Centrum för forskning om religion och samhälle (CRS)

6th of March 2018, Lecture: Instruments of Science, Tools of Occultism

2017-12-22

Lecture: Instruments of Science, Tools of Occultism: On Photography, Auras, and the Study of Religion and Technology.

When: 6th of March, 15.15-17 pm. Where: The Humanities Theatre, Uppsala University. After the lecture follow a post-seminar.

This presentation offers some reflections on the topic of religion and technology from the vantage point of a study I have conducted called ‘Picturing Aura’. The project deals with the history of efforts to photograph a mysterious radiant force that is said to surround living bodies and is known as ‘the aura’. While dismissed as pseudo-scientific nonsense by the scientific mainstream, pictures of aura are embraced by a range of actors — fringe scientists, psychics, spiritual healers, occultists, and artists — as authentic representations of the state of human vitality and of the true nature of the cosmos. As such, they are said to constitute visible evidence confirming descriptions of subtle bodies and supernatural energies that belong to long histories of religious cosmology and healing arts. Picturing Aura is thus (among other things) a story about heterodox uses of the orthodox instruments of science — especially, but not only photographic apparatus — in ways that strain modern science’s monopoly over its own technological infrastructure.
My presentation will offer a rough guide to this remarkable chapter in the history of photography, while at the same time drawing attention to some puzzling assumptions among scholars about media technologies as instruments of knowledge, and about how to distinguish science and religion in the first place.

Comments:
Tomas Axelson, lecturer in film and media studies with a background in sociology of religion, Dalarna University, Maria Essunger, systematic theology specializing in art and literature, faculty of theology, Uppsala University and Otto Fischer, professor in rethorics specializing in media history, Uppsala University.