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Exploring Aniconism: IAHR 2015 Panel Review

Mikael Aktor reviews the panel he co-organised on Aniconism at the 2015 IAHR World Conference in Erfurt, Germany.

Anicionic objects from different religious traditions together form a broad category of religious material sources. In fact, it seems both too broad and incoherent. It includes clearly recognizable depictions of wheels, fish, phalli, unmanufactured objects and elements in the natural environment such as unwrought stones, trees, rivers and mountains, fashioned objects, such as stelai and logs, as well as empty spaces, such as vacant seats, and empty rooms. While all of these objects are described as ‘aniconic’ at least in some religious traditions, they differ dramatically in their religious agency and manner of mediating divine presence. A South Asian river can be a Hindu goddess, while it is hardly an image of her. Similarly, a black meteorite could be described as Cybele the mother goddess, yet it does not seem to articulate a vision of the divinity’s imagined appearance. At the same time, a river and a stone have markedly different physical and visual relations to their viewers and worshippers as well as the deities to which they are linked. In order to explore the range of aniconism, Mikael Aktor and Milette Gaifman organised a panel at the 21st World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR)to discuss these questions.
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New Images for New Publics: Oral-Visual Narratives of the Telangana

Chandan Bose analyses an oral-visual tradition of South India to argue that the efficacy of such storytelling is located not just in linguistic practice but in a performative ‘doing’. That it is through acts of performance and participation that storytellers, audience and practice forge relationships with each other, invent new traditions, and confront the tensions of contemporary conditions of production and reception.

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The ‘Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’ as Mission, Monument and Memorial

Urmila Mohan explores the monumental “Temple of the Vedic Planetarium” being built in Mayapur, West Bengal, India, as an example of mediation that intertwines the expansionary goals of Iskcon and the aspirations of local devotees and non-devotees. The temple/planetarium is critiqued for its ability to missionise by providing a compelling spiritual experience and view of a Vedic universe.

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