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The Theatrical Space of Beliefs

Transcendence and Immanence in Roman-Catholic and Shi'a-Islam: From Napoli to Rasht

This project examines the theatrical spaces of holy graves in Shi'a Islam and Roman Catholic Christianity and the rituals connected with them - rituals which range from public events to personal experience. The space, which carries the grave and the dead into the realm of the living, also attests to the transition from the public practice of rituals of faith to the reproduction of religious acts in private.

The actors in these rituals are people committed to their faith. Without religious beliefs, they would not be able to carry out their role authentically as part of the ritual and could not reproduce the same effect in the religious acts. Both the religious practitioners and the theatrical space they use to practice their faith create an array of performative acts, which can be studied as a theatre.

The construction of holy craves and mausoleums creates a space that is sanctified to bear a dead body. A mausoleum is, furthermore, a space to see and be seen. The connection between Roman-Catholicism and Iranian-Shi‘a makes the space’s basic characteristics even more obvious, especially when two specific geographical places are contrasted. Both places date back to ancient times and were built near water. One is Napoli (Naples) in southern Italy and the other is Rasht (Resht) in the north of Iran.

The latter is an extraordinary setting and was home to multiple religions before Islam reached northern Iran. The hybrid identities that exist as part of a performing culture can be analysed through their various acts, in this case ritual. Two different important examples are the shrines of Imam’s Sister and of Danay-e Ali, both located in Rasht. The first shrine is dedicated to a female saint and the second to a prophet-like Sufi. Both are the most important theatrical spaces in the project’s focus on Shi'a rituals.

For the case of Roman-Catholic Napoli, the Miracle of Saint Januarius (San Gennaro) might be considered the most significant example of theatrical space for religious acts in this context. During this ritual, that takes place multiple times a year, thousands of Neapolitans gather to witness the dried blood of Januarius, the city’s patron saint, liquefy. The martyr’s blood and the process of its melting are meant to safeguard the city and prove that Januarius is the city’s most important patron.

The project aims to analyse theatrical systems rooted in religion thought. They work and communicate, like all theatrical systems, with the means of textual and performative elements. Transcendence and immanence as theatrical acts are the two most important in the case of religious rituals; they are the main reason why a ritual can be repeating itself, without losing their Audience, the believers.