About the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies


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The Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies had its charter meeting at the 2002 AAR/SBL (American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature) conference. The Society was organized to provide a forum for scholars and artists interested in the intersections among theology, religion, spirituality, and the arts, to share thoughts, challenge ideas, strategize approaches in the classroom, and to advance the discipline in theological and religious studies curricula.

In 2012, the Board of Directors approved the following mission statement:

SARTS is a community of inquiry devoted to understanding and encouraging the role of the arts in religion and society.

As scholars, teachers, and practitioners of the arts, we seek to foster creative and critical inquiry into the role the arts play in interpreting human experience, deepening theological inquiry, and shaping religious faith and life. Our work explores aesthetic modes of perception, practice, and thought stimulated by the arts, and engages the arts through the insights of religious faith and theological discourse.

This was a development of work begun in 2007, which had articulated the following:

SARTS is a community of scholars and artists who seek to understand the deepest levels of relationship between works of art and religious sensibility. Our focus is concrete aesthetic encounter with performance arts and their religious, ethical, and theological interpretation. While originating in the Christian traditions of theological reflection, we seek constructive conversation and critical inquiry that will make sense of a world of increasing cross-influences, both in art and among religious traditions. Through scholarly exchange, we explore how art shapes human ways of being in the world. At the same time, we explore how the study of art at the intersection of religious and theological traditions leads to artistic vision and to aesthetic modes of perception, practice, and thought. The Society is committed to the implications of these discussions for the teaching of theological and religious approaches to art, and for the nurturing of both recognized and emerging artists and scholars whose work will shape the future of theological and religious understandings of human existence.

Some generative questions:

  • What particular arts are central to particular religious traditions, and why?
  • How do specific works of art change human perception of the world?
  • What are the ritual elements in visual art?
  • Why do certain works of art invite explicitly theological commentary, and why do others resist such attempts to “read” them?
  • What are the methodological implications for religious and theological work in taking the arts as “ways of knowing”?
  • What conversations have yet to emerge between working artists and religious thinkers?
  • What are the distinctive cross-influences discernable among practicing artists influenced by more than one religious tradition? How can these “cross- influences” be most adequately articulated and taught?
  • How do the arts contribute to revitalizing human communities?

The goal of the SARTS is to attract consistent participation of a core group of artists and scholars of theology and religion in order to have dialogue about the theological and religious meaning of the arts, and the artistic/aesthetic dimension of the spiritual life.

SARTS offers its members several benefits:

    1. Admission to innovative programs and receptions at the AAR and SBL meetings each year that feature lectures, guided museum tours, and presentations by Luce Fellows.
    2. Access to annual faculty and student fellowships, made possible through a grant from the Henry A. Luce Foundation, to support work about the interrelationships among theology, spirituality, and the arts. Click here for more information about the Luce Fellows.
    3. A year-long subscription to the journal of the Society, ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies.
    4. Access to the website and the features we are hoping to build as a community of scholars, clergy, and artists interested in the mutually enriching dialogue between theology and art. This includes access to an online directory of members, web-based forums with other members (including announcements of job openings, calls for papers, museum exhibits of interest, research inquiries, etc.), a web-based syllabi exchange, and a web gallery featuring work of our members.

If you are already a member, we are so pleased that you have joined this unique and collegial community of scholars. If you have not yet joined, please do so to begin sharing officially in the conversation.