Faith and Art: Allies or Rivals?

September 13, 2013 - September 14, 2013


Faith and Art: Allies or Rivals?

September 13 and 14, 2013
Erdman Center, School of Christian Vocation and Mission
Princeton Theological Seminary


A striking feature of modern times is the success of scientific understanding, and the astonishing range of new and hugely beneficial technologies that the scientific approach to the world has produced. Many people, however, have an increasing sense that bringing human experience wholly within the province of science runs the risk of de-humanizing it in some way, of eliminating the spiritual dimension. In response to this danger, art and religion seem natural allies, and the belief that they can mutually enrich each other takes further strength from religion’s centuries’ old engagement with music, painting, poetry and architecture.

On the other hand, important strands of thought in Judaism, Protestant Christianity and Islam have been wary of the arts lest by confusing ‘the beauty of holiness’ with ‘the holiness of beauty’, they should lead believers into idolatry. From these points of view art is potentially the rival of true religion rather than its ally.

The aim of this short course is to explore the relationship between Christianity and Western art with this dichotomy in mind. Drawing on the history and philosophy of the arts, there will four sessions devoted to a four forms, with each session divided into lecture, discussion and audio/visual presentation.

Session I Visual Art: Expression and Discipleship
Is painting a matter of the personal expression and interpretation of faith? Or is it a means by which to produce revealed truths about God? This session investigates various tensions within the history of religious painting, and explores the contrast between painting and iconography.

Session II Music: Performance and Prayer
What is the difference between the liturgical use of a great work like Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and a concert performance of the same work? This session looks at music’s distinctive contribution to worship, and examines the division between ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’ Christian music.

Session III Architecture: Sacred Space and Meeting Place
‘God does not live in temples made with human hands’. What implications should we draw for church architecture from this verse? This session explores theological underpinning of the contrast between a church as a meeting place, and as a sacred space.

Session IV Poetry: Truth and Beauty
Beautiful language in worship has always been valued. But what could poetic form add to doctrinal truth in preaching or personal sincerity in prayer? This session will ask how, and whether, the literary arts can aid true Christian devotion.

Course Schedule

Friday, September 13, 2013
1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
3:15 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Saturday, September 14, 2013
8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
10:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.


Gordon GrahamDr. Gordon Graham is Henry Luce III Professor of Philosophy and the Arts at Princeton Theological Seminary and an Anglican priest, ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church and licensed in the Diocese of New Jersey.

His books include The Idea of Christian Charity (1990), Evil and Christian Ethics (2001) and The Re-enchantment of the World: Art versus Religion (2007). He has contributed to the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, the Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Religion, and the Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology.

Dr. Graham earned M.A. degrees from the University of St. Andrews and the University of Durham, and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Durham. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s premier academy of letters, in 1999.


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Contact Info

Additional questions may be asked by telephone at 609.497.7990 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Categories: Courses  |  Music  |  The Arts