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Aesthetics of the Sublime: Religious Texts and Rhetorical Theory

The genuine and necessary connection between ritual and art (Braungart 1996), and thus between art and religion, recommends to look into the ‘aesthetic response’ (Iser 1978), i.e. the stimulation of imaginative and perceptive faculties brought about by religious texts.
Religious texts in general display the impact of specific rhetorical (and poetic) traditions. European rhetorical theory relies widely on a Greek – especially Aristotelian – heritage. It evolved as an art of persuasion, its theory of affects became fundamental also for poetics. In the Arabic-Islamic tradition, rhetorical treatises concentrated on other genres, being particularly concerned with poetic much less with prose texts. Therefore, a differentiation between poetic and rhetorical theories is hardly applicable. This becomes even more evident in the Indian tradition, where no exact equivalent to European rhetoric exists but instead rhetorical aspects were taken up in poetics, most notable in its detailed elaboration of emotional states.
Regardless of these various backgrounds, rhetorical (and poetic) theories – from Antiquity to modern literary and aesthetic theories – are concerned with the question of ‘aesthetic experience’, to use a modern term. Moreover, different traditions stand in contact, influencing one another. At the latest today, in a globalised world, hermeneutic approaches can no longer limit themselves to understanding contemporary texts against the background of an alleged tradition, but have to take into account their transcultural dimensions.
The purpose of the workshop is to discuss the concept of aesthetic response in religious texts in the context of the rhetorical traditions which inform them: such as sermons, prayers, religious narratives and chants. The focus will be on in-depth text analysis and theoretical reflection.