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Art and Religion

January 11, 2010

I recently listened to a podcast by Camille Paglia, an American author, teacher and Professor of the Arts in Philadelphia. What I found very interesting about this talk was her argument that religion should be taught. Which is surprising, coming from someone who is an avowed atheist and feminist. I started listening with some skepticism, but you know what? By the end I could see her point and I actually think I agreed with some of what she had to say.

Essentially, she argues that an understanding of religion and their symbols is essential to understanding art and culture, in particular our cultural legacy and history. For example, you cannot understand much of the last two thousand years of art, up until the mid 19th century, without understanding the context of that art; and that context was for the most part religious. How can you understand the work of De Vinci or Botticelli without understanding the religious stories behind the work.

Now, personally I love much of the religious art work for its aesthetic beauty, despite its religious connotations and after listening to her arguments agree that you actually cannot understand a lot of what these painting, sculptures and drawings are doing unless you understand the stories behind them.

Overall, an interesting podcast none the less and certainly one that we should give thought to. With the ending of religious education in many schools, quite rightly done under the seperation of Church and State, much of this historical background is being lost. Maybe we should teach religion in a historical sense in schools? Not as part of ‘religious’ classes per say, but as part of an understanding of where our European heritage comes from (assuming of course that is your background). For a white European, understanding the background to Christianity is important (whether you a religious or an atheist) as it drove much of our history and politics. For example the 30 year war and the reformation, the flight of the English to the New World or the Spanish inquisition’s effect on scientific and artistic thought.

Maybe it should be taught as part of an art appreciated class?

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