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Mystical texts and the visual arts have contributed immeasurably to shaping individual and collective conceptions of the spiritual in modern and postmodern culture. By integrating rigorous textual analysis with direct experiential practices, we will bring a multifaceted approach to bear on the relationship between aesthetic, intellectual and mystical creativity—that is, between the often conflicting domains of spiritual experience, intellectual analysis, and beauty—in order to gain insight into the ways in which these distinctive yet overlapping modalities of knowledge have integrally shaped developments in high culture, sacred practice and visual representation. Drawing on the combined methodological perspectives of Art History and Religious Studies, we will examine the ways in which the contemplative and experiential practices of museum viewing, ritual performances, trans-cultural encounter and focused reading and writing activities can all serve as powerful acts of human self-creation.

Abstract This article is an ethnography of the private performance of the five daily prayers of Islam among a group of middle class, educated women in Tehran. It goes beyond the public and formal spheres to explore religious experience in everyday life. What happens in a ritual when performed alone, without a public? I argue against the prevalent notion that repetition renders the formulas of rituals meaningless. Instead, over time, there is a proliferation of meanings emerging as a result of the undermining of the formality of the text by repetition. The ways in which creativity is exercised are analyzed in answer to the question of what makes one prayer session more satisfying than another—what is an efficacious salat? I argue that the length of time the prayers have been performed, the age of the reciter, and the literate practices of reading and debate are crucial in understanding how this ritual is brought to life by its practitioners.
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