Exchanges between theology and the arts have been burgeoning in the last decade or so—especially in the US and the UK. Indeed, it is hard to keep up with all that has been happening in churches, colleges, and universities. Encouraging as all this is, we have found that without rigorous and lively theology at its heart, the conversation quickly turns anaemic, drained of Christian distinctiveness. Since DITA was founded, we have made it a priority not only to provide rigorous teaching, but to promote research, and—where possible—scholarly writing that is unashamedly theological and geared towards setting the agenda for future Christian engagement with the arts.
I have just finished grading papers for a master’s class on theology and the arts that I teach with my colleague, Dr. Dan Train. We have been astonished by the energy and creativity of these essays, and most of all by the theological courage and determination shown by our students. This is what it will take if Christian witness in the arts is going to have the tang of redemptive joy in a culture such as ours.
We have also been blessed with extraordinary doctoral students over the years, many now teaching in major institutions. One of my earliest ThD students, Dr. Tanner Capps, has recently edited a special edition of the International Journal of Systematic Theology dedicated to Christian perspectives on the visual arts. One of his contemporaries, W. David O. Taylor, has just released A Body of Praise: Understanding the Role of Our Physical Bodies in Worship (Baker, 2023), a study of the role of our physical bodies in worship which engages the arts at length. We look forward to more scholarship of this calibre in the years to come. In the meantime, you can learn more about our alumni publications on this site.
We have been astonished by the energy and creativity … and most of all by the theological courage and determination shown by our students. This is what it will take if Christian witness in the arts is going to have the tang of redemptive joy in a culture such as ours.”
For those who want to explore how the world of the arts might directly address some of the most powerful currents in our late modern culture, I have recently completed Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World (Baker, 2023). I argue that our society has been marred by reductionism, one-size-fits-all explanations of the world. I show that the arts by their very nature push against reductionism. They help us see there is always more to this world than we can ever say or think. And this can press us to ask if there might be more than this world. In other words, the arts can make us wonder if there might be an endlessly rich and uncontainable abundance at the heart of things, what Christians believe is the abundance of the triune God of Jesus Christ.
I am delighted to note the many artistic highlights of the last academic year at Duke Divinity School. We were honoured to host many artists of the highest quality, from esteemed poets like Malcolm Guite (formerly of Girton College, Cambridge) and Image editor Shane McCrae to renowned jazz artist Julian Davis Reid. We are profoundly grateful to Sandra and Bob Bowden and to Duke University Chapel for co-hosting a magnificent exhibition on Marc Chagall and the Bible. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the spring semester and reflect on the role of Scripture in the artistic imagination. And our September benefit concert “Cries of Loss and Hope” proved profoundly moving for all involved—it was a landmark event in the life of DITA.
As always, we are keenly aware that we have been supported in multiple ways by donors, artists, scholars, seminaries, and colleges all over the US and beyond. Please keep in touch with us, and know that our gratitude is immense.
McDonald Agape Director of DITA
Thomas A. Langford Distinguished Research Professor of Theology