Beyond the Second Commandment: Image Wars in Past and Present

Brandon Schneider

Beyond the Second Commandment: Image Wars in Past and Present

November 19, 2015 / 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm / Add to Google
370 Dwinelle Hall

Birgit Meyer, Professor of Religious Studies, Utrecht University

The point of departure of this presentation is that human relations to images are culturally constituted and are central to the politics and aesthetics of world making. Specific cultural settings shape what images should depict, how they are viewed, where they are displayed, how they are valued, which emotions they arouse, and how and where they are produced and reproduced. Images, and human attitudes towards them, are formidable entry points for cultural analysis devoted to understanding the constitution of worlds of shared life experiences and clashes between such worlds. Religions play a central role in shaping human-image relations, and that has longstanding repercussions for the secular spheres. The so-called Abrahamic traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have a complex and, uneasy relation to images of the sacred. Attitudes and stances developed in the past and within these religions all play their part in the current images wars, and the debates caused by them. This talk will look at the current debates and controversies regarding images in the context of a broader horizon. Partly based on her historical and ethnographic work on Christianity, images and the imagination, in frontier zones of Western outreach in Ghana, Meyer will proceed by succinctly addressing I) image wars in European history (mainly in the aftermath of the Reformation) and the spread of mission societies into the non-Western world, and II) the ambiguity of images, so as to III) situate, by way of conclusion, current struggles over images in a global, culturally and religiously diverse setting. (Meyer)

Birgit Meyer (PhD anthropology, 1995) is professor of Religious Studies at Utrecht University. She has conducted anthropological and historical research on missions and local appropriations of Christianity, Pentecostalism, popular culture and video-films in Ghana. Her publications include Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana (Edinburgh University Press, 1999), Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and Closure (edited with Peter Geschiere, Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), Magic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and Concealment (edited with Peter Pels, Stanford University Press, 2003), Religion, Media and the Public Sphere (edited with Annelies Moors, Indiana University Press), Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion and the Senses (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality (co-edited with Dick Houtman, Fordham UP, 2013) and Sensational Movies: Video, Vision and Christianity in Ghana (California University Press, 2015). She is vice-chair of the International African Institute, a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, and one of the editors of Material Religion.

Photo: Ed van Rijswijk