Skip to main content Accessibility help

Beauty, virtue, and religious exemplars



This article explores the beauty of religious exemplars – those special persons whose conduct and comportment marks their life out as one that exemplifies a religious life. Such exemplars are consistently described as beautiful, but it is not clear how or why. I suggest that we can make sense of the aesthetic aspect of religious exemplarity by adopting a ‘virtue-centric’ theory of beauty that understands the beautiful in terms of the expression or manifestation of virtues. Religious exemplars are those who have cultivated their virtues to an advanced degree and are beautiful for that reason. Attending to the beauty of religious exemplars can enrich exemplarist virtue theory, the aesthetics of character, and our understanding of the nature of a religious life.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Balthasar, H. U. von (1982) The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, I: Seeing the Form (Edinburgh: T&T Clark.)
Buddha, The (1995) The Long Discourses of the Buddha, Walshe, M. (tr.) (Boston, MA: Wisdom, 1995).
Chawla, N. (2003) Mother Teresa: The Centenary Edition (New Delhi: Penguin), 285286.
Cooper, D. E. (2008) ‘Beautiful people, beautiful things’, British Journal of Aesthetics, 48.3, 247260.
Cooper, D. E. (2010) ‘Edification and the experience of beauty’, in Keping, W. (ed.) Diversity and Universality in Aesthetics (Beijing: Institute for Transcultural Studies), 6280.
Cooper, D. E. (2014) ‘Religion without faith?’, paper read at the workshop Faith, Trust, and Religious Belief, Durham University, 16 July 2014.
Cooper, D. E. (forthcoming) ‘Buddhism, beauty, and virtue’, in Sikka, S., Maira, S., & Higgins, K. (eds), The End of Art and the Promise of Beauty (Dordrecht: Springer).
Cottingham, J. (2005) The Spiritual Dimension: Philosophy, Religion, and Human Values (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Davies, O. (2004) ‘The theological aesthetics’, in Oakes, E. T. & Moss, D. (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 131142.
Frankfurt, H. (2005) On Bullshit (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Harcourt, E. (2001) ‘Nietzsche and the “aesthetics of character”’, in May, S. (ed.) On the Genealogy of Morality: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 265284.
Inayat Khan, H. (2013) The Heart of Sufism: Essential Writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan (Boston: Shambhala Press).
Kirwan, J. (1999) Beauty (Manchester: Manchester University Press).
Moss, D. (2004) ‘The saints’, in Oakes, E. T. & Moss, D. (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 7992.
Mothersill, M. (1984) Beauty Restored (Oxford: Clarendon).
Mrozick, S. (2007) Virtuous Bodies: The Physical Dimensions of Morality in Buddhist Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Nārada, M. (ed. and tr.) (2007) A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Abhidhammattha Sangha of Ācariya Anuruddha (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society).
Nehru, J. (1962) An Autobiography (Bombay: Allied Publishers).
Novitz, D. (1991) ‘Love, friendship, and the aesthetics of character’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 28.3, 207216.
Rūmī, J-D. (2012) Selected Poems of Rūmī (New York: Dover).
Samuels, J. (2010) Attracting the Heart: Social Relations and the Aesthetics of Emotion in Sri Lankan Monastic Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press).
Sartwell, C. (2004) Six Names of Beauty (London: Routledge).
Scruton, R. (2009), Beauty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Scruton, R. (2014) The Soul of the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Sherman, N. (2005) ‘Of manners and morals’, British Journal of Educational Studies, 53.3, 272289.
Wijayaratna, M. (1990) Buddhist Monastic Life: According to the Texts of the Theravada Tradition, Grangier, C. & Collins, S. (trs) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Williams, B. (2002) Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Wynn, M. (2013) Renewing the Senses: A Study in the Philosophy and Theology of the Spiritual Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Zagzebski, L. (2010) ‘Exemplarist virtue theory’, Metaphilosophy, 41, 4157.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed