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International Institute Conference on Arts of Devotion

March 4, 2021

The phrase “Arts of Devotion” typically brings to mind traditional ritual objects used as part of religious practices, or evokes items like costumes, masks, dances, songs, poetry, and literature. Arts of Devotion can tend to be conflated with only those items that are understood as “traditional,” rather than those that emerge from the contemporary moment, as if modern and contemporary art can only be associated with the purely secular world.

Yet there are numerous contemporary artists who have incorporated elements of the devotional into their works, and devotional arts have changed with the advent of modern technologies and changing socio-political contexts. We might also consider Arts of Devotion as potentially extending beyond the usual association with the religious to other “devotional” relationships, such as those for political or revolutionary leaders, or individuals’ loved ones.

This year’s conference explores both contemporary and traditional Arts of Devotion by bringing together scholars from across disciplines and temporal and regional contexts, to engage with one another and a broader audience of faculty, students, and the general public.

Co-sponsors: African Studies Center, Center for Armenian Studies, Center for Japanese Studies, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, Nam Center for Korean Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Center for South Asian Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Program in International and Comparative Studies, History of Art, University of Michigan Museum of Art.


9:00 am – Opening Remarks

Mary Gallagher, International Institute Director and Amy and Alan Lowenstein Professor of Democracy, Democratization, and Human Rights, University of Michigan

9:15 - 11:00 am – Devotion and Art in Contemporary Times

Recorded UMMA Presentation (5 mins)

Moderator: Rima Hassoneh, Community Outreach Coordinator, CMENAS and CSEAS, University of Michigan


Chanon Kenji Praepipatmongkol, Art Historian and Curator, Singapore Art Museum
Monuments in Meme Time: Ritual, Design, and the 2020 Thai Protests

Sascha Crasnow, Lecturer, Islamic Arts and Culture in the Arts and Ideas in the Humanities Program; Affiliate Faculty in Arab and Muslim American Studies and Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Michigan
Al-Buraq: Explorations of Liminality in Contemporary Islamic Art

Christopher Sheklian, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Comparative Religious Studies, Radboud University
Resonances of Armenian Liturgical Music from the Minaret to the Concert Hall

11:00 am - 12:00 pm – Break

12:00 - 2:20 pm – Global Perspectives on Pre-modern Devotional Arts

Recorded UMMA Presentation (5 mins)

Moderator:  David Doris, Associate Professor, History of Art, University of Michigan


Suzanne Davis, Associate Curator and Head of Conservation, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan
Graffiti as Social Devotion in Ancient Sudan

Brendan McMahon, Assistant Professor in History of Art, University of Michigan
The Matter of Impermanence: Taxonomies of Mutable Color in Sixteenth-Century Mexico

Lihong Liu, Sally Michelson Davidson Assistant Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures, University of Michigan
Vitreous Containers and the Aura of Religious Objects

Adrian Deese, 2019 LSA Collegiate Fellow and Lecturer, Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan
Early Yoruba Religious Tracts as Devotional Arts in Nigeria

Orna Tsultem, Assistant Professor, Edgar and Dorothy Fehnel Chair in International Studies, Indiana University Herron School of Art & Design
From Stone Sculptures to Imperial Portraits: Ancestral Worship and Acts of Devotion in Mongolia​

2:20 - 3:00 pm – Break

3:00 -  4:00 pm – Keynote & Closing Remarks

Recorded UMMA PRESENTATION (5 mins)

Introductory Remarks: Reginald Jackson, Director, Center for Japanese Studies; Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan

Keynote Speaker: Duncan Ryuken Williams, Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages & Cultures; Director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, University of Southern California
The Making of the Ireihi: A Monument to the WWII Japanese American Incarceration