On Beauty

April 12, 2017
CSWR resident Munjed Murad
CSWR resident and ThD candidate Munjed Murad./ Photo courtesy of Munjed Murad.

On April 5th, ThD student and CSWR resident, Munjed M. Murad, delivered a presentation on the findings of his research at Harvard as they pertain to the topic of beauty and religion. A summary of which follows:

This lecture explored the concept of beauty as discussed in teachings of Islamic metaphysics in particular and exemplified by a variety of religions in general. It addressed notions of the objectivity of beauty as a necessary quality of the Divine, and particular aspects of the manifold manifestations of beauty in the world. Examples ranged from the beauty of virtue or of a saint to that of natural phenomena to that of quotidian objects of the traditional context, from the ancient Buddhist to the indigenous Maasai to the traditional Islamic. 

While producers of items today often give little importance to beauty because of their interests in a particular kind of functionality defined by the pragmatism of the modernist mind, beauty within the traditions examined here is itself considered to be a necessary function. Unlike other functions, however, it is one that permeates all means and ends. Centuries-old manuscripts of Avicenna's The Cannon of Medicine, written in high forms of calligraphy and displaying diagrams that were intended to be at once both beautiful and explanatory, stand in stark contrast to modern-day medical textbooks, the designs of which reflect much interest in the efficient transmission of information and less concern for aesthetic presentation, for example. Beauty within the particularly traditional and religious context, moreover, facilitates an appropriate ambience for the reception of that which is true and the cultivation of what religious truth demands. Furthermore, beauty itself can be seen to display and transmit truth. Gothic Christian architecture facilitates a sense of transcendence purposely connected to doctrines on the otherworldliness of Christ. Hindu dance, every movement of which being impregnated with meaning, constitutes a living aesthetic means for the conveyance of Hindu teaching and mythology. Traditional Islamic architecture and art convey principles of jalāl and jamāl in the juxtaposition of the minaret to the dome and in the contrast between geometric forms and arabesques. In short, just as beauty is the splendor of truth for Plato, it is the garment of revelation and an inspiration for the cultivation of spiritual qualities, as in the melodic recitations of the Quran and the kinds of Buddhist statuary that help to inspire centeredness within a meditator. All of which speak of the wedding of beauty to truth, particularly in the sacred context.