Soltes to lend historical perspective to conversation on art, politics and religion



Art, politics and religion might seem to be disparate subjects, but according to Ori Z. Soltes, each provides insight and inflection upon the others.

“Art and religion have always been interwoven,” said Soltes, Goldman Professorial Lecturer in Theology and Fine Arts at Georgetown University. “There has never been a time in history, going back to the earliest times, that art cannot be seen to be serving the key purposes that religion serves.”

Soltes will provide a historical context for this connection and the relationship between religion and politics at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

“Politics have never been disconnected very far from religion,” he said, explaining how a pharaoh claiming to have god-like powers is no different than a presidential candidate saying he or she will “bring the United States back to what God wants it to be as a Christian country.”

“They are [both] using the idea of religion and everything that pertains to religion as a political instrument,” Soltes said.

These political uses have intersected with religiously inspired artistic impulses for millennia, Soltes said. For example, Greek drama was dedicated to the gods, but Aristotle also claimed that those performances maintained political calm because the catharsis of watching a ruler die in a play prevented citizens from rising against their own kings.

“I think it’s important to understand these [intersections], because [they make] you look at art differently, listen to politicians differently and think about religion differently,” Soltes said.

Though these considerations might be true, Soltes noted that such close examination of one’s understanding of the world can be difficult.

“I’m very much a student of and a fan of Socrates and Plato, and their view is the unexamined life is not worth living,” Soltes said. “If you’re not thinking, if you’re not asking questions, you’re not really living your life fully as a human. [However], Plato also says the process of cross-examination is painful, and as a species, we don’t necessarily want pain. So, there are people who would prefer to be comfortably ensconced in whatever their understanding of things is and not worrying about how close to real reality that is.”

A lack of such examination can lead to avoidable misunderstandings on a variety of cultural levels, Soltes said.

“The danger is making or repeating errors that, as a species, we’ve made over time because of not being aware of things that maybe we could’ve, should’ve been aware of,” Soltes said. “It’s important to think about these [intersections] because that’s the strongest safeguard against doing some of the crap that we do to each other.”