the Sacred & the Profane (2023)

the Sacred & the Profane (1) Indian Pottery, Acoma (Pueblo). Artist unknown, New Mexico. This ceramic probably dates around 1960. Collection of the Minnesota Museum of Art, Saint Paul, Minnesota (Photo Bradfort Palm).

Religion & Art: theSacred & the Profane

I will initiate todays discussion by suggesting a concrete yet broad view of the word art. In its root Latin meaning the word ars referred to human skill and we have come to use the word both in reference to human skills and the products of those skills. Thus we speak of the art of cooking, composing music, designing clothes, painting, gardening, writing, or whatever; we also refer to the product of these skills as art. From this broad view of the word art we could say that all tangible objects and traces of human activity on this earth may be viewed as “art”, everything from canals & skyscrapers to prehistoric cave paintings, 20th Century movies and the Rembrandt we have at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Thus, if we are exploring a desert in New Mexico and we come upon a spider's web we recognize the web as a manifestation of spider activity - not the art of human skills. If however we chance upon a beer-can we recognize the “can” as a product of advanced human manufacturing skills though we might not consider it a high form of art. If we were to ponder the nature and structure of the beer-can for any considered length of time we would learn a great deal about the civilization that produced it. The shape, logotype, manufacturing technology, - all are inter­connected with 20th century society's principle occupation - - marketing and pro­duction. The aluminum beer-can may very well emerge, in the archaeology of some future century, as an important artifact of our society. The can itself is relatively stable, universally distributed, and, out of its myriad promotional signs and advertisements, some few are sure to survive for the scrutiny of future scholars. What I would like to suggest by this diversion is that everything we humans produce is art - some of it good, some mediocre and some quite atrociously bad. Every gesture and human ex­pression, of whatever level, does reflect a value structure, an attitude, a point of view -- such viewpoints may be rooted, consciously or not, in religious concerns, profane concerns - - or perhaps even bland indifference.

(Video) The Sacred And The Profane (Cyberpunk 2077 Soundtrack)

In the instance of the beer-can we are confronted with an object whose size, shape, and logo are generated by the principle interests of modern industrial society --profane concerns - - production and marketing. Whether I sing, write a poem, wire a house, or do a painting - - whatever I make reflects the life values I hold. For example, if I do sloppy irresponsible electric wiring in my house my work shows that I have little concern for the future users of the house and the safety of others. Ultimately it means that either I don’t know any better or my life values do not include a sense of responsibility to others in building the world we live in.

Let us return to exploring the desert and our chancing upon the beer-can. Although being ecologically minded we might carry it back with us for recycling, we would not be inclined to exhibit the can as a work of art in our living room or at the Institute of Fine Art. Suppose however that we came upon a 19th century painted pottery jar - -say of Pueblo origin. Both the can and the jar are containers - - products of sophisticated human skills - - both in a broad sense are art, yet we recognize a value in one that is not present in the other. We would certainly treasure the Pueblo jar - - in fact, given a usable specimen we would find it quite suitable for use as a container in religious ritual. The beer-can on the other hand we would regard as of little or no value whatsoever; in fact we would experience it as litter. What makes the difference? In order to draw a pointed comparison between the two I should like first to direct our attention to several broad considerations on the sacred” and the “profane”.

the Sacred & the Profane (2) Beer-can for storage & drinking.
Photo by the author, 1974.

There are two rather common usages for the term sacred in western society. First we refer to the sacred as that which has been marked off or set aside expli­citly for some religious purpose - - such as ritual or devotion. Thus we speak of a place of worship and ritual appurtenances such as books, vessels and vestments as sacred. Contrasted with this conception of the sacred is that of the profane which comes from the Latin compound profanum, literally meaning before or out­side the temple. Thus profane in its most general sense has meant that which is not holy, or that which does not pertain to a place marked off or an object related to religious practice.

