New Doctoral Scholarship in Visual Arts at DITA

New Doctoral Scholarship in Visual Arts at DITA

DITA is pleased to announce the creation of the Bowden Th.D. Scholarship in the Visual Arts. Through the generosity and vision of Sandra and Robert Bowden, Duke Divinity School will now offer five years of funding for a doctoral student doing research at the intersection of Theology and the Visual Arts.

This is an exciting development for DITA as it serves to strengthen the Research and Teaching mandates of its mission. Details regarding the fellowship and application will be made available in September, 2018.

The Bowdens have worked tirelessly for several decades to make visual artwork available to colleges, churches, and other institutions around the United States. Sandra is a painter, printmaker and scholar, and was President of the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) for 14 years. She was also on the board and founding member of the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City. Sandra currently serves on DITA’s advisory board.

The Bowden’s generosity is a significant investment in doctoral education at Duke Divinity and will doubtless have a tremendous impact on the field of Theology and Arts in the years to come.

The First Annual Certificate in Theology and the Arts Research Colloquium

The First Annual Certificate in Theology and the Arts Research Colloquium

This spring, five graduating students in Duke Divinity’s Master of Divinity (M.Div) and Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.)  programs presented their terminal theses as part of DITA’s new Certificate in Theology and the Arts (CTA). This was the first research colloquium for the Certificate, which provides Masters level students an avenue to integrate the arts into their faith and work.

Presentations ranged from speculative theology to cultural criticism to service-learning projects completed during field education placement.

Speculative Theology
To open the research colloquium, M.T.S. graduates, Alyssa Williams and Madeline Mulkey, presented their research in the sphere of speculative theology. A trained performance artist herself, Williams was able to bring her professional experience as a dancer into conversation with the theological aesthetics of the icon for her presentation, “Dance, Icon, and the Spiritual Body: How the ‘Anastasis’ Informs a Theology of Dance.” Mulkey argued that modern poets like T.S. Eliot can offer rich critical engagement with modern theologians. Her presentation, “Poetry as an Alternative to Theodicy: Beyond Philip Tallon’s The Poetics of Evil,” focused on the scholarship of the Houston Baptist University professor Philip Tallon.

Cultural Criticism
For her presentation, M.Div. student, Lisa Beyeler, built upon her research of the Japanese mingei (or folk art) tradition for DITA’s exhibition of Sadao Watanabe’s biblical prints. She brought together the works of contemporary mingei theorists with Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Frantz Fanon for her paper, Mingei Theory and the Aesthetics of Japanese Fascism.”

Service-Learning Projects
M.Div. graduates, Darin Nettleton and Lauren Hunter, presented two thought-provoking community-building projects from their field education placements. Nettleton’s “Learning to See” centered on a Bible study congregants at his field education placement used to thoughtfully engage scripture with fine art and architecture. Similarly, Hunter’s “Information to Transformation: Art and Christian Imagination in College-Aged Students” recounted the multi-week visual arts based Bible study she created for young adults at a local congregation.

DITA is pleased to offer the CTA to masters students at Duke Divinity School. It provides a rich foundation of theological and practical training that is central to a lifelong engagement with the arts in church ministry, the non-profit sector, the academy, and beyond. This first research colloquium for CTA students is the culmination of their passion for the arts and theological research.

To learn more about CTA visit our certificate page and contact DITA.

Jeremy Begbie Speaks at St. George’s Episcopal Church Art Show in Nashville

Jeremy Begbie Speaks at St. George’s Episcopal Church Art Show in Nashville

In April 2018, DITA director, Professor Jeremy Begbie spoke at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee for their seventh annual art show.

Sixty artists showed 80 works that included paintings, photography, mixed media, and sculpture. The show was organized around the theme of light inspired by a parish initiative to encourage being a “light in the city.” Professor Begbie gave an evening talk on “Hearing Freedom Through Music” as a part of the weekend opening of the show.

Since 2016, St. George’s has collaborated with DITA at as a part of the church’s ongoing quest to dig deeper into the connection between faith and art. In 2017, DITA and St. George’s launched a parish partnership, which includes a field education placement in theology & the arts at St. George’s.

Read an interview with St. George’s Rector Leigh Spruill & DITA alum Lisa Beyeler about DITA’s parish partnership. 

Led by a group of laity that meets monthly to engage in art from a spiritual perspective, St. George’s continues to benefit from the DITA collaboration in many ways—including a Marc Chagall exhibit of lithographs and etchings of religiously themed work. In Fall 2018, renowned poet Malcolm Guite and C.S. Lewis Scholar Michael Ward will visit St. George’s followed by a winter exhibition of the print works of Sadao Watanabe.

