Brian Bennett, Ph.D., professor of religious studies at Niagara University, was a featured keynote speaker at “Conceptualizing Sacred Languages and Their Visual Inimitability,” an international conference sponsored by the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities Dec. 7-8, 2023, at the SOAS University of London.

The lecture, “Placing Sacred Languages: From the Locative to the Utopian,” discussed the relationship between sacred languages and sacred spaces, with a focus on how the ancient Church Slavonic language fits with Russian Orthodox architecture and iconography.

“My keynote lecture ties together different strands of research I've developed for the past 20 years,” Dr. Bennett said. “I'm particularly interested in something called vyaz, or 'intertwined writing’: super elaborate inscriptions found on the walls, paintings, and ritual vessels and vestments of a Russian temple. For the believer, this hieroglyphic-like style contributes much to spiritual 'vibe' of the worship space.

“Though they might be foreign to a lot of people's experience, sacred languages play a vital role in several world religions, including Judaism (Hebrew), Islam (Arabic), Hinduism (Sanskrit), and Buddhism (Pali),” he continued. “And, of course, Latin is still the official language of record for the Catholic Church.”

Dr. Bennett has been on the faculty of NU’s Department of Religious Studies since 2001. He is the author of “Religion and Language in Post-Soviet Russia,” and “Sacred Languages of the World: An Introduction.” He holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

The Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities is based at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and at the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Egypt. It was established in 2013 as the first bilateral young academy worldwide. AGYA promotes research cooperation among outstanding early career researchers from all disciplines who are affiliated with a research institution in Germany or in any Arab country.