(Video) Introduction to the Sacred and Profane | Mircea Eliade | The Myth of the Eternal Return

The second and foremost usage occurs among those religious persons who have conceived of the Sacred as God - - the Wholly Other; this absolute being or divine force whether we conceive of experiencing it in terms of the Logos of John's Gospel, the Wakonda of the Sioux Indians, the Heaven of the Emperor of China, the Unspeakable one of the Hebrews, or the Zeus of the Stoic Cleanthes -- we do recognize it in our vague human terms as an indefinable experience of Being which, for our purposes we call the sacred or the holy. One thing that characterizes religious people and religious cultures is the presence of a sense of the "sacred" manifested in the firmament, stars, water, trees, vegetation, stone, a work of art or whatever. For Rudolph Otto in his book Das Heilige, this experience of the Holy as the Wholly Other (otherness of God) was characterized by an ambivalent nature, being simultaneously a mysterium fascinans (attracting element) and a mysterium tremendum (awe inspiring element). Homo religiosus (the human person as “religious”) perceives the physical world as the ground for catching a glimpse of the sacred or the holy, that fascinating yet awe-inspiring sense of mystery.

From this perspective thetruly religious people are those who, over the years, grow to perceive with greater wonder and awe the life and substance of the physical milieu of daily existence. They perceive the texture and quality of stone, wood, color, sound, taste; they view the event of all forms of life as awesome; they are tuned to structures, people, relationships; and when they act as artists (homo faciens) they create with a basic reverence and respect for the quality of the materials they use and the people they serve. Theyshowpronounced concern for the quality of life, the way we build our world, and the way we relate to and use our natural resources. This is especially true of those who are architects and designers. And, if we are fortunate (and responsive), their work may lead us to experience something of the mysterium. I am suggesting that artists who are truly artists are, by their profession,religious persons even though theymay have little to do with formal religion.

We might note here that the sacred and the profane were rarely separated in primitive societies. Perhaps Teilhard de Chardin's vision of the whole stuff of this world as sacrament is particularly appropriate for our times. With this perception there is no profane time and no profane place. The world we live in is the temple. You don't dump your garbage and poisons or cultivate slums in the temple. Taking this view both those in religion and those in the arts may come to work more closely in addressing the proliferate abuse of our resources. They may both show leadership in discovering effective ways to build a world to live in. Where there is no place for the profane there is no task too menial. Everything from the sewer system and waste disposal to the design of the altar relates to the quality of human life.

(Video) The Sacred and the Profane

From this view point there is no need to designate certain kinds of human making as "fine art" while relegating other kinds of making to the "servile arts." Such distinctions suggest that there is a higher purpose in making a painting or piece of sculpture than there is in designing a textbook or a food container. By the same token I believe that all aspects of life are so intimately interdependent that we should not seek to isolate specific kinds of artistic activity as “religious”. As most of you know this would be the same as suggesting that one is "religious" only when engaged in certain kinds of activity - - say like going to services on Sunday. It seems to me that we ought to strive to develop and patronize artists, architects, and designers whose work is born from the kind of sensibility I have outlined here. Our world is profane only in as much as we make the world profane or let others profane it.

The fundamental difference between the beer-can and the Pueblo pottery piece is that the beer-can is profane. The beer-can is profane. The design of the can’s primary concern appears to be marketing for profit with no interest no interest in ecology or aesthetics. Apparently there is little concern on the part of the buying public about this profanity - this obscenity. We get our beer, and the producer makes a profit. Meanwhile the important process of pouring from a fine vessel that could be used for genera­tions is lost to us. We have, as it were, profaned the whole process of “having a drink” which, in a more religious society would have the character of a sacra­mental. To add to the profanity we have, for several generations, strewn thou­sands upon thousands of cans throughout the land suggesting that we view our land as a garbage dump.

What does religion have to do with art? As with all of us in our world those in religion have to combat the profanities of modern society and teach our young how to bear their responsibilities in creating a world to live in if not more to salvage the one they are inheriting. I think I am nearly theologically correct to label as blasphemy the crass abuse we see around us in building matchbox houses, printing junk that gobbles up tons of newsprint, producing inane tapes for TV consumption; and we have only to go shopping to be reminded that the packaging and marketing of food and goods is rife with excess, redundancy, waste, banality, falsehoods, etc. All of this is the art - mostly junk and, if I could interbreed disciplines, I would say aesthetically “immoral”. We are coming to see that a great deal of it profanes the earth we walk on. But fortunately, among our artists, architects, and designers, we do have those who are concerned about these values and have succeeded, in some degree in their own work to do something about it. We recognize that the religious leaders in our community care about these same values. It seems to me that the only way we can achieve any significant change in our perception and making of the world is to generate a change in the perception of broad sections of people in our society through education.

