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Sky Arts
55 minutes
April 2020
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Art of Faith II: Religions of the Tao

Art of Faith II is a sumptuous high-definition visual experience exploring the architecture and art of Buddhism, Hinduism and Religions of the Tao presented and narrated by the broadcaster John McCarthy. The three 55-minute films travel the world visiting the greatest and most significant religious buildings, exploring how the passions and complexities of religious beliefs have been expressed in architecture.

Filmed for Sky Arts and looking back over the last 3000 years, the series provides an insight into how we have celebrated art through faith. With contributions from architects, scholars and worshippers, the films explain the buildings’ genesis, laying down the brush strokes of the sites’ design, whilst looking at the shared elements and contrasts between religions and the aesthetics of the places of worship.

Religions of the Tao explores the traditions of Taoism that include Shinto, Confucianism, and Chinese folk religion, which focus on the Tao, the origin and law of all things in the universe. These religions and philosophies are less well known in the West in comparison to Buddhism and Hinduism and by exploring these places of worship, this film teases the similarities and differences, going so far as to explore the very boundaries of what a religion actually is.

The rituals and sites of Shinto are practised and visited by the vast majority of Japanese people and yet only a tiny percentage of the population identifies as a follower of Shinto. The Tao itself starts out from the premise that the Tao is indefinable and from there develops a philosophy, beliefs, and set of practices based upon the permanence of change, harmony, and unity. Confucianism was what sociologist Robert Bellah called a “civil religion,” meaning it can be considered both as a religious identity with a central moral understanding that underpins societies intuitions and part of everyday life where the social fabric itself is the area of religion. 

How do Taoist religions use places of worship and how does its architecture reflect their beliefs? What is the relationship between building and nature? Here we travel to Japan to explore Shinto and to China to visit the architecture of Taoism and Confucianism.

Locations

Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China
This famous complex of Taoist buildings, built in the early 15th Century, is in the south-east of Beijing. The Emperor was regarded as the Son of Heaven, and this temple was built for the great Yongle Emperor (also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City) to perform sacrifices to the source of his authority. All the buildings within the Temple have special dark blue tiles, representing Heaven.

Temple of Confucius, Qufu, China
The temple in Qufu is the oldest and largest Confucian temple, which is appropriate since it was founded at the legendary birthplace of the philosopher. It is said to have been founded within a year of Confucius’ death in 479 BCE. Like the Dai Mino it has a plan similar to that of the Forbidden City with 9 main courtyards stretching along an axis of more than a kilometre. At its heart is the Dacheng Hall.

Mount Tai, China
One of ‘Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism’, Mount Tai is associated with sunrise, birth and renewal. Pilgrims have been coming here for more than 3,000 years. Chinese emperors used to climb the mountain as soon as they had ascended to the throne – and their path is the one that john McCarthy will take to open the film. There are numerous temples and shrines along the route, which usually takes tourists around five or six hours. Located at the foot of the mountain, the Dai Mino is the main temple. Originally built at least 2,000 years ago, its five major halls follow the pattern of the imperial palace of the Forbidden City.

Yongle Palace, China
This is one of the earliest Taoist palaces and temples and also the best-preserved building from the Yuan Dynasty (constructed around 1260 CE). The great treasures here are the murals in the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones, which are the key paintings in Taoist art.

Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
This famous shrine is dedicated to Inari, the androgynous Shinto kami of fertility, foxes, rice and agriculture. It is the head shrine of some 30,000 Inari shrines in Japan. There are several buildings at the base of the Inari-san hill, but what makes the place so special is the thousands of red torii gates which form tunnels over paths snaking up into the woods.

Ise Jingu, Mie, Japan
With this famous complex of shrines in Japan, the film will have introduced its three key strands: Taoism, Confucianism and, here, Shinto. The Inner Shrine, or Naiku, is one of Shinto’s holiest sites, and the architectural style of its buildings may not be used in the construction of any other shrine. Remarkably, the old shrines are dismantled every twenty years and new ones are built just nearby so that the buildings will be both new and ancient. It’s all part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature. It was last rebuilt in 2013.

Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima, Japan
The shrine dates from the 6th century but the present buildings were constructed in the 12th. The shrine is built out over the bay. Commoners used not to be allowed to set foot here, but now hundreds of thousands of tourists come, in part to see the dramatic torii or gate which, at high tide, appears to be floating in the sea. The view with Mount Misen behind is officially designated as one of the Three Views of Japan.

This film is available as a single download or stream, as part of the three-film Art of Faith II series, or as part of the Art of Faith complete series available for download and streaming.

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