Associate Professor of Religion and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Department of Religion
Provoking Religion: The Aesthetics of Literalism and the Queer Arts of Myth in the U.S. Culture Wars
This talk begins with a simple enough question: when is a cross a cross, and when is it a gauntlet thrown in the infamous battles of the U.S. culture wars? How does an image come to offend, who does it offend, and why? During the height of the U.S. culture wars in the 1980s and 1990s, a number of conservative Christian leaders attacked art dealing with issues of religion, gender, and sexuality as pornographic or sacrilegious, if not specifically anti-Christian. Indeed, a number of artists, including Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, Karen Finley, and David Wojnarowicz, drew upon aesthetic forms borrowed from the rich visual and ritual history of Christianity, and of Roman Catholicism specifically, often in ways that seemed to profane religious symbols. This talk focuses on the work of artist and author David Wojnarowicz and his legal battles of Christian Right leader Donald Wildmon to examine the contours of such debates. It asks how we might read such episodes not as typical culture wars battles pitting religious conservatives against secular progressives, but rather as competing struggles to define the place of religion and art in the public sphere.