(Video) The Sacred And Profane

I have three practical suggestions that might be of help to our religious leaders:

(1) Educate your congregations to recognize the profane in their common­place everyday life. Teach them to buy only those things which are well designed and well made - - and to boycott all manner of junk. This might take on the form of an on-going study group who can make practical suggestions for members of the congregation.

(2) See that anything that is church related for which you are responsible is welldesigned and well built. This means everything from the graphics of announcements to the design or renovation of church properties. Get qualified professionals who are responsible.

(Video) CYBERPUNK 2077 Joshua's Crucifixion | The Sacred and the Profane | Ambient Soundtrack

(3) Encourage the more capable members of church related groups to get involved in public planning issues.

We will consider these practical measures more extensively during our discussion period. I should like to conclude by noting again that we need to recognize the pro­fane in our everyday lives. This is where both the artist and the person in religion need to join their efforts.

Roman J. Verostko,Minneapolis College of Art and Design
September 30, 1974


What is the meaning of sacred and profane? ›

Sacred refers to the representations that transcend the chores of daily life. Profane, on the contrary, includes the everyday mundane and ordinary things, such as jobs, profession, daily commute, etc. Emile Durkheim gave the sacred-profane dichotomy, religion being his central characteristic.

What did Durkheim mean by the term profane? ›

The profane are those things considered mundane and ordinary elements of everyday life as well as those things that oppose the sacred. Durkheim proposed numerous functions of religion in a society: Fosters social unity and stability.

What is the difference between the sacred and the profane Eliade? ›

Eliade extends the comparative concept by describing how sacred impulses manifest themselves in space, time, nature, and human society, contrasting the religious viewpoint with that of the non-religious or profane person.

What is the sacred according to Eliade? ›

Crucial to an understanding of Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane are three categories: the Sacred (which is a transcendent referent such as the gods, God, or Nirvana), hierophany (which is the breakthrough of the sacred into human experience, i.e. a revelation), and homo religiosus (the being par excellence prepared ...

What does the Bible say about the sacred and the profane? ›

The profane is the precise opposite of the sacred, and refers to everything that has no special link to God. Whereas my home is profane, God's house is sacred; whereas the lamb grazing in the field is profane, the lamb presented as a sacrificial offering to God is sacred.

What is profane language example? ›

Swear words, obscene gestures, and naughty jokes are all considered profanity. You know those four-letter words you're not supposed to say? They're profanity: language that's vulgar and obscene. R-rated movies and cable stations like HBO have a lot of profanity, but you won't hear it on a station like NBC or ABC.

WHO classified religion into sacred and profane? ›

eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, tr. w. r. trask (New York 1959); Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. r. sheed (New York 1958) 1–37.

What is Durkheim's main theory? ›

Durkheim believed that society exerted a powerful force on individuals. According to Durkheim, people's norms, beliefs, and values make up a collective consciousness, or a shared way of understanding and behaving in the world. The collective consciousness binds individuals together and creates social integration.

What is meant by the sacred in sociology? ›

The sacred refers to things set part by man including religious beliefs,rites,duties or anything socially defined as requiring special religious treatment.

What is profane behavior? ›

The word profane can also describe behavior that's deeply offensive because it shows a lack of respect, especially for someone's religious beliefs. The Latin root profanus means "unholy," and that's where it all started.

What is meant when we say that the sacred is the opposite of the profane? ›

The state of being profane, or "profanity," refers to a lack of respect for things that are held to be sacred, which implies anything inspiring or deserving of reverence, as well as behaviour showing similar disrespect or causing religious offense.

What is a word for profane? ›


1 blasphemous, sacrilegious, impious, ungodly. 2 temporal. 3 unhallowed.

What is the difference between sacred space and profane space? ›

In this case the religious man would classify the church as sacred place because it has some holy value and the mall as the profane space because it has no holy value at all.

What are the 3 Bs of defining religion? ›

Bs" - belief, belonging, and behavior - as warrant for cross-cultural claims.

