Art and Major World Religions


Art and religion have been existing since time immemorial. It tends to be used to depict supreme beings and diving roles within the society because of its substantial emotional influence. Additionally, its ability to display an accurate picture of ancient mythological representations can easily facilitate religious analysis (Rosen, 2015). This has been proven throughout history because of its robust emotional effect and power to act instantly and straight on people’s perception. This aspect greatly influences an individual’s religious experience. Arts evoke a sense of dominance or the existence of religious concepts in the world. The propositions of art are beyond people’s understanding, thus portraying a more robust divine image of art. The three major world religions, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, have distinct forms of art that express their roles and beliefs. Various visual components of art relate directly to different convictions, dogmas, and mythologies of religion.

Relationship Between Art and Religion

Art defines religion as the illustration of moral beliefs related to what humans consider holy, divine, or sacred through drawings, paintings, and sculptures. Concerns have, however, been raised on the influence of arts in religion. Rosen (2015) argues that the robust emotional effect of arts raises issues that people will get distracted by the beauty of the arts as opposed to the scriptures, intended message, and religious sentiments. For instance, music can give the audience a divine feeling of being closer to God. Simultaneously, it can make people get carried away by the euphoric feeling instead of keenly concentrating on the religious message being passed. The definition of religion through art can be misleading as both music and images are not always ideally clear on their words and the message they want to pass. Pictures that were painted in the past assist in bringing back the emotion and significance of past times. The art and pictures in holy books help people understand religion more as they do not just see the events but follow them with illustrations (Rosen, 2015). Towards the end of the second century, art became widely spread in sculptures, writings, and books.

Mythology refers to the study of traditional religious beliefs and stories that play a vital role in explaining the early history of various cultures and groups. Religion has many accounts with unique mythical characteristics explaining natural phenomena and the life of certain people’s heroes and beliefs from different faiths. The elements of rituals, heroism, leadership, and practices are among the most predominant religious features of myth in art. Notably, these characteristics are evident in Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Therefore, the four elements’ observation reveals a positive relationship between art and religion in the mythological sense.

The Early Christian Art

Christian art’s early stages can be drawn from the start of the third century to the second century. The significant functions brought about the introduction of Christian art in the early church portrayed and played in Greco-Roman culture. Chandra et al. (2016) assert a marked difference in Christian religious practices as they gained more converts. For example, the Roman’s changed their burial customs from cremation to using tombs such as cubicula for burying the dead. The theme of death and resurrection was seen to be presented in a series of images. For instance, Jonah’s biblical story is a perfect epitome of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, considering that the Whale vomited him after staying three days in its belly. Therefore, I do not believe that religious art is propaganda because Jonah’s story in the artwork below is a credible illustration of the death and transfiguration of Jesus Christ.

The Christian art of Jonah’s story 
Figure 1. The Christian art of Jonah’s story

Mythology can also be connected to the story of Moses in the old testament. These are widely represented in Christian art of the early centuries, both in sarcophagi and paintings. Allegorically, this can be seen to allude to the main narrative of Abrahamic religions. Notably, Moses’s life gives various accounts of religion that present the Christianity view of contemporary society. For example, Christians tend to abide by the ten commandments of living and have practices to have faith and stay committed to serving God, just as Moses did. Christian mythology considers the birth, life, and contributions of Moses as heroic. For instance, his escape from death at birth, miracles when fleeing from Egypt, and recognition from Mt. Sinai are essential events that represent mythological heroes’ lives. Indeed, Moses’s story is biblical mythology in Christianity because it accounts for significant events in the old testament; hence it does not suggest any form of religious propaganda.

Moreover, God’s voice from the burning bush was another essential part of mythological perception in Christianity. This marks a vital turning point for Moses as God prepares him on a mission to save his people from bondage. Therefore, Christians portray Moses as a prophet of God destines to liberate and lead the Israelites to a land full of milk and honey. Figure 2 is an artwork representing Moses as a heroic symbol in the Christian world. Towards that end, religious heroes such as Moses abide by specific characteristics, patterns, and missions that define the nature of Christian traditions.

