Aesthetics of the Sublime: religious texts and rhetorical theory

15.–17.12.2012, International Workshop, Cairo

International workshop organised by the Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) and the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" (Heidelberg University).

The genuine and necessary connection between ritual and art (Braungart 1996), and thus between art and religion, recommends to look into the "aesthetic  response" (Iser 1978), i. e. the stimulation of imaginative and perceptive faculties brought about by religious texts. Religious texts in general display the impact of specific rhetorical (and poetic) traditions. European rhetorical theory relies widely on a Greek – especially Aristotelian – heritage. It evolved as an art of persuasion, its theory of affects became fundamental also for poetics. In the Arabic- Islamic tradition, rhetorical treatises concentrated on other genres, being particularly concerned with poetic much less with prose texts. Therefore, a differentiation between poetic and rhetorical theories is hardly applicable. This becomes even more evident in the Indian tradition, where no exact equivalent to European rhetoric exists but instead rhetorical aspects were taken up in poetics, most notable in its detailed elaboration of emotional states.

Regardless of these various backgrounds, rhetorical (and poetic) theories – from Antiquity to modern literary and aesthetic theories – are concerned with the question of "aesthetic experience", to use a modern term. Moreover, different traditions stand in contact, influencing one another. At the latest today, in a globalised world, hermeneutic approaches can no longer limit themselves to understanding contemporary texts against the background of an alleged tradition, but have to take into account their transcultural dimensions.

The purpose of the workshop is to discuss the concept of aesthetic response in religious texts in the context of the rhetorical traditions which inform them: such as sermons, prayers, religious narratives and chants. The focus will be on in-depth text analysis and theoretical reflection.

The workshop comprises three interlinked thematic panels:

a) rhetorical tradition and aesthetic response
… investigating approaches to the question of aesthetic response in different rhetorical traditions (Greek, Roman, Arabic and Sanskrit), highlighting differences and commonalities, relating aesthetic response to other concepts, such as models of persuasion and aesthetic identification. What is the role aesthetic response plays in rhetorical traditions, how is it conceptualised, how far have notions been adopted from other rhetorical traditions?

b) text functions and aesthetics
… focusing on the role aesthetic qualities play in religious texts and their treatment by rhetorical theories. Likewise, social functions of religious texts could be illustrated, such as cathartic experiences or criticism. Possibly, historical changes would be taken into account. What, e. g., is the role of poetry in sermons or other genres? How does the use of poetry relate to cathartic theories or persuasion? What are the reasons and consequences of an increased influence of Aristotelian theory in Islamic preaching since the end of the 19th century?

c) aesthetic and religious experience
… looking at the relation between aesthetic and religious experience on an abstract level. Following Kant, religious feelings can be treated as aesthetic ones. This forms the basis for reflections upon structural analogies of aesthetic and religious experience. What are the common conditions for these experiences and in how far are they displayed by the texts in question? Where and how have aesthetic theories been used to describe religious experience? What is the role of aesthetic identification in religious contexts?

OI Beirut