I should begin with a word about my own position. I see myself as standing both inside and outside a number of conventional academic fields of study, as my work occupies–to use an architectural metaphor–the grout” or cement filling between the “bricks” of several instituted areas of inquiry. My professional training and experience are, in a sense, elsewhere. So it is from elsewhere” (or perhaps several elsewheres) that I am writing. what follows is a deconstructive reading of some fundamental conundrums in religiosity and in artistry, and my paper will constitute a series of provocations for discussion. Such questions are themselves of very great antiquity in the western tradition–a situation that problematizes any claim that a criticism of religion in relation to artifice and artistry is a recent “modern” phenomenon.

A contemporary critique of these issues is necessarily complementary to what religiosities (and artistries) mask, refuse, deny, or repress, namely their own ghosts or hidden and contrary suppositions. of course any provocation is part and parcel of what it ostensibly provokes, so perhaps all I mean to signal by these preliminary observations is a certain topological mode or method of reading. I have tried to highlight several of the most pressing dilemmas common to reli- giosities of various different kinds, and I’ve condensed my observations into a few basic theses, theses intended quite explicitly as provocations to discussion.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), Ecstasy of St. Teresa, (1647-1652).

First Thesis (First Provocation)

All modes of religiosity may be distinguished by being either ambivalent, amnesiac, or duplicitous with respect to the fabricatedness of their own fabrication; their own artifice or artistry.

There are a number of implications or corollaries that appear to follow from this, chief among them being:

a. Religiosities are responses to circumstances perceived as prior or pre-existing or determinant: as the products or effects of some condition or experience.

b. Religiosities are subsequent to and presuppose or “art”religion is an artistic or aesthetic practice) which suggests further that

c. Artistry and religiosity are either alternative responsesto some common or determining condition or alternative ambivalences or amnesias with respect to some prior problem or circumstance.

Religiosity and artistry may thus be seen either as different points on the same continuum rather than points in different conceptual spaces, or as indeterminate or circumstantial and situational products and effects of each other, or both. Some of these corollaries will be examined in some detail as we proceed.

Steve Mccurry, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 1998.

Second Thesis (also concerning the epistemological status of religiosities) Religiosities are fundamentally invested in the problematic of representation to the extent that they constitute positions taken with respect to what might be called the rhetoric, syntax, or semiology of signification: the nature of the relationships (structural and ethical) between an object or event and its assumed cause: the nature, so to speak of what it means to “witness.”

In the case of most religious traditions, and especially of the various alternative monotheistic religiosities, this has normally entailed a declaration of an ontological dualism, and in particular a posited opposition between what might be termed “materiality” and “immateriality.” The positing of a dualistic ontology whereby a “material” world is contrasted with an “immaterial” or “spiritual” and “transcendent” world is not, however, an opposition between two equal states or modes of being, but is rather marked by a hierarchy of value, whereby one realm–the spiritual or immaterial is (normally unquestionably) taken as transcendent and primary, or even as the origin or cause of the world of materiality. The material world is seen as the product and effect of transcendent, immaterial forces. The “material/immaterial” dualism is of course not neutral but is already articulated from the rhetorical perspective of religious faith-systems themselves– a function of religionist categories.

Further Reading