Emily Normand is a museum educator, academic, and art historian. She has served as a graduate teaching assistant at the Nasher Musuem of Art where she worked closely with both the Academic Initiatives Department at the Museum and Duke University faculty members to construct dynamic lesson plans within the gallery spaces. She has also been a Duke University Scholar, a Kellogg International Scholar, a Rome International Scholar, and a College of Arts and Letters Dean’s Fellow. She is the current Lilly Endowment Museum Fellow for Spirituality and Religion in the Visual Arts at the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art on the University of Notre Dame’s campus. She holds a BA from the Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame University and earned a Master’s of Theological Studies with a Certificate of Theology and the Arts from Duke Divinity School in 2023. Learn more about her work at the Nasher Museum at nasher.duke.edu.

Let’s start at the beginning. You earned your bachelor’s degree at Notre Dame. What did you study? How did your time there prepare you, if at all, for further theological study? Did you encounter the arts during your time there? Or did your interest in art begin at an earlier point?

I was in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) at Notre Dame, which is an integral Great Books program spanning the arts, history, literature, natural science, philosophy, politics, and theology.  Since I had a broad undergraduate curriculum, I decided to concentrate my research through the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. My Kellogg faculty mentor, Dr. Peter Casarella, was in the theology department, so naturally (and thankfully), my research bent toward a theological line of inquiry. I met with Dr. Casarella initially because I was interested in theological aesthetics, and together, we ended up conducting research on the approbation of religiosidad popular by the Catholic Church from the perspective of a key player in the movement.

My interest in theological aesthetics, though, reaches back to my small Catholic high school in Phoenix, Arizona. I took a unique class called “Project Beauty” that exposed me to opera, literature, and music. And most impressively for me, we visited the Phoenix Art Museum. The visual arts had a way of provoking my imagination that I couldn’t quite shake. On one occasion, my teacher launched an offensive against Duchamp’s Fountain. I remember thinking that there was something provocative about the work. That inkling of curiosity led to my interest in theological aesthetics. I wanted to get to the bottom of what made something “good” or “bad” and what that had to do with the nature of being. I still haven’t quite unlocked the answer to that question, but what I have learned, though,  was that those who dismissed Duchamp were asking the wrong question. The question in the modern age should not be “what is the work picturing?” but “what is the work doing?” Art is not primarily a matter of depiction but representation. I owe this revolutionary insight to Dr. Jonathan Anderson. Once we start asking the right questions about modern and contemporary art, we should continue along all relevant lines of inquiry, which more often than not, include theology.


"The people in DITA are not only top scholars in their fields, but they are also some of the kindest, most caring and encouraging people you’ll meet. Never hesitate to ask for a coffee meeting to chat about something that inspired you in class, or something that unnerved you, or something that you just don’t understand. Take advantage of this impressive and magnanimous cohort of teachers—they are a rare bunch."

You graduated from Duke Divinity in May 2023. Tell us a little bit about your time here. What drew you to the Divinity School and the Certificate in Theology and the Arts? Did your studies here build on your time at Notre Dame or introduce new concepts and themes into your thinking?

The simple answer is that I followed Dr. Casarella to Duke. The more complicated answer is that I was teaching in Spain on a fellowship at the time and working to edit and publish my piece on religiosidad popular. Dr. Casarella had accepted a position at Duke, and he spoke highly of the ecumenical atmosphere and urged me to apply to the Divinity School. I had never really considered an MTS, but the prospect of DITA sold me, and it was great motivation to recommit myself to my research endeavors.

Dr. Casarella’s suggestion felt like a sign that I was meant to join the small but growing fold of scholars working at the nexus of theology and the arts. It was my chance to focus completely on what had been just an aspect of my undergraduate education, and I was thrilled. My education at Duke Divinity and within DITA gave me solid theological legs to stand on.

How did the coursework at Duke Divinity impact your thinking about art and theology? Did any specific course or instructor prove especially pivotal to your academic imagination and formation? Or perhaps there was a semester where your coursework and studies convened meaningfully?

Dr. Jonathan Anderson, now Eugene and Jan Peterson Associate Professor of Theology and the Arts at Regent College, was beyond a doubt the most influential thinker that I had the privilege of working with and learning from. His article “Conceptual Art, Theology, and Re-Presentation,” (published in 2022 in Religions) is pinned to the bulletin board behind my desktop at work for easy access when I want to reference it (which is often!).

Besides the countless fascinating insights and generous, collaborative spirit that he brought to our conversations, he helped me to better understand the relationship between art history and theology. Through his writing and lecturing, I came to realize that the theological lens is an equally valid and important line of inquiry in art criticism. Art historians generally stick to the anthropological, social, political, and even religious lenses, yet they rarely touch the theological angle, and that’s to their detriment. The aforementioned lenses oftentimes push us in the direction of theology, though few dare to venture into that territory. Dr. Anderson is one of those daring thinkers whose innovative ideas about art, especially modern and contemporary art, fascinate me.

While you were at Duke Divinity, you also served as a graduate teaching assistant at the Nasher Museum. Tell us about that work. What did you do in the role? How did you find it connected with and was informed by your theological studies at the Divinity School and DITA?

