© 1999-00 John W. Dixon, Jr.
I N T R O D U C T O R Y _ S T A T E M E N T
What Makes Religious Art Religious?
In the nature of religion, there can be no definition of religion. Definitions can be accurate only to the epiphenomena of religion, not to religion itself. Without such a definition, there is no way of deciding when art is and is not religious.
It follows that, however necessary it may be, the academic study of religion (together with its inevitable journal articles, including this one) is impossible.
The accessibility of its objects makes the academic study of art a little, but only a little, more possible than the academic study of religion. There is a more agreement on why some objects are something we call art than there is on why a variety of acts, attitudes, beliefs, and symbols are something we call religion. Consequently, it is not possible to say why religious art is religious. The best we can do is define ways in which we might approach the answer.
The attempt to answer the unanswerable question divides in two:
These paragraphs, the title and the beginning of one of the papers to appear below suggests the problems of dealing with religion and art. For the scholar in art, religion provides subjects and programs for works of art. For the scholar in religion, art is a useful illustration of things and practices or expressions of religious feelings. All are legitimate enterprises; neither resolves the problem of how art can be, in itself, a religious act, or why it is that art has so often been a necessity for religious people.
There are three aspects of the problem: