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

  • Date: –17:00
  • Location: Engelska parken Humanistiska teatern, hus 22
  • Lecturer: Ass. Professor Jeremy Stolow, Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada
  • Organiser: Uppsala Religion and Society Research Centre, Faculty of Theology and DIGMEX, Stockholms University.
  • Contact person: Prof. Mia Lövheim
  • Föreläsning

This presentation offers some reflections on the topic of religion and technology from the vantage point of a study Ass. Professor Stolow 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. Ass. Professor Stolow 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.

Respons: Tomas Axelson, lecturer in film and media studies, Dalarna University College; 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.