Theological Aesthetics and Beauty

Course Description

This course will observe the influence of history and culture on the church’s understanding of a theology of beauty and the arts.  Students will trace the development of this theology of aesthetics from ancient to modern church history.  Close attention will be given to the theological posture of the church toward understanding the importance of and the practical application of aesthetics in the church and in ministry.

Course Schedule

DayClassAssignment Due 
1.11Introduction and Syllabus  
1.13An Aesthetic, Imaginative AnthropologyCal Seerveld, “Obedient Aesthetic Life” in Rainbows in a Fallen World (PDF) 
1.16OFF: MLK Day  
1.18Eros, Love, and BeautyPlato, Diotima 
1.20Divine Beauty: Beatific VisionThiessan, Part 1, 6 
1.23Picturing God: Icons or Iconoclasm?Thiessan, Part 3, 5, 8 
1.25What is Beauty?The Witness of Beauty, Part 1-3 
1.27Field Trip: Art Museum  
1.30What is Beauty?Hildebrand, “Debating Beauty”
Wilson, “Beauty as a Transcendental” in Vision of the Soul
2.1Why Beauty? In class: Dana Goia, “Why Beauty Matters?”  View: Carnes, “On Beauty”   
2.3Why Beauty? In class: Scruton, Why Beauty?Fujimura, “Culture Care” in Comment Magazine   
2.6Modern ReductionismWhat Are You Looking at?, Ch. 1 
2.8Sentimentality in ArtBegbie, “Beauty, Sentimentality and the Arts” in A Peculiar Orthodoxy 
2.10Field Trip: Black Mountain Art Museum  
 Christian Art 
2.13Christian Art: The GrotesqueNichols, A Key to Balthasar, 12-33
Taylor, “Beauty as Love”
Weiss, “Shape-shifting Jesus”  
2.15The Grotesque in ActionO’Connor, “Parker’s Back” (PDF) 
2.17Toward Sacramental ArtO’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” 
2.20What’s It Mean to Be a Christian ArtistMaritain, “Reflections on Religious Art” in Art and Scholasticism
O Connor: “The Church and the Fiction Writer
2.22A Letter to ArtistsPope John Paul, “A Letter to Artists” 
2.24A Christian AestheticSayers, “Toward a Christian Aesthetic” in Letters to a Diminished Church
O’ Connor: “Writing Short Stories”
2.27Christian CreativityJRR Tolkein, “On Fairy Stories”
JRR Tolkein, “Leaf by Niggle”
3.1Evaluating the ArtsSeerveld, “Redemptive Artistry in Contemporary Culture” in Bearing Fresh Olive Branches 
3.3The Dangers of Art in WorshipTaylor, “The Dangers of Art in Worship” in For the Beauty of the Church 
3.6Church Architecture  
3.8Field Trip: Basilica of St. Lawrence  
3.10Field Trip: Art MuseumDue: Artist Interview 
 Redemptive Art 
3.13A Theology of MakingFujimura, Intro and Ch. 1 
3.15A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 2 
3.17A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 3 
3.20A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 4 
3.22A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 5 
3.24A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 6 
3.27A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 7 
3.29A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 8 
4.2A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 9 
4.5A Theology of MakingFujimura, Ch. 10 
4.7OFF: Good Friday  
4.10OFF: Easter  
4.12Field Trip: Art Museum  
4.14The Community of the BeautifulGarcía-Rivera, Ch. 1 
4.17The Community of the BeautifulGarcía-Rivera , Ch. 3 
4.19The Community of the BeautifulGarcía-Rivera , Ch. 5 
4.21The Community of the BeautifulGarcía-Rivera , Ch. 6 
4.24The Community of the BeautifulGarcía-Rivera, Ch. 7 
4.26Art as LiberationWolterstorff, “Liberation” in Art in Action 
4.28Christianity, Place and ArtO’ Connor: “The Fiction Writer and His Country” and “The Regional Writer” 
4.30Field Trip: Art MuseumTaylor, “The Worship Arts and the Mission of the Church” in Glimpses of the New Creation 
5.1Paper Presentations  
5.3Paper Presentations  
5.5Paper Presentations  


Academic Journal (54%)

Each time there is a reading, you are required to take notes.

First, I want you to jot the flow of the reading: what points does the author make? How?

Second, I want you to be ready to discuss those points in class. For example: what questions does the reading bring to mind or that you’d like to ask? What’s one point you want to expand or think worth discussing and class? Is there a topic you’ve learned in another class that connects to something you read? Show me you’re processing and engaging on a deeper level with the text.

Art Exhibit Reflections (20%)

In your academic journal, reflect on the pieces you saw during our museum visits in a page or two.

Interview an Artist (10%)

By the end of the semester, I want you to spend time with an artist (visual, musical, or written) for about an hour and find out about their craft. How’d they get started? What motivates them? How does faith influence their art? Does it?

Write out your questions, and turn in the questions you asked, as well as a brief (~400) about what you learned.

Final Project: Art Criticism or Art Creation (30%)

Final: Explore a theological concept in an aesthetic way.

For example: A Creative essay. Short story. Painting. Video. Poem. Song.


A series of poems covering Holy Week.

A creative essay on the interrelations of the Trinity.

A painting of a biblical scene.

An imaginative short story of the disciples debating the interpretation of Jesus’ parables.

A video displaying brokenness and redemptive aspects of family.

A collection of documents (painting, poem, story) that illustrates lament.

A close read of a particular object of art

Each aesthetic document must be accompanied by a well-researched paper explaining the theological concept in a traditional manner. What is the doctrine or theological concept? What is its history? How has it been described? How does your document re-imagine it or add or reflect the traditional interpretation? Etc. Etc. 

The paper should be around 2000 words using source material from class and other theological material.

You will present your artifact in class and explain what you attempted to portray.