NZASR Conference 2018, NZASR Conference 2015

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Religious symbols and aesthetics: Morality and ritual performance in Japanese religions.
Douglas Ezzy

Last modified: 2015-08-13


Some religions prioritise practice, with little concern for creeds and belief.  In these religions, ethical obligations are communicated through aesthetic and emotional responses to symbols.  Sociological theory has tended to characterise the aesthetic and emotional aspects of religious symbols as encouraging delusions or as ‘primitive’.  Such characterisations misunderstand the communicative significance of aesthetic responses to symbols.  A sophisticated cultural sociology of aesthetics and morality provides a more nuanced understanding of religious symbols, and of responses to the uncertainty, and suffering, that are facilitated by such symbols.  A range of ethnographies of Japanese religions are reviewed to illustrate the argument.  Aesthetics, and ritual performance are central to many Japanese religions.  These generate a strong sense of relational and communal entwinement and are associated with an ambivalent or pluralistic moral ontology.


Religious Symbols; Aesthetics; Shinto