Who wrote Eliade? ›

The Iliad and the Odyssey are two of the world's most famous poems but very little is known about their creator, 'Homer'. Historian and writer Daisy Dunn goes in search of the poet of the Trojan War, exploring who Homer was and whether he ever actually existed.

Where in the Bible does it say not to swear on anything? ›

Jesus tells his listeners in Matthew 5:34 "to swear not at all" and in here presents examples of unacceptable swearing.

Does the Bible say do not swear with anything? ›

12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” James is clearly echoing Jesus' words. The Bible teaches Christians should not take oaths.

What is a taboo in the Bible? ›

The classical definition of taboo is something that's forbidden for religious or social reasons. For instance, the Hebrew Bible identifies eating pork as taboo because pigs are unclean animals.

What was the first curse word? ›

Fart, as it turns out, is one of the oldest rude words we have in the language: Its first record pops up in roughly 1250, meaning that if you were to travel 800 years back in time just to let one rip, everyone would at least be able to agree upon what that should be called.

Is OMG a swear word? ›

Once regarded as the purest profanity, "Oh, my God!" seems to have evolved into something a little less taboo over the years. The expletive even has its own text messaging acronym: OMG!, which inspired the title of Yahoo's celebrity gossip site. "The Web site ...

What type of word is profane? ›

Adjective. Treating sacred things with contempt, disrespect, irreverence, or scorn; blasphemous, impious.

What are the 4 religious classification? ›

The Four Dimensions of Religion
Religious ClassificationWhat/Who Is DivineExample
PolytheismMultiple godsHinduism, Ancient Greeks and Romans
MonotheismSingle godJudaism, Islam, Christianity
AtheismNo deitiesAtheism, Buddhism, Taoism
AnimismNonhuman beings (animals, plants, natural world)Indigenous nature worship, Shinto

What did Marx say about religion? ›

According to Karl Marx, religion in this world of exploitation is an expression of distress and at the same time it is also a protest against the real distress. In other words, religion continues to survive because of oppressive social conditions.

What is profane history? ›

Etymology. The term profane originates from classical Latin profanus, literally "before (outside) the temple", pro meaning 'outside' and fanum meaning 'temple' or 'sanctuary'. The term profane carried the meaning of either "desecrating what is holy" or "with a secular purpose" as early as the 1450s.

What are Durkheim's three components of morality? ›

There are three elements in Durkheim's theory of morality: a spirit of discipline, an attachment to social groups, and autonomy or self-determination. Each of these elements describes aspects of the human condition. In addition, and by implication, they have prescriptive value as well.

What are Emile Durkheim's two types of societies? ›

As part of his theory of the development of societies in, The Division of Labour in Society (1893), sociologist Emile Durkheim characterized two categories of societal solidarity: organic and mechanical.

Who is father of sociology? ›

Auguste Comte, in full Isidore-Auguste-Marie-François-Xavier Comte, (born January 19, 1798, Montpellier, France—died September 5, 1857, Paris), French philosopher known as the founder of sociology and of positivism.

What did Durkheim call objects that represent the sacred? ›

The sacred object may become what Durkheim calls a totem – an object symbolic of the sacred – for believers, it is endowed with meaning, but Durkheim argues that the meaning comes from the believers, the clan, or the group.

What are sacred things Durkheim? ›

For Durkheim, sacredness referred to those things in society that were forbidden or set apart; and since these sacred things were set apart by society, the sacred force, he concluded, was society itself.

What is an example of sacred? ›

Something sacred is holy, devoted to a religious ceremony, or simply worthy of awe and respect. Jerusalem is a sacred place for many religions, just as Fenway is a sacred place for Red Sox fans. Sacred is an adjective used to describe a person or thing worthy of worship or declared holy.

What country swears the most? ›

Coming out on top as the most likely to use explicit language online is France. The French have 7.59% - or seven in every 100 people - using curse words online per year. A close second was Poland, with 7.31%. Further down the rankings are Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

When was the F word first used? ›

The F-word was recorded in a dictionary in 1598 (John Florio's A Worlde of Wordes, London: Arnold Hatfield for Edw. Blount). It is remotely derived from the Latin futuere and Old German ficken/fucken meaning 'to strike or penetrate', which had the slang meaning to copulate.

