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AMST 819 01 (10692) /HSAR722/RLST695/REL981
Visual Controversies: Religion and the Politics of Vision
Sally Promey
Vasileios Marinis
M 1.30-3.20 LORIA 258
Fall 2015 
 
This interdisciplinary seminar explores the destruction, censorship, and suppression of pictures and objects, as these acts have been motivated by religious convictions and practices, in medieval Europe and then in the United States from colonization to the present. In such episodes, religion does not operate in a vacuum but draws attention to other cultural pressure points concerning, for example, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Already in the third century in Europe, and as early as the seventeenth century in the geographic area that is now the United States, individuals and groups practiced a range of behaviors we might meaningfully, though often figuratively, label iconoclastic. This course focuses most specifically on the emergence of Christian art and architecture in dialogue (or competition) with Greco-Roman religions and Islam; and on variations of Protestant Christianity; while it also directs attention to case studies within Byzantine Orthodoxy, American Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism and looks to comparative situations and episodes of contention elsewhere in the world. Topics likely considered include the conversion of "pagan" temples into Christian churches in late antiquity; iconoclastic interventions on Christian floor mosaics in Palestine after the Muslim conquest; destruction of images during Byzantine Iconoclasm; attitudes toward images during the Protestant Reformation; American Puritan uses of a theology of figuration to justify genocide as an "iconoclastic" act in the Pequot War; Shaker constructions of elaborate visionary pictures as forms of "writing" rather than "art"; sculptor Rose Kohler's determination to define and regulate "Jewish art" in her work with National Council of Jewish Women; recent adjudication of the public display of the Ten Commandments or Christian nativity scenes; the Western contexts of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas; and international culture wars and the specific uses of "blasphemy" charges to restrict the visual practices of religions.

Prerequisite: permission of the instructors.