Pictures are fascinating. When we look at the same image again and again we discover new things or think of new stories behind the picture. Although the message of an image often seems obvious, most pictures have more than one dimension and inspire to tell various stories. Because they are fascinating and open to interpretation, pictures can be very powerful. With the photographs and sketches on our website, we wish to invite you to reflect together with us about the issues of our project.

Don’t worry if the pictures don’t speak to you at first sight. Come, let’s look at the image that appears when you open (if you open the link in a new browser window, you may see the image while reading on).

What do you see?

An exotic structure with a funny arrangement of unrelated animals and human figures? The lotus dome of a Hindu temple with the surprising addition of European looking statues? A part of a Christian church with strange Indian ornamentation? A unique combination of Hindu and Christian images?

I will not tell you now where this picture was taken (this will be revealed in a later post). The point here is that there are many different perspectives on this image which all have their own value (despite the fact that this structure has been built with a particular intention). We have selected this image for our website because it plays around with religious and cultural symbols we usually attribute to either Hinduism or Christianity. Depending on your background and interests, particular items will catch your eye.

Perhaps you will consider the crude combination of Hindu and Christian symbols irritating or offensive – even more so the cross with the Tamil ‘Om’ on the page describing the project? Brilliant! You raise an important issue. The picture points to a controversy that has been hotly debated for centuries in many religious circles: How far can one go without losing one’s religious identity, what are the core values, the central doctrines, the valid symbols and rituals, last but not least: what are the trusted narratives and stories that must not be compromised?

This question is at the heart of our project in which we look for new perspectives on religious conversion by examining stories converts wrote about their own experiences. For a convert, who has the intention to change her/his religion this question is equally troubling, only from a different angle. He/she must answer the question “Where is the ‘red line’ that I must cross to break with my old religion; and how do I convince my new companions that I am serious about joining their faith?”

I will address this issue in one of the following blog posts when discussing another picture on our website. In the meantime, let me know how you see the pictures we have selected for the website – simply send me a message though the “contact” page.


1 Comment » for Speaking through images 2: Power, Ambiguity, Identity
  1. Hephzibah Israel says:

    That’s a good question you ask Matthias… my next blog is precisely about one such ‘red line’ that some converts had to negotiate, whether to keep their kudumi or not! What may seem like an innocuous tuft of hair turned increasingly controversial in the context of conversion.