Following the increasing media attention given to the issue of religion within the current social context and the anxiety over its alleged “return,” as well as an expanding “post-secular debate” in the field of contemporary philosophy and social and cultural theory, a number of efforts towards cross-disciplinary exchange in the academic world have recently come to the fore. Yet to a great degree, and despite the important role of theology within postmodern philosophy—see, for instance, the work of Derrida, Levinas and Ricoeur— the world of contemporary art seems to have preserved a form of discursive inhibition vis-à-vis the issue of religion. There have been some efforts aimed at addressing the situation, which have mostly originated from art institutions and museums, but the issue has found little echo within the fields of art theory and history. In fact, the methodological difficulties that were recently encountered in one particular instance generated such pessimism that the dialogue between contemporary art and religion was deemed by some a near impossibility (see James Elkins and David Morgan, eds., Re-Enchantment, Routledge, 2009).
This symposium seeks to expand on previous groundwork by bringing together eminent international specialists belonging to a variety of disciplines—artists, art historians, curators, anthropologists, educators, historians, media scholars, philosophers, psychoanalysts, political analysts, religious scholars, social scientists, theologians—to pursue the charting of theoretical points of contact between the worlds of contemporary art and religion. Although participants should feel free to see this event as an experimental ground, we do suggest that “contemporary art” be understood from an institutional standpoint, meaning that which is referred to/labelled as “contemporary art” by its agents, specific networks, objects, institutions, and so on. It is therefore not the totality of “visual/material culture” which is being addressed here.