The Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture


Continuity and Change in the Arts, Religion and Culture:
Blasphemy, Buddhism and the Bible

Saturday, Nov 3rd, 2007 at
1865 Broadway at 61st Street, New York, NY

As Mark C. Taylor pointed out at a recent ARC program, religion and art share the sometimes contradictory work of insuring a measure of continuity from generation to generation, while at the same time fueling the engines of change.  These dual roles are carried out in a number of ways, and our program will focus on three striking examples. 
In the first instance, illustrated in Brent Plate’s book, Blasphemy: Art That Offends, the artist can confront established religion with a radically opposing view, forcing change.  In the second example, the contradictions can be negotiated within religion as images of the divine are created and then revised or destroyed. This process is illustrated in Pamela Winfield’s work with Zen iconography and iconoclasm. Finally, the evolving dance can play itself out against the backdrop of the wider visual culture as religion finds expression in a variety of art forms. This process is illustrated MOBIA’s exhibition of art inspired by the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Given the diversity of both art and religion today, it is clear that those of us who track this vortex of forces at the interface of art and religion, find ourselves drawn into the eye of a storm.  Not that we regret being caught up in this maelstrom. Indeed, we thrive within it.

-- Charles P. Henderson

Session 1: Blasphemy / Art that Offends
Brent Plate / Religious and Secular Authority meets the Visual Arts
“I will discuss my latest book, Blasphemy: Art That Offends, illustrating the ways blasphemy is a contested, fluid, and dynamic category of meaning that both establishes and challenges divisions between the sacred and the profane; this brief history provides a survey of the visual cultures of blasphemy, exploring juxtapositions between local artistic practices and hierarchical authority systems in Muslim, Jewish, and Christian histories.”

Session 2: Buddhism / The Art of Enlightenment
Pamela Winfield / What's Wrong With This Picture? 
Zen Iconoclasm Reconsidered
“Zen's reputation as an ascetic, minimalist strain of Buddhism is well documented.  Zen lore is full of ribald monks whose antinomian antics involved defecating on religious statuary and burning Buddhist images in order to demonstrate their grasp of emptiness and their detachment from reified notions of Buddhahood.  Yet Zen masters throughout history have hardly eschewed all imagery.  This talk investigates the thought and visual expression of Dōgen (1200-1253) the celebrated founder of Sōtō Zen Buddhism (one of the two largest Zen demoninations in Japan).  By exploring Dōgen's complex views regarding the subtle art of enlightenment, we might revise, update and nuance our view of Zen 'iconoclasm' in general.


prodigal.jpgSession 3: The Bible / The Art of Forgiveness

Exhibit: Images of the Prodigal Son
The biblical story from Luke 15 of the loving father who forgives his wayward son has inspired artists through the centuries. MOBIA has organized an exhibition dedicated to this theme, featuring works from the Renaissance to the present day. More than 70 prints, sculptures, and paintings by artists including Rembrandt, Pietro Testa and James Tissot provide a wide-ranging overview of the impact this theme has had not only upon the history of art, but upon culture generally.


Performance: Prodigal Songs
trioeos.jpgProdigal Songs, is a new song cycle commissioned by MOBIA for the ensemble, Trio Eos; it recasts the parable as stations of a meditation about waste and bounty, wealth and gratitude.  Less a pageant than a tapestry of voices, this gathering of seven lyric poems, with text by poet Tess Taylor and music by composer Robinson McClellan, asks what it means to enjoy the abundance of the world.  Using language both contemporary and ancient, the work explores ideas of taking and partaking, sensory pleasure, spiritual fulfillment, and the yearning to belong.

 The Program Schedule

9:15 am Registration and Refreshments

10:00 am Session 1:
Blasphemy / Art that Offends
S. Brent Plate

“Religious and Secular Authority meets the Visual Arts”

11:30 am Session 2:
Buddhism / Art of Enlightenment
Pamela Winfield

“What's Wrong With This Picture?  Zen Iconoclasm Reconsidered”

12:30 pm Luncheon and Discussion

2:00  pm Session 3: The Bible
The Art of Forgiveness

Exhibition Tour:
Images of the Prodigal Son

Performance: Prodigal Songs

4:30 pm Wine and Cheese Reception

About the program participants
Brent Plate
S. Brent Plate is Associate Professor of Religion and the Visual Arts at Texas Christian University. His teaching and research are focused on how humans see, what we see, how our ways of seeing are culturally and religiously constructed, and how seeing is one behavior by which we make meaning of our worlds. This approach encompasses the "visual arts," but engages with the visual on a more fundamental and everyday basis: what we see in film, television, fashion, graphic design, urban planning, etc.