I appreciate this question, because I would be remiss not to mention the Nasher in any conversation about my time at Duke. As a graduate TA at the Nasher, I collaborated with Dr. Julia McHugh, Director of Academic Initiatives, and Dr. Ellen Raimond, Associate Curator of Academic Initiatives, to curate class visits from departments across the University. I taught students ranging from the political science department to the medical school and everywhere in between.

I even had the rare opportunity to work on an exhibit installation. I credit the Nasher with sealing my fate (at least for the foreseeable future) in the art world. Working there was a highlight, and I began looking for jobs postgraduation exclusively in museums. Working at the Nasher was the perfect corollary to my coursework because it allowed me to actually engage with the objects themselves. The Museum was like my laboratory where I was free to test out all of the theological ideas swimming around in my mind. Art is best experienced through an encounter with the object itself. If it were best experienced in writing, there would be no sense in seeing any art at all.

Now you’re back at Notre Dame, working as the Lilly Endowment Museum Fellow for Religion and Spirituality in the Visual Arts at the Raclin Murphy Museum at Notre Dame. What work and responsibilities are included in this role? What does your day-to-day consist of?

Since I’m the inaugural Lilly Fellow at the Museum, my responsibilities are still evolving. Generally speaking, my role is to elevate the spiritual nature of the visual arts. Although the Raclin Murphy is situated on a Catholic campus, we believe anyone who enters our doors can cultivate a relationship with art just by virtue of having a spirit. Practically, this means that I have been coordinating outreach to communities of all faiths, both on campus and in the greater South Bend area. Since it’s our first operational semester, I’m also developing visual art programming for the community and University while also continuing to work with theology and other relevant University classes in the galleries.

Another unique aspect of my positions is my role with the Mary, Queen of Families Chapel. The Chapel has provided the Museum a gallery space for contemplation and reflection, and I serve as a steward of the art and provide programming for University classes visiting the Chapel. This spring, I’m launching a series entitled “Art+Spirit” that will use items in the collection to bring to life different spiritual aspects of the art. After all, art doesn’t have to depict religious subjects to be considered spiritual. As I mentioned before, my own spirit was nudged by Duchamp’s Fountain, which is a ready-made piece of a signed urinal.

And how did your time at Duke Divinity, DITA, and the Nasher prepare you for your work here, if at all?

I credit my foundational knowledge of how museums operate and function to the Nasher. Training and working at the Nasher formed the basis of my museum teaching pedagogy. I was also lucky enough to take a Museum Theories class with Dr. Julia McHugh, which really shaped my understanding of what a museum is and has the potential to be.

My theological training, though, I owe to Duke Divinity and DITA. Now at the Raclin Murphy, I pull more heavily from my store of theological knowledge than I did when I was teaching in the galleries at the Nasher. Our collection is replete with Christian works of art, and it’s helpful to be able to have that knowledge from my foundational theology classes in my back pocket that I can use in my own gallery teaching.

We’re also curious to hear more about your thesis for the Certificate program entitled “Indigeneity, Idols, and Biblical Imagery in Jean Charlot’s Picture Book (1933).” Did this grow out of your work at the Nasher? You began your work there after visiting a small installation co-curated by students: “Jean Charlot: Visions of Mexico, 1933.” Charlot’s work seems very impactful to your thinking during your time at Duke and DITA. Has it continued to shape your work at the Raclin Murphy?

All roads lead back to Dr. Peter Casarella. He recommended we visit the exhibition “Jean Charlot: Visions of Mexico, 1933” together, and while we there, we met with Dr. Julia McHugh, and the rest is history. I was fascinated by the complicated history behind the prints and Charlot’s biography. Charlot was a devout Catholic, and I wanted to explore what theological work the prints were doing, if any. Since the majority of these prints depicted indigenous people, I was also aware of the possible moral and ethical implications. In the end, I made the case that Charlot’s representation has very little in common with other artists, like Gaugin, who have faced criticism against similar charges.

Charlot maintained a sustained, close relationship with those that he depicted and became deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life in the community. He had a way of holding up a mirror to his subject so as to reflect their image of the divine. Charlot’s work deeply impacted me and has, in a very literal way, followed me back to Notre Dame. Little did I know that the Raclin Murphy (formerly the Snite Museum of Art) had Charlot in the vaults the whole time that I was an undergraduate student here. In fact, Charlot did some work at Notre Dame in the 1950s. His murals grace the entrance of the O’Laughlin Auditorium across the street from Notre Dame.

Two final questions: What word of advice would you offer potential students considering the Certificate program, particularly those interested in the study of visual art? And how have you found the Certificate has supported your vocation after Duke Divinity?

I cannot emphasize the importance of relationships enough. Both with people and with art. The people in DITA are not only top scholars in their fields, but they are also some of the kindest, most caring and encouraging people you’ll meet. Never hesitate to ask for a coffee meeting to chat about something that inspired you in class, or something that unnerved you, or something that you just don’t understand. Take advantage of this impressive and magnanimous cohort of teachers—they are a rare bunch.

As for those interested specifically in the visual arts, I would of course say, go to the Nasher. Spend time with art. There is no way to be a scholar of the visual arts without actually looking at works of art. Take what you learn in DITA and test it against your personal encounters with works of art. I think you’ll find it deepens both your understanding of the material and your understanding of the work. I use what I learned in the Certificate program every day. It’s a rare gift to actually be able to use your degree, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I have a role informed by the work I did with DITA.