St. George’s has an enduring legacy of engagement with and patronage of the arts, both within the church and throughout Nashville. As artists and creators, they seek to see God through the transcendent beauty of all art, challenge each other through study and making new art and sharing revelations in the broader community of faith through exhibits and performance. The DITA partnership challenges the parish to explore all artistic practices and offers the church additional forms through which many people encounter the Gospel.

Lisa Johnson is the co-leader of the Arts Community at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee. A life-long Southern Baptist now confirmed Episcopalian; she has learned more about the Bible from her college art history class than 20 years of Sunday School. She is a graphic designer and marketing consultant in Nashville.

Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet Performance and Panel Discussion

Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet Performance and Panel Discussion

This spring, DITA co-hosted Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet with Duke Divinity Center for Reconciliation to perform at Duke Divinity chapel services and take part in a  lunchtime panel discussion. Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet serves to “love and serve all” as the church embodied through the visible form of dance. The performance, “Roar of Nations,” was based on renditions of various Psalms on God’s comfort and God’s majesty over the nations. The dances were accompanied by readings in Hebrew.

After the performance, Ekklesia dancers took part in a panel moderated by DITA students from the Certificate in Theology and the Arts (CTA) program.

“Dance allows us to express with our bodies what we cannot put into words,” said panel moderator and CTA student, Kendall Vanderslice, “This is especially important for the church that is often skeptical of bodies.”

The lunch panel explored how dance can lead to a better understanding of the body and how it can inspire reconciliation. Ekklesia Artistic Director Elisa Schroth said their performances are intended to inspire a call to action, whether it’s reconciliation with one another or in the world.

Said Vanderslice, “Reconciliation is not just an abstract form of healing — it involves the need for healing embodied relationships. Art, movement, and dance allow us to re-imagine the relationship of our bodies to one another, to creation, and to God as the reconciled relationships for which we strive.”

Ekklesia is based in Connecticut. Their repertory addresses issues such as poverty, inequality, and human suffering through transformative dance.

The New Iconoclasm with Dr. Natalie Carnes

The New Iconoclasm with Dr. Natalie Carnes

DITA welcomed back Dr. Natalie Carnes as part of our Distinguished Lecture Series in Theology and the Arts in the Spring of 2018.

Dr. Carnes’ lecture, titled The New Iconoclasm: A Christological Reflection on Making and Breaking Images, drew important historical and Scriptural connections between modern images and how people both break and make them. Iconoclasm responds to the way images are more than their literal existence — the way they mediate something beyond their materiality.

Dr. Carnes offered a Christological reading of how we might respond faithfully to images.  She is a constructive theologian who reflects on traditional theological topics through somewhat less traditional themes, like images, iconoclasm, beauty, gender, and childhood. She draws on literary and visual works as sources and sites of theological reflection, and her interest in doing so takes her into questions of religious knowledge and authority. What are the possibilities and limitations of different theological genres? To listen to the full lecture (audio) click here. Her lecture was followed by a time for questions from the audience as well as time set aside for conversation with students enrolled in DITA’s new Certificate of Theology and the Arts.



Dr. Carnes completed her Ph.D at Duke University and is now an Associate Professor of Theology at Baylor University. She is the author of Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa (Cascade 2014) and most recently Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia (Stanford 2017). Her current project explores the intersection of art, aesthetics in relation to poverty and luxury.

DITA’s Distinguished Lecture Series in Theology & the Arts has brought dynamic theologians and artists to Duke Divinity since 2009. Click here for information on previous guests.

Sadao Watanabe Exhibition at Duke University Chapel

Sadao Watanabe Exhibition at Duke University Chapel

This winter, DITA partnered with Duke University Chapel to host Beauty Given by Grace: The Biblical Prints of Sadao Watanabe, a series of fifty katazome stencil prints on biblical themes by Japanese Christian artist, Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996). On loan from the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) organization, the exhibition featured original momogami and washi prints, cards, and calendars from the collections of Sandra Bowden and John A. Kohan.

Desiring to communicate his Christian beliefs within the Japanese cultural imagination, Watanabe reinterpreted biblical narratives within a Japanese indigenous context, using traditional Japanese folk art traditions and settings. Celebrated internationally for his Japanese depictions of biblical scenes, Watanabe’s work was accepted into the preeminent collections of the world, including the British Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, and even hung in the corridors of power — the Vatican Museum and, during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the White House.

As a part of DITA’s exhibition, a closing reception was held for the community. Lisa Beyeler, a Duke Divinity student with DITA, gave a talk on Watanabe’s work within the context of the mingei (or Japanese folk art) movement. Bringing to light recent Japanese scholarship that has questioned the overwhelmingly favorable and uncritical acceptance of mingei in the West, Beyeler’s presentation reexamined mingei’s claim to authentic Japanese values and forms and argued that it is only through the scrupulous investigation into mingei’s development that one can see, with new eyes, the “beauty given by grace” in Watanabe’s biblical mingei prints. Beyeler’s presentation was expanded into her final thesis for DITA’s Certificate in Theology and the Arts (CTA).

