Enlightening religion: Light and darkness in religious knowledge and knowledge about religion

31 July, 2021

The journal Critical Research on Religion just published a special issue edited by Jeremy Stolow and Birgit Meyer which is an outcome of our seminar on Religion and Light (June 2018). It includes contributions from Craig Koslofsky, Christian Lange, Eyad Abuali, André Chappatte, Peter Lambertz and Daniel Pérez-Zapico. This issue is the companion to the special issue Light Mediations published in the journal Material Religion (also co-edited by us, see here). Taken together, these two issues offer a new research line into the religion-light nexus especially with regard to Christianity and Islam. We hope that this initiative will trigger more work along this exciting line.

From our Introduction:

“Associations between light and divine presence are ancient and widespread and can be found in religious traditions around the world, including cults devoted to solar deities, such as the Ancient Egyptian Ra or the Aztec Tonatiuh, among many others. As a perceptual experi- ence, a metaphor, and an instrument of devotional practice and mystical technique, light in its various modalities—clear, colored, radiant, glowing, shining, and even blinding—has played a central role in histories of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Manichaeism, and Neoplatonic mysticism, as well as in Buddhist and Hindu esoteric traditions, to name only the most well-studied (see e.g., Eliade 1958; Kapstein 2004). The association of light with knowledge, wisdom, insight, justice, and the good, and the absence of light (darkness) with ignorance, secrecy, deception, corruption, or evil are likewise familiar tropes that can be found in diverse religious contexts, not least in the case of missionary projects across the world (cf. Lambertz 2021).

However, despite its apparent centrality, the theme of light remains significantly under- developed as an entry point for critical research in the field. Scholars of religion have tended to focus on the formation and application of light metaphors as they are developed within particular religious traditions, and even more narrowly, as they operate within specific sacred texts or theological discourses. The aim of this special issue is to call for more attention to the nexus of religion and light, in ways that move beyond a taken-for- granted metaphorical framing of light as the prime natural symbol used to represent the divine. While that idea is not wrong per se, it may blind us to a deeper exploration of the existential, epistemological, and performative dimensions of light in relation to religion.”

Click here to read further.