Distinguished Lectures in Theology and the Arts


The arts and Christian faith in dialogue

DITA’s Distinguished Lecture Series gives the Divinity School an opportunity to invite leading scholars of our day to explore issues with us that they see as crucial to the interaction of Christian faith and the arts today.

Past Lectures

March 5, 2013
“Beyond 'Creativity': Expanding the Intersection of Theology and the Imagination” 
James K. A. Smith

Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview at Calvin College

On March 5 DITA welcomed James K. A. Smith to give the 2013 lecture in the "Distinguished Lectures In Theology and the Arts" series.

Smith is the author of Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom and holds the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview at Calvin College. He also serves as editor of Comment magazine and is a senior fellow for The Colossian Forum on Faith, Science and Culture.

According to Smith, humans are not first and foremost “thinking things.” He questioned an account of creativity and the imagination that is purely romantic, expressive or cognitive. Drawing on the philosophical phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, Smith called for an understanding of imagination and creativity that is situated on a bodily-aesthetic level. Imagination is a way to name our bodily, non-cognitive perception of the world, he said. It is the way humans orient themselves within and to the world.

Smith explained that in this way, imagination is broader than the arts; to be human is to imagine yourself through the world. He said this also means that the arts are central to human life, and that an artist is one who stages imaginative encounters that shape and confront other’s imaginations.

March 18, 2010
“Early Visual Art as Patristic Theology: The Trinity, Christology, and the Economy of Salvation in Pictorial Form” 
Robin Jensen

Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Art and Worship, Vanderbilt University

February 25, 2010:
Word and faith intertwined: Lundin’s passionate journey

It is unusual to hear a scholar of literature who can seamlessly slip between the theological profundities of life and death, and the imaginative riches of Miloscz, Dickinson, Dostoyevsky and Auden.  But this kind of thing is second nature to Professor Roger Lundin, who delivered the second lecture in the series Distinguished Lectures in Theology and the Arts on February 25, 2010.  

The Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English at Wheaton College, Lundin took as his title ‘Modern Literature and the Question of Belief’, focusing especially on modernity’s fixation with time and our attempts to overcome finitude.  

His journey took the audience through some dark and shadowy territory, but towards the end we were directed firmly, through literature, to a trinitarian hope for the world that eschewed all sentimentality but which nonetheless breathed a deep confidence borne of the promises of God.  Especially notable was the way Lundin would pause and share an aside from his own life, or an apt quote from his breathtaking knowledge of English literature.  No less memorable was an extraordinary blend of passion and intellectual rigor, all too rare in academia these days.  

January 21, 2010:
Re-framing 'Art': Wolterstorff’s challenge

Some 160 people packed into one of the Divinity School’s new classrooms on Thursday, January 21, 2010 to hear the inaugural lecture in the series ‘Distinguished Lectures in Theology and the Arts’. It was delivered by Professor Wolterstorff, the renowned Christian philosopher and author of the widely read classic, “Art in Action.” From 1989 until his retirement in 2002 Wolterstorff was Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, and before that he spent some thirty years as a professor of philosophy at Calvin College.

The purpose of this series is to invite leading scholars of our day to explore issues that they see as crucial to the interface of Christian faith and the arts today. With analytical power and winsome directness, Wolterstorff questioned assumptions that often mark the conversation between theology and the arts today. In particular, he drew attention to the enormous changes in thinking about the arts that came about in the late eighteenth century – the appearance of the ‘fine’ arts as objects of ‘disinterested contemplation’, the notion that this represents art ‘coming into its own’, and, not least, the religious aura that art assumed to itself: art becomes the transcendent, social ‘other’, abstracted from the messy materiality of space and time.

This, he stressed is only one way of thinking about the arts, but not the way. He urged his audience to re-discover a wider vision that could embrace forms of art typically demoted (such as ‘mere’ craft), and that could therefore re-frame the theology-arts discussion for the years to come. Throughout, he held his listeners captive. Considering he was speaking on his 77th birthday – his combination of acuity, gentle humor and responsiveness to questions was remarkable.