Photos courtesy of Duke University Chapel.

Two New Publications from Director Jeremy Begbie

Two New Publications from Director Jeremy Begbie

DITA is thrilled to announce that director, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, has two upcoming books from Eerdmans Publishing and Baker Publishing Group. The first, Redeeming Transcendence in the Arts: Bearing Witness to the Triune God, will be published February 2018, and the second, A Peculiar Orthodoxy: Reflections on Theology and the Arts, will be published August 2018.


Redeeming Transcendence in the Arts: Bearing Witness to the Triune God

“Both learned and lucid. This book will challenge and illuminate the whole field.” N.T. Wright

It is widely believed that there is something transcendent about the arts, that they can awaken a profound sense of awe, wonder, and mystery, of something “beyond” this world. Many argue that this opens up fruitful opportunities for conversation with those who may have no use for conventional forms of Christianity.

Jeremy Begbie—a leading voice on theology and the arts—in this book employs a biblical, trinitarian imagination to show how Christian involvement in the arts can (and should) be shaped by a vision of God’s transcendence revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. After critiquing some current writing on the subject, he goes on to offer rich resources to help readers engage constructively with the contemporary cultural moment even as they bear witness to the otherness and uncontainability of the triune God of love.


A Peculiar Orthodoxy: Reflections on Theology and the Arts

World-renowned theologian Jeremy Begbie has been at the forefront of teaching and writing on theology and the arts for more than twenty years. Amid current debates and discussions on the topic, Begbie emphasizes the role of a biblically grounded creedal orthodoxy as he shows how Christian theology and the arts can enrich each other. Throughout the book, Begbie demonstrates the power of classic trinitarian faith to bring illumination, surprise, and delight whenever it engages with the arts.

Mary: The Paper Doll Project Exhibition and Talk by Carole Baker

Mary: The Paper Doll Project Exhibition and Talk by Carole Baker

Carole Baker premiered her interactive exhibition, “Mary: The Paper Doll Project,” with an opening lecture at Duke University Chapel on Wednesday, December 20th at 2pm. The premier followed the annual Duke Chapel by Candlelight Christmas Open House. Baker, an associate research and a Th.D. student at the Divinity School, created the project that presents different cultural depictions of the Virgin Mary. The exhibition consisted of four life-sized “paper dolls” which allowed viewers to interchange the outer layers of the dolls, resulting in the exploration of the universality and particularity of Marian manifestations.

DITA Launches Parish Partnerships: An Interview with Rev. Leigh Spruill

DITA Launches Parish Partnerships: An Interview with Rev. Leigh Spruill

We are thrilled to announce that DITA has entered into the second of a multi-year partnership with St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This pioneering initiative grows out of and reflects DITA’s mission to be anchored and expressed in local congregations. As a church with an extraordinary commitment to the visual and musical arts, St. George’s is uniquely placed to benefit from the research and teaching in theology and the arts at DITA as well as to help future ministers put into practice this crucial area of the church’s worship and mission. The  mutually-enriching collaboration between St. George’s and DITA is a unique opportunity to launch  what we hope will become a much larger and nation-wide initiative.

St. George’s Episcopal Church Choir

In this interview, Duke Divinity student, Lisa Beyeler (LB) interviews Rev. Leigh Spruill (LS) about this unique partnership and their first summer with a DITA-affiliated Field Education student.

Lisa Beyeler: How have you seen the arts inform the life of St. George’s Episcopal Church? How do the arts speak to your own vocation as a rector?

Leigh Spruill: Fortunately, this congregation has not needed to be convinced of the importance of the arts. We have plenty of art lovers, and over the years this parish has accumulated an impressive fine arts collection. Our choral ministry of sacred music has a long-standing reputation for excellence. What is new here is a vigorous engagement with question around how the arts can be a means by which the truths of the Gospel are received and shared. We situate this conversation within our current cultural milieu. I think one could say the late-modern era is characterized by a kind of alienation from the experience of deep wonder over the created world as well as from the great reserve of our faith when it comes to the possibility of understanding greater truths that speak to the human experience.

The arts — that is, good art — help us not simply to see a world, but to behold it. In our day, I am not sure preaching, teaching, and apologetics will prove initially attractive to a lot of people unfamiliar with the faith, as vitally important as each of those ministries is. Rather, I believe that what people in our day yearn for are deeper truths conveyed in powerful and unexpected forms of beauty — beautiful people, made in the image of God, creating beautiful things. I give thanks that there are many here at St. George’s who are eager to test this notion.


