Aesthetics and the making of religious collectivities
Timothy Carroll (UCL)
Alanna Cant (University of Kent)
SOAS Senate House - S312
Start time:
3 June, 2018 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel explores how the aesthetics of religious practice work to constitute religious collectivities through processes of community-making and boundary-making. Papers will consider the ways that material, symbolic, affective and bodily experiences work to define religious 'selves' and 'others'.

Long abstract:

In his discourse on the aesthetics of ritual, Bruce Kapferer (2005) examines the "dynamic logic of aesthetic processes that are variously realised through performance," which he suggests are "symbolically constitutive rather than expressive". Following his argument that "aesthetic processes draw human beings towards major moral issues that are at the center of their existence", this panel explores the links between the aesthetics of religious practice and the making and maintaining of collectivities. Within anthropology, aesthetics has been approached through the productive interplay of three main theoretical concerns: (a) the meanings and constitutions of elements such as style, form, colour and rhythm; (b) the captivating enchantment of objects and practices; and (c) concerns with particular sensory or embodied experiences of the material world. Howard Morphy (1989) has shown that it is through aesthetic experience that Yolngu people are able to encounter the ancestral dreaming, and we contend that this is also true in wider religious, spiritual and transcendent contexts. We invite papers that explore the ways that such aesthetic phenomena work to constitute religious collectivities through processes of community-making and/or boundary-making. Paper topics may include, but are not limited to: the making, use, or veneration of art-like artefacts; symbolic forms; ethics and aesthetics; performance and practice; aesthetics of place and space; mediation; objects, bodies and dress; the everyday versus spectacle; circulation and commoditisation; ritual and aesthetic orthodoxy or heresy (doing it right, doing it wrong); aesthetics in collective effervescence; anaesthetics; aesthetics in non-religion/secularism.