Today I received a new copy of Huston Smith’s classic, The Illustrated World’s Religions. Must have left my old copy at the chaplaincy in California. A reader asked for good resources for a basic introduction to comparative religion. I referred him to Huston Smith’s work since I often used selections in my religion classes.
Opening the book this time I was immediately struck by what the author says in the Preface:
“[The] present edition adds the world’s religious art. This makes the book more faithful to its subject, for during most of human history people have found their sacred texts in song and dance and paintings and stone more than in writing.”
I find that particularly interesting since it draws attention away from the focal point of most faith: the “holy writings” or scriptures. When the “text” is art, how does that influence the shape of religion and religious belief?
Worth asking and exploring.
One last observation. In his Preface, Smith goes on to say: “what distinguishes sacred art from other varieties is the window it opens to another world–a world that is vaster, stranger, more real, and more beautiful than the world we normally encounter.”
Here is a clear point of departure I have with religion in any form. I would much rather heed the philosophy of John Muir and others like him who found this world, our only world, the most strange, real and beautiful of any imagined “other world.”
If we’re talking about Art, then everything is Art in Nature. Our human artistic creations are a part of that, whether we make something beautiful or not, in your eyes or mine.