Above Us Only Sky?

Above Us Only Sky?

This fall DITA hosted ​”Above Us Only Sky? Re-imagining the Cosmos with Dante and C.S. Lewis with Dr. Michael Ward (Oxford) and Dr. Malcolm Guite (Cambridge). With apologies to John Lennon, should we imagine there’s no heaven, that Planet Earth is surrounded by empty space?”

Using Dante’s ​Divine Comedy ​and Lewis’ ​Narnia ​series, Ward and Guite asked how a Christian imagination can deepen our understanding of earth, the cosmos, and creation. Guite and Ward argue that in writers like Lewis and Dante we can see a model for a reconciliation of reason and imagination in the human experience. ​

The audio for the entire lecture is available ​here​.

When asked if a rich theological imagination is important for leaders in the church, Guite recalled C.S. Lewis’ struggle before his conversion:

The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow ‘rationalism.’ Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.
–C.S. Lewis, ​Surprised by Joy


Guite suggested that when church leaders cultivate a theological imagination they are able to point people toward that reconciliation, citing Ephesians 3:18:​ “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth… [of God’s love.]” T​here is no single way of experiencing that breadth and depth, and the arts help Christians, especially church leaders, know that.

The event was part of a two-part series with the Center for Christianity & Scholarship. After the lecture, students in DITA’s Certificate for Theology & the Arts program spent an evening with Drs. Ward and Guite asking follow-up questions and in conversation. Dr. Guite will be a speaker and chaplain at DITA’s upcoming conference, DITA10.

Malcolm Guite

Poet-priest Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, and teaches at the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. He lectures widely in England and North America on Theology and Literature and has published poetry, theology, and literary criticism, including his most recent work, ​Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge.​



Michael Ward

Michael Ward is Senior Research Fellow at ​Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford​. He is the author of the award-winning ​Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis​ (Oxford University Press) and co-editor of​ ​The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis​ (Cambridge University Press).

The Publication of Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets

The Publication of Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets

DITA celebrates the publication of ​The Five Quintets b​y Irish-poet Micheal O’Siadhail. It is a work of poetry and cultural history, and it ​o​ffers a sustained reflection on modernity―people and movements―in poetic meter

The work was commissioned by DITA as part of the ​Theology, Modernity, and the Arts​ (TMA) project, our current major research initiative. ​The TMA project aims to bring theologians and artists together to ask how the arts can help us better understand from a Christian perspective the modern ideas, forces, and movements that have made us who we are. The results are both academic and artistic.

Watch Micheal O’Siadhail read from ​The Five Quintets

In the book’s introduction, O’Siadhail asks: ​how would we describe the contemporary world? He suggests that in order to better understand our present moment and our future trajectory, we must know our history. O’Siadhail spent 9 years writing ​Quintets​ and ​j​ust as Dante, in his ​Divine Comedy,​ summed up the Middle Ages on the cusp of modernity, ​The Five Quintets ​takes stock of a late modern world on the cusp of the first-ever global century.

Quintets ​converses with modern figures from the arts, economics, politics, science, and philosophy, and it employs numerous poetic techniques without compromising lucidity. ​“I’ve always wanted to be intelligible. Anybody who wants to read poetry, I would like them to understand my work,” O’Siadhail said. Across the range of figures, topics, and techniques is the theme of praise for God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. In the last section of the book, the speaker looks upon creation and describe its width, breadth, and depth as “a choreography of praise.”


>> ​The Five Quintets​ is available now from Baylor University Press


>> Read a profile of Micheal O’Siadhail in Commonweal Magazine

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.

An Evening of Story, Song, and Conversation with Dr. Richard Hays

An Evening of Story, Song, and Conversation with Dr. Richard Hays

This spring, students pursuing the Certificate in Theology and the Arts (CTA) had the opportunity to participate in an evening of discussion, storytelling, and song with Dr. Richard Hays. Dr. Jeremy Begbie kicked things off by conducting an informal interview of Dr. Hays, asking him about his journey to New Testament studies and how his love of literature influences his scholarship.


Along the way, Dr. Hays picked up his guitar and sang a few songs that have been particularly meaningful to him in different seasons of his life, including an original composition he had written in college for his future-wife. Particularly moving were Dr. Hays’ reflections on his favorite passages of poetry, including Eliot’s The Four Quartets, which took on special significance as he underwent a season of health troubles and approached his retirement.

Dr. Hays challenged students to continue the integrative work of theology and the arts, and prayed over the group. For the students in attendance, it was an all-too-rare experience:  the opportunity to witness the humanity, heart, and hard-earned wisdom of one of Duke’s most distinguished faculty members a week before his final class.

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.