Meet our 2021 ThD Students

DITA welcomes three new ThD students

September 15, 2021


Duke Initiatives for Theology and the Arts (DITA) is proud to welcome our new class of incoming ThD students, Andrew Hendrixson, Sarah Neff, and Jon Mansen. Their research will cover a variety of scholarly fields and interest, from rap music to novels to metaphysics and aesthetics.

Hendrixson says his research springs from his previous work as a writer and an artist, as well as his diverse interdisciplinary educational background, which includes English, fine art, theology and philosophy.

Andrew Hendrixson, DITA ThD student

“I am interested in finding generative ways in which to articulate something of the work that the arts do—not the arts as didactic illustrations nor as misty notions of creativity, but the arts as disclosive, humanizing, [and] necessary,” Hendrixson explains. “I am interested in finding ways to recover the reality of metaphysics as a central framework in aesthetics engagement rather than the sheepishly regressive addendum to which it is frequently relegated. In short, I want to help people believe again in the necessity of poems and paintings and to take seriously the theological implications that live there.”

Sarah Neff, DITA ThD student

Neff’s own research focuses on how novels and literary works participate in their readers’ moral formation, and on accompanying issues of theological ethics, intersubjectivity, empathy and power.

“I am interested in using theological and philosophical resources to explicate features of novelistic form such as causality and limit of perspective, with hopes to attend to how emotions such as empathy and perplexity socialize readers into their ethical responsibilities to others,” says Neff.

Mansen hopes to research the rich connections between rap music and Scripture.

“I am fascinated by the rich overlap between rap/hip-hop and the Bible, and how attending to each of these realms of artistic—and theological—modes of communal discourse might shed light on fresh ways of hearing and understanding both the Bible and hip-hop, and facilitating a fruitful conversation between these worlds,” Mansen says. He adds: “I am interested in exploring how the arts more broadly—whether poetry, visual art, or music—invigorate and inform the way we read the Bible and do theology.”

Jon Mansen, DITA ThD student

Hendrixson says he was drawn to the ThD program at Duke for many reasons, chief among them DITA’s faculty, whom he considers influential on his own work.

“I desire to learn alongside and be shaped by a specifically Christian community that is as rigorous as it is hospitable, and I found Duke Divinity to be the place where those desires merge,” Hendrixson says. “The interdisciplinary aspect of the program is also an important factor for me. I have a varied and circuitous academic background and Duke Divinity seems to be the place that could hold those varied interests and experiences.”

Neff likewise highlighted the community and the interdisciplinary opportunities available at Duke.

“I chose Duke Divinity School because I hope to conduct my study within a scholarly community that practices creativity, imagination, and love,” Neff says. “I am grateful to be a part of a program in which interdisciplinary thought is the norm, a program in which theological study can take place in conversation with resources across fields. I also recognize that choosing a program is not merely choosing an academic environment, but also an environment that will shape the types of questions I know to ask and the type of community member I will become. I am expectant for the holistic formation I will receive at Duke Divinity School.”

Mansen described the school as “fertile soil to deepen roots in the Christian tradition” during his studies, “while also actively fostering a theological imagination liberated by the boundless creativity and possibility of God. Duke Divinity’s focus on interdisciplinary exploration resists the compartmentalization of faith into a merely rational or privately spiritual endeavor. The DITA program in particular points toward a more robust and enchanting vision of the Christian faith, holistically engaging both intellect and imagination.”