Wilson Yates on why theology students should devote some study to the visual arts

Professor emeritus of Religion, Society, and the Arts at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, Wilson Yates says that the arts can serve as . . .

  • A source for helping identify and understand the religious questions of human existence.
  • A source for helping understand the spiritual character of a particular culture.
  • A source of prophetic judgment and social protest.
  • A document and source for understanding the nature of historical and contemporary faith.
  • A model for the creation or construction of theology.
  • Integral forms for liturgy and worship.
  • An essential means of communicating the meaning of the Christian faith to the church and to the world.
  • An aid in the professional and spiritual growth of students by enabling them to develop their intuitive mode of knowing.
  • Structures through which people encounter the presence of God. That is to say, the arts can serve as a means of grace.
  • An invitation to explore certain fundamental questions regarding the relationships between aesthetics and theology, aesthetic experience and religious experience, and beauty and holiness. 

This list, compiled by Cindi Beth Johnson from Yates’s The Arts in Theological Education: New Possibilities for Integration and “The Theology and Arts Legacy,” appears in the essay “Messengers of Jazz” in the book Visual Theology: Forming and Transforming the Community through the Arts. I have not yet engaged with either of these primary sources, but it’s obvious from my reading of Visual Theology, which is dedicated to Yates and his legacy, that Yates’s desire to see the visual arts integrated into seminary curricula is one that I share and hope to devote more energy to seeing actualized in the future.

If you’re a seminary student, are any arts courses offered or even required at your institution? Have any of your theology professors ever incorporated images into their teaching?

It’s probably no secret to my regular readers that it’s been a dream of mine to attend seminary for a master’s degree in Christianity and the arts. However, it seems that the seminaries that offer such a program are few. I’ve been searching for a right fit and have found a few options:

The King’s College program is really enticing—with its focus on the visual arts and partnership with the National Gallery—but as I’m married, decisions like these have to be made with another’s interests in mind. (If by chance you’re a Londoner who’s reading this and you work or know someone who works with nanowires or transmission electron microscopy, would you be interested in talking to a soon-to-be MIT grad with a PhD in materials science?) 🙂

Do you know of any other academic programs, or even just individual courses, out there that aim at exploring the connection between Christianity and the visual arts?

I’m also considering alternatively entering an art history degree program, a much more common offering with a broader focus. Maybe even one that combines museum studies. Any recommendations?

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One Response to Wilson Yates on why theology students should devote some study to the visual arts

  1. No one in their right mind would do a degree at King’s College London, where the management pretend to ‘consult’ staff before sacking them and raising their own salaries.

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