What role do our senses play in shaping our understandings of “religion” and “religious experience”?
One need only walk into a church, a mosque, a temple, a synagogue or any place of worship to experience the beauty and aesthetic power of religion. For millions of people around the world, understanding of religion is forged through personal experiences, often embedded in the sound, visual, and literary arts. What does it mean to call some art “religious”? How can interpreting an individual believer’s engagement with the arts help us see “religion” in a new light?
Using Islam as a case study, this course explores the multifaceted relationship between religion and the arts. We will learn to listen, see, and experience Islam by studying Muslims’ engagement with the literary arts (scriptures, panegyrics, love lyrics, epic romances, folk songs, and folk tales), as well as sound and visual arts (Quran and poetic recitations, music, dance, drama, architecture, calligraphy, and miniature painting). Weaving the voices of poets, writers and musicians with those of clerics, mystics and politicians, we will consider how the arts create a religious tradition and shape the worldviews of Muslim communities around the world.
Given the cultural diversity of Muslim societies, the course draws on material from regions beyond the Middle East, particularly sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia. This course assumes no prior knowledge of Islam.