The Art of Science, Religion, and Healing

The Art of Science, Religion, and Healing

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The Religious Mind: The Art of Science, Religion, and Healing—An Exhibit at Cabrini College, January 14-February 21, 2010

Since January 2007, the Cabrini College Society for Religion and Science, a Local Societies Initiative of the Metanexus Institute, has fostered on-campus and regional discussions on issues surrounding the interface of religion and science. An interest in exploring the aesthetic dimension of these complex subjects led to the exhibition: an eclectic mix of traditional folk and contemporary visionary art. Historic and contemporary ex-votos, religious-themed genre paintings, paper ephemera, and UFO-inspired drawings are grouped together with contemporary medical art—of human brain scans—to produce a journey for the viewer. One moves first from religious acts observed in prayer, meditation, or ritual to the physiological imaging of such religiosity; finally, viewers encounter a variety of artistic responses to scientific belief systems and resonant systems of healing. The exhibition was inspired by the work of physician and scholar, Andrew Newberg, and it is his brain scans of individuals engaged in religious experience that form the centerpiece of the exhibit. These scans are illuminated by a special light box which was built by the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

Included in the exhibition are a rich collection of examples of traditional Mexican religious folk art known as “retablo ex-voto,” kindly supplied by Historia Antiques Gallery of Santa Monica, CA. A retablo ex-voto is a painting which depicts a scene from a tragedy or someone with a grave illness or injury. The saint, the Virgin Mary, or Jesus has been asked through prayer and making a vow to intervene and assist the afflicted. An inscription describing the tragic event and giving thanks for the divine intervention is “commissioned’ by the individual who has made the vow by a community folk artist. These vernacular religious paintings are inexpensive and usually painted in oil on small sheets of tin by the anonymous artist who leaves no signature. The painting is then brought to the saint’s shrine, chapel, or pilgrimage church, and left there. This form of ex-voto can be found in the Roman Catholic regions of Europe including France, Germany, Italy, as well as in Latin and South America, especially Mexico where another type of retablo, the retablo santo or an oil on tin portrait of a saint is also popular for the decoration of a home altar or holy corner.

Leonard Norman Primiano, Exhibition Curator
Ben Danner, ’13, Student Curator


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