Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies Brent Plate, recently published several essays on topics at the intersection of aesthetics and religion. All are part of Plate’s continuing scholarly work to theorize religion through aesthetic categories.
Plate contributed “The Artificiality of Aesthetics: Making Connections on the Erie Canal” to the volume Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept. Edited by Alexandra Grieser and Jay Johnston, and published by De Gruyter, the book is part of a series on “Religion and Reason: Theory in the Study of Religion.”
The canal was an “artificial” river, and in the language of the period, it was a “work of art.” Through such an understanding, Plate demonstrates that the study of religious history can be rethought through aesthetic means. By rethinking a key point in U.S. history—the construction and use of the Erie Canal—Plate reimagines the sensory, physical landscape through which religious life in the United States matured.
Plate has also continued his work on the materiality of sacred texts, particularly as they intersect with contemporary book arts. The journal PostScripts, published through Equinox in the U.K., included Plate’s essay “Sensing Scripture: What the Book Arts Can Teach Us About Sacred Texts, and Vice Versa,” as part of a special issue on “Seeing, Touching, Holding and Tasting Sacred Texts.” The issue grew out of a symposium in which Plate was involved held at Ruhr-University, Bochum, Germany, in 2016.
In his article, Plate argues that “books are powerful and enjoyable as well as dangerous and condemned, because they are felt, seen, tasted, heard, and touched.” By looking at contemporary “book arts,” Plate pushes for a redefinition of sacred texts, and argues that “the sacred is in part created within the material texts’ sensual appeal to the bodies of people: whether by bonfire, ingesting, hearing, looking, or even reading the books.”
Plate participated in a semester-long lecture series on “Pictures of Suffering: The Passion Story in Culture” in 2015 at the University of Zurich. The contributions to that project were edited into the collection “Leid-Bilder: Die Passionsgeschichte in der Kultur.” The volume was edited by Daria Pezzoli-Olgiati, Baldassare Scolari, and Marie-Therese Mäder, published by the Marburg publisher Schüren Verlag.
Plate’s chapter “Die Mühle und das Kreuz: Ein Spiel der Kreuze und Kreise” (“The Mill and the Cross: A Game of X’s and O’s”), examines the 2011 Polish film The Mill and the Cross by Lech Majewski. The film itself is an audio-visual re-imagining of Pieter Bruegel’s 1564 painting “The Way to Calvary”—Plate uses these media layers as ways to rethink the nature of creation, re-creation, and central Christian themes of bodily suffering.