Moses as a heroic symbol in Christianity
Figure 2: Moses as a heroic symbol in Christianity

The Early Islamic Art

Good examples of some of the Islamic arts include Mina’s ware bowl, a Qur ‘an, a silk carpet, the Taj Mahal, The Dome of the Rock. Islamic art is believed to have come from Arabia in the 7th century. The skills in the modern Islamic world are traced back to the ancient land where Muslims ruled. Likewise, there are types of objects and themes that link the Islamic sculptures together (Van Gogh & Grimshaw, 2016). For example, a Calligraphy is an essential form of art in the world of Islamic. The Qur’an, written in scripts by Muhammad received directly from Allah in his visions, symbolizes Allah’s divine word. Verses of the Quran are written in calligraphy and are found in various forms of architecture and art. Based on the artistic pictures in figure 3, women wear hijabs as a sign of spiritual divinity in the presence of Allah. In this sense, art is used as a symbol of divine recognition in the Muslim world.

Women and Hijabs in the Islamic religion 
Figure 3: Women and Hijabs in the Islamic religion

The Buddhism Art

Buddhism originated from what is currently in India. It grew in a systematic religion practiced mostly by nuns, monks, and laypeople. The beliefs formed a massive canon, and images were made to be worshipped in sacred regions that saw Buddhism spread from India to even Asia. Buddha’s had several spiritual events, such as the Middle way’s doctrine, the Samsara and Time, Space Karma, and Nirvana. For example, analyzing Nirvana, the Nirvana of Buddha describes how one achieves salvation and talks about impermanent and cyclical. (Chandra et al.,2016). The art reveals the pain experience implying that all suffer; even gods do suffer. They are only ‘gods’ for a single lifetime, and afterward, they are reborn. The Beings should find a way out of the infinite cycle of resurgence. The aim is Nirvana, which is extinction and the traditional Nirvana is nowhere. It is outside the contemporary notion of religion and the universe.

The art of Nirvana of the Buddha
Figure 4: The art of Nirvana of the Buddha


The class lectures noted certain aspects of religious mythology pertaining to the traditional religious beliefs of Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. The representations such as Jonah and Moses’ story correspond to the historical knowledge regarding the creation of the ten commandments, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the delivery of Israelites from bondage. Furthermore, the Islamic artwork corresponds to our class knowledge of the significance of the ‘hijab’ among Muslim women. The art of Nirvana of the Buddha also relates to our class understanding of deities in Buddhism, especially their death and rebirth. Notably, there is a marked similarity in Nirvana and Jonah’s art because they illustrate the death and rebirth of Jesus and Buddha as supreme beings. However, the Islamic representation is different from the rest as it only exemplifies the tradition of dressing and worship among Muslim women.


Overall, art has continued to influence the nature and understanding of religion and has played a significant role in the study and practice of faith both in the past, today, and in the future. It is seen from way back in ancient ages as a way of diffusing God’s word in a non-literal manner. Art has also helped those seeking hope in religion as everyone is looking for peace and strength to hold onto and whereby else is better than in the divine faith. Human beings have had beliefs in religion, as evidenced by the earliest forms of architecture where some forms of art were used as intermediaries between the moral being and God. Various communities, such as the Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, have their distinct form of arts, strengthening their beliefs and bringing about motivation and inspiration.


Chandra, A., Cempellin, L., Chiem, K., Dardashti, A. L., Dalal, R. J., Kenney, E., Kamran, P. S., Murayama, N., & Elkins, J. P. (2016). Looking beyond the canon: Localized and globalized perspectives in art history pedagogy. Art History Pedagogy & Practice, 1(1), 2. Web.

Rosen, A. (2015). Art and religion in the 21st century (1st ed). Thames & Hudson.

Van Gogh, V. W., & Grimshaw, J. A. (2016). History of painting (1st ed). Routledge.

Walls, A. F. (2015). Missionary movement in Christian history: Studies in the transmission of faith (1st ed). Orbis Books.

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