The Recovery of Iconographic Theology and Religious Experience from 1850 to 2000
This book traces a recovery of iconographic religious experience and theology in the nineteenth century. In contrast to a logocentric religious focus, which privileges texts and their analysis, an iconographic focus emphasizes the visual and narrative attributes of religion. The introduction sets the stage by discussing the profound disquietude in the wake of Britain’s Religious Census of 1851, along with the various responses to a perceived decline in religiosity. Two subsequent chapters deal with the resurgence of iconographic religion from the perspective of theology proper, arguing that contemporary theologians, such as those represented by the Yale School of Divinity, held to a more holistic as opposed to a fragmentary approach towards scripture. In doing so they came to center the scriptural stories on the events surrounding Christ’s passion. The remaining chapters trace the recovery of iconographic religion through American, Russian, and British culture throughout the nineteenth century. Ultimately, this book argues for a revision on the standard ‘read’ regarding these artists and writers which holds that they were predominantly secular in orientation.
Chapter 1. Introduction: Ways and Means
Ways and Means
It is remarkably coincidental, ironic even, that in 1851 London hosted the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, which trumpeted the material and cultural superiority of Victorian England and was such a great success, and in the same year conducted the Religious Census, which raised the troubling specter of a nation bereft of God, and especially the Anglican version of God. This task was entrusted to Horace Mann, who at the time was a relatively unknown young barrister at twenty-eight, who also interpreted the findings. Mann’s essential conclusion was that less than half of those able to attend church on March 30th, which was Mothering Sunday and so presumably a day of higher than normal attendance, actually did so. Even taking into account the challenges and subsequent irregularities relative to administering the census, such as the fact that some churches refused to participate on the grounds of an impermissible state interference with religion, the results did not augur well for a society that believed that cleanliness, prosperity, and all good things followed upon godliness. Mann hazarded some observations and causal explanations. While the solid middle class continued to be highly engaged and regular in their church attendance, and while the “upper classes” had actually become more devout, the working classes seemingly wanted nothing to do with organized religion. “The myriads of our laboring population,” he←1 | 2→ observed, are “really as ignorant of Christianity as were the heathen Saxons...
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