"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, September 8, 2014

Iconoclasms Past and Present, Christian and Otherwise

We are living in a time, as I've noted on here several times, when more and more scholarly attention is being paid to the phenomenon of iconoclasm in both its historico-Byzantine expressions, and also in other expressions, including the non-theological and non-Christian. Just last week in my class on iconography, we began reading about iconoclasm, using Leslie Brubaker's very accessible book, which I discussed here. The further we get into this burgeoning field, the more we realize that iconoclasm seems an almost universal phenomenon under the right conditions, and nobody is every totally exempt from the urge to destroy images for a variety of reasons--only a few of them properly theological. A recent collection helps us see the breadth of iconoclastic urges and outbreaks in pre-Byzantine imperial Rome, among the Lutherans, the French, the Waldensians, and the Carolingians, inter alia: Kristine Kolrud and Marina Prusac, eds., Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity (Ashgate, 2014), 231pp.

About this book we are told:
The phenomenon of iconoclasm, expressed through hostile actions towards images, has occurred in many different cultures throughout history. The destruction and mutilation of images is often motivated by a blend of political and religious ideas and beliefs, and the distinction between various kinds of 'iconoclasms' is not absolute. In order to explore further the long and varied history of iconoclasm the contributors to this volume consider iconoclastic reactions to various types of objects, both in the very recent and distant past. The majority focus on historical periods but also on history as a backdrop for image troubles of our own day. Development over time is a central question in the volume, and cross-cultural influences are also taken into consideration. This broad approach provides a useful comparative perspective both on earlier controversies over images and relevant issues today. In the multimedia era increased awareness of the possible consequences of the use of images is of utmost importance. 'Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity' approaches some of the problems related to the display of particular kinds of images in conflicted societies and the power to decide on the use of visual means of expression. It provides a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of the phenomenon of iconoclasm.Of interest to a wide group of scholars the contributors draw upon various sources and disciplines, including art history, cultural history, religion and archaeology, as well as making use of recent research from within social and political sciences and contemporary events. Whilst the texts are addressed primarily to those researching the Western world, the volume contains material which will also be of interest to students of the Middle East.

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