, Berkeley

William Robins (English/Medieval Studies) “Profanatory Moments in Late Medieval Literature”
Respondent: Prof. Seth Lerer, Distinguished Professor of Literature, Dean of Arts and Humanities, University of California, San Diego