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Overhearing: Hindu & Christian perspectives on artistry

Overhearing: Hindu & Christian perspectives on artistry
Emily K. Hearn


Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, St Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, UNITED KINGDOM.


This thesis is concerned with the hypothesis that an intellectual conversation between Christian and Hindu traditions on questions of aesthetic concern may not only prove mutually illuminating as such but also touch obliquely upon matters of religious and theological concern without exciting the defensive response often posed by more familiar strategies of inter-faith ‘dialogue’. It seeks to establish the existence of sufficient conditions for such a conversation within the respective traditions.

The Introduction considers the relevant model of ‘conversation’ distinguishing it from other forms of encounter between religious traditions. It proceeds by identifying three shared concerns: freedom and constraint, aesthetic experience and religious encounters, and the relationship between the material artwork and its significance.

The first three chapters address them by examining various elements in Hindu traditions, including a detailed treatment of the Śilpaśāstras, a comprehensive consideration of the concept of rasa and its relation to religious experience, and an exploration of the role of the senses in scriptural traditions, the importance of Form and the value of the art object as a devotional aid. Finally it outlines the notion darśan, of seeing and being seen by a deity through a material image.

The last three chapters address them by examining the work of Christian theologians including Dorothy Sayers on Art as Idea, exploring bequeathed traditions in iconography and the music of John Tavener, and expounding Tolkien’s category of ‘sub-creation’. It considers the work of David Brown, Richard Viladesau, John Ruskin, Frank Burch Brown and Abraham Kuyper who span a putative spectrum of equating aesthetic and religious experience at one end and strictly demarcating between them at the other end. It explores the relationship of the physical art object with its spiritual significance in the work of Dorothy Sayers, John Carey, Rowan Williams, David Brown and Trevor Hart.