Aesthetics – 2016

2016 – Aesthetics and the Analytical Study of Religion
Trinity University

Friday, November 18, 2016 San Antonio, Texas



Pre-Workshop Refreshments & Check-In


Opening Remarks: Jens Kreinath, SORAAAD & Arbeitskreis Religionsästhetik


Method and Theory of the Aesthetics of Religion

Alexandra Greiser, “Aesthetics of Religion – What It Is, and What It Is Good For”

Sally Promey, Respondent (Statement)

David Walker, Moderator


Somatic Approaches to the Aesthetics of Religion

Jens Kreinath, “Somatics, Body Knowledge, and the Aesthetics of Religion”

Rebecca Raphael, “Disability, Aesthetics, and Religious Studies Method”

Deborah Green, ““In A Gadda Da Vida” (In the Garden of Eden)”


LUNCH and continued conversation


Sound and the Senses in the Aesthetics of Religion

Annette Wilke, “Sound Matters: the Case of Hindu India and the Sounding of Sacred Texts. An Applied Aesthetics of Religion

Jason Bivins, “Immersion, Transcription, Assemblage: On Sonic Impermanence and the Study ofReligion”

Ipsita Chatterjea, Moderator


Religious Diversity, Collective Cultural Agency, and the Question of Aesthetics

Birgit Meyer, “Religious Diversity and the Question of Aesthetics”

Josef Sorrett, “The Abiding Powers of AfroProtestantism”

David Morgan – Respondent (Statement)

4:35- 4:45



Media and Transmission in the Aesthetics of Religion

Jolyon Thomas, “Framing Religious Subjects in an Irreligious Place: Procedural and Ethical Hurdles in Studying the Religion of Japanese Manga and Anime”

David Feltmate, “Should I Laugh Now? The Aesthetics of Humor in Mass Media”

S. Brent Rodriguez Plate – Respondent (Statement)

6:00- 7:00

SORAAAD Reception

Aesthetics and the Analytical Study of Religion

A PDF of the program is available.

The coherence without apparent intention and the unity without an immediately visible unifying principle of all the cultural realities that are informed by a quasi-natural logic . . . are the product of the age-old application of the same schemes of action and perception.

Pierre Bourdieu, Logic of Practice, 1990: 13

Taste classifies, and it classes the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classification is expressed or betrayed.

Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction, 1984: 6

I . . . cannot directly perceive a worshipper’s experience of beauty, nor can he describe the actual feeling of beauty to me, but we can talk about the things that make something beautiful for him. In addition, as a participant observer, I myself can experience something as beautiful and compare notes, as it were, with him about what made it beautiful; I can then use ethnographic writing to try to transmit not only the interpretive worldview but also my own grasp of that beauty to the reader.

Omar McRoberts, “Beyond Mysterium Tremendum: Thoughts toward an Aesthetic Study of Religious Experience.” 2004: 200)


In its sixth year, SORAAAD, in partnership with the German Arbeitskreis Religionsästhetik, will focus on aesthetics as an analytical concept – and the deployment of sensory data – in the study of religion. We do so with two valences in mind. First, we ask: More than thirty years after Bourdieu’s statements on schemes of action and perception, and on taste as a classifier of social subjects, how does aesthetics function as an artifact of power and social designation? Second, in keeping with McRoberts’ assertion that aesthetics and sensation need to figure into our accountings of religious experiences: How do we deploy aesthetics as a valance of research design on religion? How do we broaden the capacity of social scientists to observe, analyze, and represent human sensation? This year, Birgit Meyer, Alexandra Greiser, Jason Bivins, Josef Sorett, Annette Wilke, David Feltmate, Jolyon Thomas, Rebecca Raphael, Deborah Green and Jens Kreinath will address aesthetics as both data and lens for the study of: religious pluralism and conflict, race and secularism, ritual, disability, sound, jazz, animation, and media. Sally Promey, David Morgan and S. Brent Rodriguez Plate will join the workshop as respondents.