The arts — that is, good art — help us not simply to see a world, but to behold it … I believe that what people in our day yearn for are deeper truths conveyed in powerful and unexpected forms of beauty — beautiful people, made in the image of God, creating beautiful things.


LB: Why were you drawn to DITA’s new church partnership program? What opportunities are you most excited about?

LS: Despite the plethora of gifted leaders knowledgable in the arts at St. George’s, we were thrilled and honored to enter into a relationship with DITA, whose guidance, support, and fresh perspectives have already been immensely helpful. I was familiar with the work of Dr. Jeremy Begbie, so the opportunity to partner with him at the level of our local congregation and to have him visit to teach and preach is tremendous for our congregation, as well as for me personally. I am particularly excited about the possibilities this partnership offers for the edification of our community, for discipleship, and for mission. First, we hope that the events, new ministries, and conversations arising from the partnership will bring us together as a parish family in ways that would not occur otherwise. Second, I want St. George’s to have a deeper engagement with the arts and its connection to discipleship; that is, forming people in the Gospel through artistic expressions and appreciation. That begins with simply helping people pay better attention. Learning to recognize goodness, truth, and beauty in the world — and to point others to them — are great acts of love. Thus, third, we are excited about how DITA is helping us think of the arts missionally. We are excited about new friends being drawn into our parish life through tangible expressions of this partnership — events, teachings, art shows, social gatherings — as well as creative ways in which some of our members are going forth to get to know and support those in the wider arts community here in Nashville.

Last spring, Dr. Jeremy Begbie visited St. George’s Episcopal Church in order to give a series of lectures and preach at the church.

LB: This summer, I had the privilege of working with the clergy and staff at St. George’s as the first DITA-affiliated Field Education student from Duke Divinity School in order to compile an Arts Assessment document. What is the Arts Assessment and how did it come about? How do you envision the Arts Assessment working to foster continued growth in St. George’s engagement with the arts?

LS: I have already mentioned the parish’s long-standing appreciation of the arts. However, we have never had a comprehensive strategic vision or clear programmatic oversight. We have had multifaceted but disconnected arts ministries. A significant component of this partnership with DITA is hosting a summer Field Education student connected to DITA. This past summer, we were blessed to have you join us in order to undertake an inventory of our various arts ministries. By entering into the life of the church, you assessed strengths and weaknesses, and proposed a new parish framework by which these ministries might be more unified around vision, enjoy greater communication, and, where possible, collaborate more intentionally in the furtherance of a comprehensive vision for the arts at St. George’s. The resulting Arts Assessment document we now have offers a strategic plan, leadership recommendations, and practical suggestions for the implementation of this new framework. It is an invaluable document guiding us forward.

Members of the Nashville Symphony perform a mid-day concert in celebration of Mozart’s birthday at St. George’s.

LB: What would you say to a church interested in partnering with DITA?

LS: I would say, “Do it!”

Why is it that there seems to be proportionally fewer robust Christians involved in the creative arts? How is it that what sometimes passes as Christian art is actually pretty bad art? Do our churches encourage artistic expressiveness? Can we do more than think of the arts in the church as our calling to curate museum pieces, as important as that may be? What are the catechetical possibilities for our people in more boldly utilizing the arts to help us ask questions and discern answers? In what ways might our shared loved of the creative arts help the church in times like this connect with creative artists outside of the church?


What are the catechetical possibilities for our people in more boldly utilizing the arts to help us ask questions and discern answers? In what ways might our shared loved of the creative arts help the church in times like this connect with creative artists outside of the church?


To me, these are exciting questions to be asking. But I am not competent to lead us into all the answers. Thus, it is such a privilege to partner with DITA, whose very goal is to situate the church’s engagement with the arts at the most basic level of the church — the local congregation. I taught a Sunday School class on faith and the arts not long ago on this theme: when we cease to look to God together, we cease to see all there is to see. Looking at our arts ministries together with DITA has already immensely helped us to see new possibilities to bless and to be blessed.

The Rev. R. Leigh Spruill has served as Rector of St. George’s since early 2005. Prior to his call to St. George’s, Leigh served as Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville, Florida, as Associate Rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama and as Assistant Rector at St. James’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. A native of Tappahannock, Virginia, Leigh received his BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After college, he attended the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He was ordained in the Diocese of Virginia in 1996.

Lisa Beyeler is a M.Div. student at Duke Divinity School pursuing a Certificate in Theology and the Arts. Prior to graduate studies, Lisa spent nearly a decade working in the public and private sectors as a landscape architect and urban designer, contributing to projects for the City of Seattle, City of Portland, Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Seattle Center, One and Two Penn Plaza in Manhattan, and Leach Botanical Garden in Portland, Oregon. Lisa is a graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, where she received a degree in landscape architecture, with minors in architecture and music.


Images courtesy of St. George’s Episcopal Church.