Religious Experience and Photography: The Phenomenology of Photography as Revelatory of the Religious Play of Imagination

Javier E. Carreño 1
  • 1 Franciscan University of Steubenville, , Steubenville, Austria


That there are genuinely religious representations, and that the practice of praying with images involves no confusion of the divine with its representation, are matters firmly established by a phenomenology of imagination such as Edmund Husserl’s. Moreover, such a phenomenological regard can become attentive to the concrete roles played by a viewer’s imagination in his dealings with various sorts of images. I propose to bring these phenomenological insights to show that there is a distinctively religious play of imagination in dealing with religious images. Moreover, I address this question by turning to one kind of representation which Barthes and others have found unsuitable for representing a religious subject, namely, photographic images. While agreeing with some of these reservations, this paper explores some of the ways in which photography may still be found to represent a religious subject, shifting the problem of religious photography from its inherent impossibility to its inadequacy. In doing so, I show that the distinctively religious play of imagination vis-à-vis religious representations cuts a wedge between the depictive and the symbolic, and is rather akin to a metaphorical use of representations.

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Open Theology is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal that welcomes contributions written in English addressing religion in its various forms and aspects: historical, theological, sociological, psychological, and other.