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The Sacred Gaze

Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice

David Morgan (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 333 pages
ISBN: 9780520243064
May 2005
$34.95, £27.95
"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 Gaze discusses 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 Gaze is a vital introduction to the study of the visual culture of religions.
List of Illustrations
I. Questions and Definitions
1. Defining Visual Culture
2. Visual Practice and the Function of Images
3. The Covenant with Images
II. Images Between Cultures
4. The Violence of Seeing: Idolatry and Iconoclasm
5. The Circulation of Images in Mission History
III. The Social Life of Pictures
6. Engendering Vision: Absent Fathers and Women with Beards
7. National Icons: Bibles, Flags, and Jesus in American Civil Religion
Select Bibliography
David Morgan is the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Professor in Christianity and the Arts, and Professor of Humanities and Art History in Christ College, Valparaiso University. He is author of several books, including Visual Piety (California, 1998) and Protestants and Pictures (1999), and coeditor with Sally M. Promey of The Visual Culture of American Religions (California, 2001).
“David Morgan’s new book is a benchmark study, an innovative and insightful approach to the importance of images in religion, the way we look at them and the ways we have been historically conditioned to see them. . . . The work provides enough coverage to make it a true study of the visual culture of religious belief, especially that of 19th-century America, and one that adds significantly to our understanding of the power of the visual.”— Art NewspaperArt Newspaper
"The work presented in this book is very important. It offers a useful bridge between art history and religious studies, opening up the insights of each to the other. By offering a workable set of analytical categories to be used in studying religious images, Morgan's excellent scholarship promises to advance the current move toward more sophisticated understandings of religious material culture by leaps and bounds."—Jeanne Halgren Kilde, author of When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America

"The Sacred Gaze is a seminal book—it goes further than anything else I know of in placing religious aspects of the field on a firm foundation of scholarship. Morgan has almost single-handedly defined the subfield of religious visual culture studies, and the present volume moves the conversation to an impressive new level."—Jay D. Green, Professor of History, Covenant College

"The Sacred Gaze is of fundamental importance for the relations between images and religious belief, and is a major contribution to the burgeoning field of visual studies. Morgan's wide-ranging book moves from the contested status of images between cultures, to the history of current American attitudes towards them. A notable achievement."—David Freedberg, author of The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response

"This book is a tonic. It's just what visual studies needs: a sensible, ecumenical, interdisciplinary, multicultural consideration of the place of visuality in religion, and the place of religion in all images. It should help start conversations that can go back and forth between the secularized debates of the university and the religionist discourse that still predominates outside it."—James Elkins, author of The Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art

"David Morgan makes a compelling case for the importance of visual evidence in the study of religion, and he offers useful suggestions about how to interpret that evidence. I don't know of a better introduction to religion and visual culture."—Thomas A. Tweed, author of Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion

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