Talk by James Noyes: Iconoclasm and the Destruction of Heritage Today

On Saturday 4th June, the Norfolk Churches Trust invited Dr. James Noyes of University College London to give a talk at Langham Church on the subject of “Iconoclasm and the Destruction of Heritage Today”.

Dr. Noyes grew up in Norfolk and went to the Norwich School. He was educated at the University of Cambridge and has taught on religious conflict at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. He is a research associate of University College London and a fellow of the London think tank ResPublica, where he works on policy questions involving cultural heritage, extremism and social cohesion.

Dr. Noyes’ book, The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-breaking in Christianity and Islam (I.B. Tauris, 2016) has been described by reviewers as “impressive”, a “fearless narrative”, and by the Times Literary Supplement as “making a crucial contribution to the body of recent landmark publications in the field”. In this book, he traces the history of iconoclasm from the Protestant Reformation to the present day, connecting Christian and Muslim attacks on images and demonstrating their role and influence on the formation of the modern state. Unlike many theological accounts, Dr. Noyes shows that iconoclasm is a deeply political act – one which is central to our own structures of nationhood.

In his talk at Langham Church, Dr. Noyes gave an account of iconoclasm and the destruction of heritage today, particularly the recent acts of so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Providing a historical context for these acts, he showed that far from being engaged in merely wanton acts of senseless destruction, Islamic State are in fact building on a long tradition of violence against images in both Christianity and Islam.

Dr. Noyes ended his talk with some questions and challenges for policy makers and the public today, asking how far people are willing to intervene to protect heritage from the hands of the iconoclasts. A lively discussion among the audience ensued.

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