Centering on the scholarly direction of the Arbeitskreis Religionsästhetik, the 2016 SORAAAD Workshop presupposes a fundamentally revised understanding of aesthetics, which is not confined to a philosophy of art or an elite ideology of beauty, but is rather conceptualized in holistic terms by referring to the Greek notion of aesthesis or sensory perception (Cancik & Mohr 1988). While coming to terms with the politics and cultural impacts of the legacy of aesthetics in the study of religion, the aesthetic approach to religion engages with semiotic and sensuous proposals and challenges theories of human agency and perception (Taussig 1992; Gell 1998). Elaborating on the methodologies and results of different disciplines, including literary studies, mimetic theory, and art history (Iser 1993; Gebauer & Wulf 1996; Belting 2003), it offers a more systematic, comprehensive, and inclusive framework for studying how religion is based on the sensory design of the human body and how different religions cultivate and discipline the ways in which humans perceive, evaluate, and make sense of their life-worlds. The scholars presenting at the workshop will explore: the history and theory of the aesthetics of religion; the study of sound and sight in the aesthetics of religion; aesthetic study of genres in transmission and commemoration of religious traditions; somatic approaches to the aesthetics of ritual efficacy; and media, emotion, and imagination in the aesthetics of religion.

In the study of religion, a field still occupied with texts and logocentrisms, this workshop asks how we can forge a more holistic approach to the aesthetics of religion that could systematically integrate aesthetic notation in ethnography, the collection of sensual data in structured interviews, visual analysis in sensuous scholarship, and perceptions of religious experiences mediated through discourse analysis? How can instances of reproducible visual, sonic, or even gustatory data sets allow us to develop parameters for critical analysis through comparison and contrast? How are aesthetic creation, imposition, and contestation meaningful for those we study?

“Aesthetics and the Analytical Study of Religion,” based around exemplary case studies, will be of interest to scholars who already employ social science and critical humanities research methodologies; to those who want to develop techniques to denaturalize aesthetics, or open up their work to recognizing, observing and communicating aesthetics components of the people, settings, and elements of their research; and to anyone who wants to rethink how aesthetics materialize, function, and are used to normalize specific power structures. The workshop will be particularly relevant for graduate students and scholars working in the following areas of research: history of religion, comparative religion, anthropology of religion, l’histoire des mentalités, conceptual history or historical semantics, art history, anthropology of the senses, ritual studies, spatial studies, museum studies, and gender studies.

Through this interactive work, we want to build bridges between the analytical study of religion and the aesthetics of religion. Re-energizing longstanding concerns about research design, we aim to join the analysis of sensory data with the sorts of questions the workshop has asked in years past with respect to canon, comparison, norms and values.

Jens Kreinath and Ipsita Chatterjea for the SORAAAD workshop with, David Walker, William Arnal, Rebecca Raphael, Randall Styers, Emma Wasserman, and Ed Silver.

Suggested Readings

Grieser, Alexandra. 2016. “Aesthetics”, in: Robert Segal and Kocku von Stuckrad (eds.): Vocabulary for the Study of Religion Vol. 1, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 14–23.

Kreinath, Jens. 2009. “Virtuality and Mimesis: Toward an Aesthetics of Ritual Performances as Embodied Forms of Religious Practice,” in: Bent Holm, Bent Flemming Nielsen, and Karen Vedel (eds): Religion – Ritual – Theatre. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 219–249.

Meyer, Birgit. 2009. “Religious Sensations: Why Media, Aesthetics and Power Matter in the Study of Contemporary Religion.” In Religion: Beyond a Concept, edited by Hent De Vries. Fordham University Press.

McRoberts, Omar M. 2004. “Beyond Mysterium Tremendum: Thoughts toward an Aesthetic Study of Religious Experience.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 595 (1):190-203.

Viladesau, Richard. 2013. “Aesthetics and Religion.” In The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts, edited by Frank Burch Brown. Oxford University Press.