This sounds like a fascinating seminar:
Emotive Cognition and Sensuous Devotion in Catholicism
Hosted by Connecticut College in October 2012, it will feature presentations by two religion professors, one professor of religion and anthropology, and one professor of German art and culture.
The seminar themes I find most interesting are:
– Ambient emotional cueing, including the ways in which material culture predisposes and informs religious affect and understanding
– Supernatural presence in statues and paintings, and interactive contemplation of these images
– Emotive effects of architectural acoustics
– Sensory intuition of divine presence
– Emotive cognition of liturgical discourse
but do check out the entire list.
The whole thing looks like it will be an exploration of one of the key differences between Catholic and Protestant worship, and not just worship but sacramentality. I’ve come to believe this is a subtle but pervasive and very significant difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic world view both assumes and affirms the notion that we human beings encounter the divine in and through material things. This is not restricted to the specific sacraments but applies to many aspects of worship.
For Catholics, sacred art (and material things generally) is not a distraction from God, and not something that is or can be worshipped instead of God: it is a medium or channel by means of which God can reach us and we can reach God. Our sacramental liturgies consist of more than simply the bare minimum for the sacrament because the liturgy functions to “properly dispose” the recipient of the sacrament to receive and cooperate with the grace of the sacrament.
So I’m interested to see an examination of how that actually works. As a singer, of course, architectural acoustics is something I’m particularly aware of – I remember having a button in the late 80s saying “Carpet bedrooms not churches!” for this reason.
The other thing that this conference seems to be about is the claim of Schleiermacher that religious experience is affective in nature. The language of the seminar is all about this: religious affect and emotional cognition.
The only thing that does seem peculiar to me is the all-male lineup on the keynote speaker list. My impression is that many feminist theologians and religious scholars work in the area of embodied knowledge, so this seems an odd absence. (Especially given that Connecticut College was founded as a women’s college when Wesleyan kicked out women!)