Sacred Ecology Symposium Organized by History of Art, Anthropology Professors

corinthbetseyrobinsonSacred Ecology: Landscape Transformations for Ritual Practice, an all-day symposium organized by Betsey Robinson, associate professor of history of art and classical studies, Tracy Miller, associate professor of history of art and Asian studies, and John Janusek, associate professor of anthropology, will be held on Friday, August 30, at the Sarratt Student Center.

Hosted by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, the symposium, which begins at 8:45 a.m. in Sarratt/Rand 189, represents the culmination of the 2011-2012 Warren Center Fellows Program that was co-directed by Robinson, Miller, and Janusek.

The Sacred Ecology Fellows Program explored the diverse experiences of complex ritual sites around the world and across all periods of history. The investigation of landscape setting, nature, and monuments offered a chance to revisit sacred places and to see them in a new light. “‘Ecology’ implies a kind of multivariate system in which the environment is a significant force in shaping human institutions and experiences, and we wanted to bring the sacred into that,” said Robinson during a 2011 interview published in the Warren Center newsletter, Letters.

“The transformation of the landscape actually works to help identify where these sacred places are located,” Miller noted during that same interview. “Rituals and ceremonies require certain configurations of the environment, so it is often changed in order to accommodate the human interaction needed to facilitate ceremonies.” Often there are sites that are considered sacred places of pilgrimage, noted Janusek. “The reoccurrence of ritual activities over time is what renders such sites sacred. By ‘landscape,’ we of course mean the earth, but also the sky and the cosmos more generally.”

The symposium will feature Veronica Della Dora, with the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London, who will address “Mountains and Vision: From Mount of Temptation to Mount Blanc.” Della Dora will explore famous and less famous mountain encounters “from above” which have characterized ways of looking at the world at different moments in western history. James Robson, from the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department, Harvard University, will present “Confined in the Locus of the Sacred: From Sacred Sites to Insane Asylums in East Asia,” where he will explore the intersections between Buddhist monasteries, sacred sites, and mental institutions in China, Taiwan, and Japan. He will show the significant role played by Buddhist temples at sacred sites in providing ritual therapies, magical cures, and day-to-day care for the mentally ill.

In “Constructed Landscapes: Sumerian Temples and the Natural World,” Deena Ragavan will focus on the literary image of early Mesopotamian temples and their position in relation to the natural and urban environment. Finally, Lindsay Jones, Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University, will discuss “A Southern Mexican ‘Cross of Miracles’: The Irony of an Anti-Tourist Site’s Debt to Tourism.” His presentation will track the intriguing and ongoing history of a simple stone cross, about ten feet high, which was erected about 100 years ago amid the maguey cactuses outside the famous Zapotec village and archaeological/tourist site of Mitla in Oaxaca.

The symposium will conclude at 4:30 p.m. followed by a reception at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. For more information, contact the Warren Center at 615.343.6060 or rpw.center@vanderbilt.edu.

*Image: Distant view of the Temple of Apollo at Corinth

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