Text full multimedia monochrome

First time here?

Find out more about how The Lecture List works.

Coronavirus situation update

Our lecture organisers may or may not have had time to update their events with cancellation notices. Clearly social gatherings are to be avoided and that includes lectures. STAY AT HOME FOLKS, PLEASE.


Find out what you can do to keep The Lecture List online

Divining art? Culture and the sacred in the 21st century

Is there a place for the divine in art in the 21st century? Is religion the enemy or friend of contemporary art?

The charge-sheet against religion’s curtailment of artistic freedom is long, and by no means confined to the past. Since the The Satanic Verses controversy 20 years ago, religious campaigners have sought to censor the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons, Behzti at the Birmingham Rep, Jerry Springer the Opera, The Da Vinci Code, Cosimo Cavallaro’s ‘My Sweet Lord’, Chandra Mohan’s The Beautiful Vexation… and the list goes on. Consequently, religion has become something of a bogeyman to the 21st century arts.

But aren’t secular states as guilty of censoring art as any religion, China’s Cultural Revolution being perhaps the best known example? Moreover, since time immemorial, religion has inspired art. The list of divinely inspired art is a match for any ‘religion-as-censor’ list: the Sistine Chapel, the Mahabharatha, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ginsberg’s ‘Kaddish’, Rumi’s poetry and Handel’s Messiah are just the tip of the iceberg. The religious and sacred in art points to something beyond the merely natural or biological in the human condition. For William Blake, the imagination was the ‘human form divine’.

Is there a place for the divine in art in the 21st century? Is religion the enemy or friend of contemporary art? Can we fully enjoy our artistic legacy if we don’t know our religious history? Andrew Motion has called for school children to be taught the bible so they can fully appreciate poets like Milton. But how does multicultural, secular society cope with art that celebrates specific beliefs over others? Can art that celebrates a particular faith still be universal in what it says about humanity? Have we lost faith in art that aims to transcend and transform full stop? And if so, is that the death knell for sacred art? Or is great art today simply embracing the divine in a different way, heralding no one faith in particular, but capturing the spirit of modern life and imagination, from Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ to Akram Khan’s ‘Sacred Monsters’?


Dolan Cummings | talks
Dennis Doordan | talks
Ruth Gledhill | talks
Andrew Haydon | talks
Ivan Hewett | talks
George Pitcher | talks
Ben Quash | talks
Padraig Reidy | talks | www


Date and Time:

13 October 2009 at 7:00 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



University of Notre Dame
1 Suffolk Street

Show map

Organised by:

Institute of Ideas
See other talks organised by Institute of Ideas...



£7.50 (£5)

Available from:


Additional Information:


Register to tell a friend about this lecture.


If you would like to comment about this lecture, please register here.


Any ad revenue is entirely reinvested into the Lecture List's operating fund