Book-length publications include The Religion and Film Reader (co-edited with Jolyon Mitchell, Routledge, 2007), Blasphemy: Art that Offends (Black Dog Publishing, 2006), Walter Benjamin, Religion, and Aesthetics (Routledge, 2005), Re-Viewing the Passion: Mel Gibson's Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Representing Religion in World Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), Religion, Art, and Visual Culture (Palgrave/St. Martins, 2002), Imag(in)ing Otherness: Filmic Visions of Living Together (AAR-Scholars Press/Oxford UP, 1999). He has also published articles in journals such as Literature and Theology, Soundings, CrossCurrents, Biblical Interpretation, and Postmodern Culture.

Plate is also Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the journal, Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief, Runner-Up for the 2006 Best New Scholarly Journal award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.

Pamela Winfield

Pamela D. Winfield began her study of Religion and Art History at Georgetown University with internships at the National Gallery in Washington DC and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY.  After living in Japan for several years, she pursued her doctoral studies in Japanese Buddhism at Temple University in Philadelphia thanks to a Russell Conwell Fellowship.  A grant from the Cross-Cultural Institute further supported her dissertation research at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto. 

In 2003, she received her doctorate in Religion from Temple University and joined the faculty at at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy. She is the founding Co-Chair of the Sacred Space in Asia Group at the American Academy of Religion, is a former CrossCurrents Coolidge Fellow, and is currently researching new Buddhist imagery in Japan thanks to a Religion and Art Fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council.  In addition to publishing numerous articles, chapter contributions, translations and book reviews related to Buddhist art and doctrine, she is currently revising her dissertation on Icons and Iconoclasm: Kukai and Dogen on the Art of Enlightenment.

Trio Eos

Trio Eos reveals the beauty of the female voice and its potential to express human joy, grief, hope and loss.  Confined to no one genre, the Trio performs music from the Early Middle Ages to the present, exploring the full range of sonorities available to a treble ensemble. Members Michele Kennedy, Jenna-Claire Kemper, and Kate Mulvihill have coached with Richard Lalli of Yale University, Jacqueline Horner of Anonymous 4, and Linn Andrea Fuglseth of Trio Mediaeval; they have recorded commissions of new works, and performed regularly since forming in 2003.

Registration information:

Members/Fellows $55
Non-Members  $60; Students $15
Fee includes continental breakfast, lunch and reception.
($5.00 extra at the door.)

To register
 please contact Charles Henderson
Tel: 212-870-2544 or

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More about ARC
including membership information and news about our recently published book:
 The ARC Story


From time to time the Board of Directors elects as Fellows individuals it identifies as having made a distinguished contribution to their respective fields. The list of Fellows elected over a period of nearly four decades thus exemplifies what the Society understands as the necessary and vital connections between art, religion and culture.

ARC Fellows


Spring 2007
Footpath Spiritpath

Intersections of Pilgrimage Travel
and Spiritual Journey

Spring 2006
The River is a Magic Thing

Fall 2005
Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be

Spring 2005
Theology and the Arts as Play

Winter 2005
Uncertainty Principles in the Atoms of Language

Fall 2004
Languages that Shape the Soul

Spring 2004
The Moving Image

Winter 2004
Religion and the Visual Arts

Fall 2003
Theology and Music

Spring 2003
Theology and Poetry:
Languages that Shape the Soul

Winter 2003
Tracing the Garden

Fall 2002
Drawing on the Human

Spring 2002
Alfred Barr and
the Religious Dimension of Modernism

Winter 2002
A Theology of Beauty

Fall 2001
Lifting the Veil

May 2001

February 2001
Performance and Symposium

November 2000
Illuminations & Transformations:
Cross-Cultural Spiritual Dynamics 
in Music, Text, Dance and Film

May 2000
Alternative Readings: 
Sacred Text Embodied in Visual Art

February 2000
The Meaning of Myth

November 1999
Myth, Ritual and the Mediation of Violence

May, 1999
Writers' Ways with Loving and Dying

February, 1999 
The Divine Image
Implications for a changing image of God.

October, 1998 
Uneasy Constellations of Meaning
Theological Perceptions and Visual Images in Sixteenth Century Europe &
The Religious Art of Andy Warhol

hares.jpg (5471 bytes) wharhol

May, 1998 Meeting
AYNI: The Andean Concept of Reciprocity

Webpage design courtesy CrossCurrents
Charles Henderson, Executive Director



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