Special issue on aesthetic experience and the holy

New special issue in Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift.

Metamorphosis: Chances and Risks in the Relationship between Aesthetic and Religious Experience (Jörg Lauster)

Approaching the numinous is something that has forged a deep bond between art and religion in European cultural history. In the wake of Kant and Schleiermacher, the German theologian Ulrich Barth elaborates four constitutive elements that distinguish both aesthetic and religious experience: Fullfillment of meaning, interruption, passivity, and transcendence. From Raphael to Caspar David Friedrich to Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, impressive examples can be found of how these dimensions oscillate between religion and art. Nevertheless, there is a limit: art can, but does not have to, approach the numinous. Art can act as an eye-opener, as a school of perception, as an initiation into what Robert Bellah calls “beyonding”; art can lift the veil that lies over our everyday perception. Religion lives from the numinous. The task of religion is to use symbolic, ritual, and conceptual means to present the mystery of the world and the prospect of salvation in a way that is so tangible and concrete that people can receive support and comfort for their lives from it.
The Numinous and the Art of Social Justice (Margaret Olin)

Numinous Edifices: Aesthetic Experiences of Sacred Spaces (Ola Sigurdson)

In this article, I explore the experience of the sacred with a focus on how it is experienced through spatial categories, particularly buildings. My main aim is to show how this is an aesthetic experience in the sense of what is intuitively given through our senses. My perspective is phenomenological in that I am above all concerned with how the sacred is experienced, not with how it should be interpreted. Thus, I discuss some of the classic writers on the phenomenology of religion – Mircea Eliade and Rudolf Otto – as well as some of their critics – Jonathan Z. Smith and, indirectly, Erika Fischer-Lichte. In their respective contributions to our understanding of how the sacred manifests itself in spatial edifices, I find both the classics and their critics constructive but ultimately wanting: while the classic approaches emphasize the power of the sacred and its verticality, the critics’ responses stress the performance of the sacred and its horizontality. My own contribution consists of a dialectic combination of the two: that the sacred is in some sense construed through the iterations of its performance does not exclude a sacred power that manifests itself through this very performance as a surplus. I conclude that there is a need for a phenomenology of numinous edifices that attends more concretely both to the actual materiality of the buildings in question, as this gives rise to different experiences of the sacred, as well as to the articulation and nuances of a multisensory experience of such buildings.

Presence and Power: Reflections on the Politics and Theology of Icons (George Pattison)

Contextualized by the use of icons during the current war in Ukraine, the paper finds a point of orientation in the veneration of the icon of Our Lady of Smolensk by the Russian army on the eve of the Battle of
Borodino, as portrayed by Tolstoy. Is this turning the icon into a battle-­flag? The use of icons in historic conflicts parallels the use of relics as a means of making present the power of the saint. Peter Brown shows that the cult of relics was closely associated with the sacralization of the burial site and dead body of the saint, democratized through the dismemberment of the saints’ bodies and the use of physical items associated with them, a process that icons take still further, making the saint present in every church and household. Showing the saint as both heavenly and earthly, the icon recalls human beings to their own finitude and mortality, as we see in Tolstoy’s image of Kutuzov kneeling before the icon of Our Lady of Smolensk. As expressive of human beings’ individual and collective incapacity in the face of the last things, this understanding of icons provides a defence against the misuse of the icon as a battle-flag or its instrumentalization as a means of political domination and manipulation