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The Sacred Gaze

David Morgan (University of California Press: May 31, 2005), 333 pages.

"Sacred gaze" denotes any way of seeing that invests its object–an image, a person, a time, a place–with spiritual significance. Drawing from many different fields, David Morgan investigates key aspects of vision and imagery in a variety of religious traditions. His lively, innovative book explores how viewers absorb and process religious imagery and how their experience contributes to the social, intellectual, and perceptual construction of reality. Ranging widely from thirteenth-century Japan and eighteenth-century Tibet to contemporary America, Thailand, and Africa, The Sacred Gaze discusses the religious functions of images and the tools viewers use to interpret them. Morgan questions how fear and disgust of images relate to one another and explains how scholars study the long and evolving histories of images as they pass from culture to culture. An intriguing strand of the narrative details how images have helped to shape popular conceptions of gender and masculinity. The opening chapter considers definitions of "visual culture" and how these relate to the traditional practice of art history. Amply illustrated with more than seventy images from diverse religious traditions, this masterful interdisciplinary study provides a comprehensive and accessible resource for everyone interested in how religious images and visual practice order space and time, communicate with the transcendent, and embody forms of communion with the divine. The Sacred Gaze is a vital introduction to the study of the visual culture of religions.

Table of Contents

  • Pt. 1 Questions and definitions
    • 1 Defining visual culture 25
    • 2 Visual practice and the function of images 48
    • 3 The covenant with images 75
  • Pt. 2 Images between cultures
    • 4 The violence of seeing : idolatry and iconoclasm 115
    • 5 The circulation of images in mission history 147
  • Pt. 3 The social life of pictures
    • 6 Engendering vision : absent fathers and women with beards 191
    • 7 National icons : Bibles, flags, and Jesus in American civil religion 220