Fifth Annual Monash Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Symposium


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The Devout and the Divine: Cultural Trends in the Religious Imagination

Religious studies primarily investigate the development of identity, practice and belief in different historical contexts. Scholars continue to explore the significance of the conceptual transformations of ‘divinity’, ‘religion’ and ‘self’ in relation to contemporary religiosity ­– of what it meant to have and practice faith, and of how people  imagined themselves in relation to the divine.

This symposium aims to explore the changing nature of devotion and religiosity from late antiquity to the early modern period and beyond, as well as the varying attitudes toward and conceptions of the divine across various cultures and religions. Speakers are asked to consider how these trends manifested in culture through art, literature, music and devotional practice, and the impact that these expressions of the religious imagination had within the social, political and intellectual spheres during this period of time.

Time: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Date: Friday 16 August, 2019

Location: Monash Club, 32 Exhibition Walk, Monash University, Clayton Campus

Keynote Speaker

Associate Professor Clare Monagle, Macquarie University
Catholic Imaginaries? Fashion and Catholicism

In 2018 ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’, an exhibition devoted to the relationship between Catholicism and high fashion opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By the end of the exhibition’s run, it had received 1659647 visitors, beating all prior attendance records. The exhibition was stunning, and offered a surprising meditation on the relationship between spiritual and secular ideas of luxury and commodity. The exhibition juxtaposed the exquisite workmanship of haute couture alongside meticulously embroidered chasubles and robes. The history of luxury goods and Catholic vestments, the exhibition argued, both testify to traditions of using clothes to convey authority and status. In so doing, however, the exhibition also presented a troubling, and limited, idea of Catholicism. The Catholicism of the exhibition privileged elite masculine authority, and in so doing elided the myriad subaltern and indigenous Catholicisms that constitute the experience of believers. This paper will read the vision of the Church produced by the Met in this exhibition, and place it alongside that which was left out or ignored. I will argue that the exhibition draws upon medievalising and conservative visions of the Church, which fail to recognise the Church’s role in the making of new worlds. The Church has been an agent of imperial and colonial projects, and in so doing globalised herself. But those that received her traditions and theologies spoke back, and  generated new Catholicisms that spoke to what it meant to be oppressed and colonised. This paper will use ‘Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’ to argue for a more expansive, and more critical, idea of the Catholic than that offered by the exhibition.

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Contact Name Lana Stephens
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