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Manifestations of the Divine

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Manifestations of the Divine

Art has long been revered by anthropologists as a means of understanding cultures and the subcultures residing within them. The social mores held by the majority are commonly responsible for shaping what concepts are depicted, along with the means of expression used. This holds true for the representation of the Divine in art as depicted by different religious groups in specific times and places. While religious belief systems have myriad views of the outward manifestation of the Divine, most groups agree that worship of false idols is profane. This notion is the basis for the diverse representations throughout history and in some cases lack there of in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Christian denominations vary greatly in their specific beliefs and methods of worship. Therefore it is not surprising the artwork produced on their behalf varies just as greatly. Although most denominations warn against idol worship, this has not inhibited artists. It is in Christian depictions of the Divine, that anthropomorphic images of God are typically created in the likeness of the culture which created the art. This is attributable to the teaching that humanity was created in God's image. Arguably, Christians have taken the greatest poetic license in their depictions of both God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In Judaism the depiction of God in any way, shape, or form is considered profane. The reason for this is twofold. First, the Tanak teaches that God is not anthropomorphic. According to doctrine, the nature of God is incomprehensible to humans. Second, the Ten Commandments as spoken by Moses along with the Thirteen Principles of Faith edited by Maimonides both prohibit worshiping false idols. Therefore, since God is not human and is not fully comprehensible His depiction by humans will not be accurate; and further, has the potential to confuse the population and lead to idol worship. Given this doctrine, Jews have limited any depiction of The Divine to embellished Hebrew scriptures.

It is frequently thought that Islamic Scripture bans human and even animal representation in art; however, such is not the case. Neither The Qur'an nor hadith have much commentary on the outward manifestation of The Divine. On the other hand, many centuries government leaders banned depictions of the Prophet for fear of idol worship. This, in turn, caused the depiction of all humans to be controversial in Muslim culture. It is also a popular Muslim belief that God is without associate, therefore his representation is impossible and any attempt is heresy. The focus of religious art in Islam, instead, has been placed on the glorification of God's word through beautiful floral and geometric adornments of sacred texts in their original Arabic form. Additionally, the intricate designs of Mosques and the careful attention paid to each detail have lead to some of the most revered architectural artistry throughout history.

The multiplicity of The Divine, combined with the notions of all life being sacred, and a cyclical cosmogony have led to vast depictions of The Divine in Hindu artwork. Because of the functional nature of art as a powerful visual aid used to relay religious ideas to a quasi-illiterate society, multitudes of Hindu artwork have been produced. Despite the large amount and diverse depictions there are some common themes that emerge in Hinduism. (1) There are four preeminent



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