What is meant by profane in the Bible? ›

adjective. Definition of profane (Entry 2 of 2) 1 : not concerned with religion or religious purposes : secular. 2 : not holy because unconsecrated, impure, or defiled : unsanctified.

Is profane the opposite of holy? ›

Profane means 'unholy, not devoted to holy or religious purpose'.

How do you use profane? ›

Profane in a Sentence
  1. Because the comic's jokes were profane and offensive to our religion, we left the show early.
  2. Our supervisor's profane language has led many employees to resign from their positions.
  3. When the coach heard the referee's call against his team, he began to yell profane words.

What is profane in Buddhism? ›

If there is anything profane, it's to think that and act like we can exclude God from the world that he made. However, he cannot be displaced from his world because he is “present everywhere and fills all things.” His work is continually manifested within the framework of human history.

What does the Bible say about sacred space? ›

When God created Adam, he set apart sacred space in which he would enter into fellowship with his newly created image bearer. Just as He had created time and space (Gen. 1:1-2), setting apart a portion of that time to be sacred unto Him, so the Lord set apart a portion of sacred space in which man would worship Him.

What is the difference between sacred and profane time? ›

In earlier times sacred referred to all things holy while profane referred to all things unholy or ordinary.

What are the 5 major of religion? ›

Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are five of the great religions of the world.

What are the 5 approaches to religion? ›

Theoretical/Methodological Approaches

These include anthropological, phenomenological, psychological, and sociological approaches, which trace their roots back to the Enlightenment.

What are the 4 300 religions? ›

What are the most widely practiced religions of the world?
  • Christianity (2.1 billion)
  • Islam (1.3 billion)
  • Nonreligious (Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.1 billion)
  • Hinduism (900 million)
  • Chinese traditional religion (394 million)
  • Buddhism 376 million.
  • Primal-indigenous (300 million)
6 Oct 2006

Why is Mircea Eliade important? ›

Mircea Eliade was the editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Religion, published in 1987 by Macmillan—one of the most monumental works on the study of religions. Its second edition was published in 2004 and is now an essential reference tool in many academic and public libraries.

What does it mean for Mircea Eliade to have a phenomenological method for understanding religion? ›

In Mircea Eliade's phenomenological approach, religion involves the experience of the sacred. Scholars do not have direct access to the experiences of the religious other. Instead, they assemble, describe, and attempt to interpret the meaning of data that are the expressions of religious beings.

Who used the term sacred and profane? ›

Durkheim noted two distinct areas within religions: Sacred and Profane objects. Sacred objects, rituals and people are regarded as having special significance and will be treated with awe and respect.

Is profane negative? ›

Profanity is widely considered socially offensive and strongly impolite; slurs, however, are both intended to be and by definition are derogatory, as they are meant to harm another individual.

What does profane life mean? ›

adjective. Something that is profane is concerned with everyday life rather than religion and spiritual things.

What is the true meaning of sacred? ›

sacred, the power, being, or realm understood by religious persons to be at the core of existence and to have a transformative effect on their lives and destinies. Other terms, such as holy, divine, transcendent, ultimate being (or ultimate reality), mystery, and perfection (or purity) have been used for this domain.

What does profane mean in sociology? ›

The profane is mundane, anything ordinary. The profane embraces those ideas, persons, practices and things that are regarded with an everyday attitude of commonness, utility and familiarity. The unholy or the profane is also believed to contaminate the holy or sacred.

Why the Bible is sacred? ›

The Bible is a sacred book that contains the word of God. Throughout its pages, the Holy Bible teaches that God never stops loving His children.

What makes sacred? ›

Sacred describes something that is dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity; is considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion; or inspires awe or reverence among believers.

What are sacred beliefs? ›

Description. Sacred beliefs are those that people hold to be unquestionably true. In fact the beliefs may be so deep, the person does not realize that they are beliefs, considering them as obvious facts instead. Sacred beliefs are characterized as triggering emotional reactions when they are challenged.

What is a crime against the church called? ›

Sacrilege is the violation or injurious treatment of a sacred object, site or person. This can take the form of irreverence to sacred persons, places, and things. When the sacrilegious offence is verbal, it is called blasphemy, and when physical, it is often called desecration.


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