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The Sacred Gaze

The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice

David Morgan
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 333
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  • Book Info
    The Sacred Gaze
    Book Description:

    "Sacred gaze" denotes any way of seeing that invests its object-an image, a person, a time, a place-with spiritual significance. Drawing from many different fields, David Morgan investigates key aspects of vision and imagery in a variety of religious traditions. His lively, innovative book explores how viewers absorb and process religious imagery and how their experience contributes to the social, intellectual, and perceptual construction of reality. Ranging widely from thirteenth-century Japan and eighteenth-century Tibet to contemporary America, Thailand, and Africa,The Sacred Gazediscusses the religious functions of images and the tools viewers use to interpret them. Morgan questions how fear and disgust of images relate to one another and explains how scholars study the long and evolving histories of images as they pass from culture to culture. An intriguing strand of the narrative details how images have helped to shape popular conceptions of gender and masculinity. The opening chapter considers definitions of "visual culture" and how these relate to the traditional practice of art history. Amply illustrated with more than seventy images from diverse religious traditions, this masterful interdisciplinary study provides a comprehensive and accessible resource for everyone interested in how religious images and visual practice order space and time, communicate with the transcendent, and embody forms of communion with the divine.The Sacred Gazeis a vital introduction to the study of the visual culture of religions.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93830-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In a modern guidebook on living and dying, the Tibetan Buddhist master Sogyal Rinpoche identifies three methods of meditation that he has combined into a single practice for bringing body, speech, and mind into alignment in meditation—the use of an object such as an image, reciting a mantra, and concentration on breathing, called “watching the breath.” Learning to meditate is essential, “for it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well.”¹ Each of these methods withdraws the...


    • CHAPTER 1 Defining Visual Culture
      (pp. 25-47)

      Whatever else they are good at, academics are inexhaustible generators of nomenclature. Perhaps this is because scholars live in worlds of discourse. They operate within literatures, historiographies, traditions of thought about the subjects they study. And they forge new terms and conceptual schemes to interpret and reinterpret those long, meandering histories of thought about thought.Visual cultureis yet another, recently devised term. Whether it will enjoy enduring usage remains to be seen. Whether it deserves a try, however, is something worth immediate consideration.

      In a characteristically oracular passage that has been quoted so often it has become a sort...

    • CHAPTER 2 Visual Practice and the Function of Images
      (pp. 48-74)

      Seeing is a sacred practice in many different religions. More than a merely passive means of receiving sensory impressions of the physical world, seeing is a selective and constructive activity, a way of making order, of remembering, and of engaging people and the material world in relationships. In Hinduism, for example,darshanis the ritual act of seeing and being seen by the deity, an encounter that occurs within the gaze of a statue or image in the temple or at a shrine. But Hinduism, like all religions, is complex and varied. In fact, a range of attitudes toward images...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Covenant with Images
      (pp. 75-112)

      In the art romanceThe Marble Faun,Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of American Protestant art pilgrims in nineteenth-century Rome, the narrator articulates a fundamental principle of art: “A picture, however admirable the painter’s art, and wonderful his power, requires of the spectator a surrender of himself, in due proportion with the miracle which has been wrought.” Extending the religious metaphor in a novel that explored the rocky transition from traditional piety to the larger Victorian canvas of European culture and the history of art, the narrator continued: “Let the canvas glow as it may, you must look with the eye of...


    • CHAPTER 4 The Violence of Seeing: Idolatry and Iconoclasm
      (pp. 115-146)

      When an idol falls, its place does not long remain vacant. A rival is often quickly erected. Or as Stanislaw Lec more poignantly advised aspiring iconoclasts: “When smashing monuments, save the pedestals—they always come in handy.”¹ The history of religion is in no small way a history of cultural rivalries. Religious belief has a powerful way of becoming the preeminent banner or symbol in whose name people organize themselves inwardly and understand their relations with other groups outwardly. Religion, in other words, is one means by which a group’s “inner” and “outer” are defined and maintained. In the history...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Circulation of Images in Mission History
      (pp. 147-188)

      If religious images help to organize human experience into an ordinary regime of enduring order, they can also operate to subvert the ordinary as peoples encounter one another, their visual covenants clashing as their respective constructions of time, space, and authority lock in ideological conflict. Sometimes the result is quite creative. In any case, new images and covenants are born in this time of crisis when things that seemed certain and secure come to appear less so. Catherine Albanese’s notion of “extraordinary religion,” discussed in chapter 2, applies very well to the use of images to challenge rival gods as...


    • CHAPTER 6 Engendering Vision: Absent Fathers and Women with Beards
      (pp. 191-219)

      Seeing is not only a biological ability in human beings but also a learned and historically constructed behavior. Cultures equip their members with visual means through which and in which they may see what they take to be real. One of the most important filters through which people see themselves and others is gender, which, like vision, is both biological and cultural. This chapter demonstrates by means of a case study the way in which seeing gender in American visual culture engendered vision.

      In chapter 2 religion was defined as a powerful form of boundary-marking and reinforcement. Gender is perhaps...

    • CHAPTER 7 National Icons: Bibles, Flags, and Jesus in American Civil Religion
      (pp. 220-256)

      Apologists of modern nationhood are often fond of regarding their nations as expressions of divine will, natural law, or the destiny of a particular people. Whatever their origin, nations are a modern form of cultural and political ordering that is widely experienced as bearing some manner of religious significance, often in the form of a civil religion. Aligning state and cult is, in fact, quite ancient. But the polity of the nation (not to be confused with the state) is probably not much older than the seventeenth century. This final chapter examines the national cultus, the religion of a national...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 257-260)

    What do scholars stand to gain from the visual study of religion? A tough-minded answer to the question might go like this: Unless scholars are able to show that they learn something more about religion by understanding how it happens visually, the visual culture of religion has little to recommend it as a field or method of study. If that is so, what sort of visual evidence will contribute to the study of religion?

    In chapter 6 I argued that the absence of fathers from domestic formation is visually registered in tracts, religious instructional materials, and Christian advice literature. Historians...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 261-304)
  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 305-310)
  12. Index
    (pp. 311-318)