Dr Aaron Rosen
Lecturer in Sacred Traditions & the Arts
Tel +44 (0)20 7848 2767
Address: Room 9F, Chesham Building
Department of Theology & Religious Studies
King's College London
London, WC2R 2LS
Dr Aaron Rosen is the Lecturer in Sacred Traditions & the Arts at King’s College London. He has served as a research fellow at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University, Albert and Rachel Lehmann Junior Research Fellow in Jewish History & Culture at the University of Oxford, and post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Israel and Jewish Studies in Columbia University. He received his PhD, MPhil, and Diploma from the University of Cambridge and was a visiting scholar at the University of California Berkeley. He received the Top First in theology for Part I examinations at Cambridge and earned his BA from Bowdoin College, from which he graduated summa cum laude with highest thesis honors.
Dr Rosen has written widely on religion and the arts for publications including The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, New Humanist, Jewish Quarterly, Art and Christianity, Religion and the Arts, Literature and Theology, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, and the Journal of Jewish Studies. He has also contributed to several exhibition catalogues, as well as the edited volume Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms: Conflict and Convergence, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His first monograph, Imagining Jewish Art: Encounters with the Masters in Chagall, Guston, and Kitaj (Legenda, 2009), was shortlisted for the Art and Christian Enquiry International Book Prize, and has been reviewed in a range of scholarly journals as well as the popular press. In that book, Dr Rosen looked at how modern Jewish painters have responded to Christian art in ways which shed light on these artists’ identities, while also re-framing wider problems for modern Jewish culture. He is currently working on a new book, The Hospitality of Images: Modern Art and Interfaith Dialogue, which will examine works by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim artists in search of new trajectories for inter-religious dialogue.
Theology and visual art (especially modern art)
Interfaith dialogue in theory and practice
Modern Jewish thought
Religion and material/pop culture (e.g. comics, hip hop)
Reception history and interpretation of the Bible
Calls for interfaith dialogue usually begin with the claim that what binds together Jews, Christians, and Muslims is their common identity as people of the book. In my current project, I argue that members of these faiths are also—despite popular assumptions—people of the image. Using works by modern and contemporary Jewish, Christian, and Muslim artists, I want to initiate a ‘trialogue’ between the three Abrahamic religions. The visual arts, I argue, have an untapped potential to open up hospitable spaces for inter-religious dialogue; enriching not only how members of the Abrahamic faiths perceive their own traditions but encouraging new ways of seeing the Other.
I begin by looking at art inspired by Scripture, especially stories of Abraham shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Images, I hope to demonstrate, can serve as levers to pry open new interpretive spaces in texts, and promising trajectories for dialogue. In my second chapter I turn to non-representational works such as the cruciform ‘black paintings’ of Ad Reinhardt and recent sculptures evoking the black cube of the Ka’aba. By presenting us with both resonant similarities and ineluctable differences, I argue that these monochromatic paintings and sculptures speak to the challenges of comparing monotheisms. My third chapter investigates images of the Arab-Israeli conflict by contemporary Israeli and Palestinian artists, with a special focus on border zones, from videos shot at checkpoints to paintings on security barriers. I argue that by opening a space in which the stakes seem deceptively lower, art can in fact allow dialogue to flow more easily. Finally, I will explore the design and function of interfaith spaces such as the Rothko Chapel. To what extent, I ask, is it possible to craft an equally hospitable space for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worship?
Ultimately, whether it comes to refashioning sacred space or re-interpreting religious texts, I hope this project demonstrates how the visual arts might breathe new life into interfaith dialogue, a process which too often falls into stale repetitions of commonality. For this project to be successful, disciplinary boundaries need to be crossed as much as religious ones, and I see KCL as the ideal environment in which to undertake such strongly interdisciplinary work. At the same time that I am working on the book project above, I am also pursuing a number of side projects, including book chapters on the visual reception of the Bible, exhibition reviews and catalogue essays, and a monograph on St. Peter’s Chapel in New York City, home to the Louise Nevelson Chapel.
Selected monographs and edited volumes
Imagining Jewish Art: Encounters with the Masters in Chagall, Guston, and Kitaj. London: Legenda (Studies in Comparative Literature Series), 2009. ISBN # 9781906540548.
“Emmanuel Levinas and the Hospitality of Images,” Literature and Theology, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2011), pp. 364-378
“R.B. Kitaj,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011
“Filling in the Picture: The Jewish Art Question,” Religion and the Arts,Vol. 14, No. 5 (2010)
“Making Space for the Other: Jewish Artists and the Church,” Common Ground (July, 2010)
“Divine Image,” New Humanist, Vol. 125, Issue 3(May-June, 2010)
“‘Doesn’t Anyone Want to Paint Badly?’ Philip Guston and the Future of the Past,” Proving Ground: Eight Essays, ed. Benjamin Eastham. London: Hannah Barry Gallery, 2010
“The Afterlife of R.B. Kitaj,” Jewish Quarterly, No. 210 (summer, 2008)
“The Diasporist Unpacks: The Epigonic Rummagings of R.B. Kitaj,” Epigonism and the Dynamic of Jewish Culture (Studia Rosenthaliana 40), eds. S. Berger & I.E. Zwiep. Louvain: Peeters, 2007
Selected book reviews
Judaism and Christian Art, in Art & Christianity, No. 68 (autumn, 2011)
Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall: A Biography, in Art & Christianity, No. 57 (spring, 2009)
Traumatic Encounters; Afterimage; Impossible Images, in Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. 56, No. 1 (2005)
“Shadow Boxing: Art Spiegelman,” Jewish Quarterly, No. 198 (summer, 2005)
Art & Artists of the 5th Zionist Congress, in Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. 55, No. 2 (2004)
Selected exhibition reviews
“Apocalypse Then,” New Humanist, Vol. 126, Issue 5 (Sept-Oct, 2011)
“Waxing Poetic: Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy,” Art & Christianity, No. 60 (winter, 2009)
“Chagall’s Bible: Mystical Storytelling,” Art & Christianity, No. 56 (winter, 2008)
I have previously taught modules at the BA and Master’s level at Cambridge, Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Universities. I have taught within Philosophy, History, Theology and Art History Departments, with a special focus on subjects related to religious studies and visual culture. Titles of some of my past courses include: The Bible in the Modern Imagination; Key Figures in Jewish-Christian Dialogue; Modern Jewish Thought; Jewish and Christian Responses to the Holocaust; Jewish Art from Antiquity to the Present; Image and Icon in Christian Tradition; Modern British Art; Introduction to Western Art; Modern British Comics, Caricatures, and Graphic Novels. At KCL, I will continue to teach on many of these subjects, as well as offering a new module in Liberal Arts on the “Lives of London,” which will study the changing life of the city and its inhabitants through literature, art, and social history.
In the future, Dr Rosen will supervise the Liberal Arts BA Year 3 Core Course, in which students undertake individual projects.
Expertise and public engagement
I am open to discussing innovative proposals on any subject, particularly interdisciplinary topics related to religion and modern culture. I am especially happy to consider working with doctoral candidates with interests in the following areas:
Theology and modern art
Interfaith dialogue and the arts
Modern Jewish art
Religion and contemporary material/popular culture
Modern reception of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
Judaism and Christianity in modern America
Holocaust memory and the arts
Dr Rosen has lectured to audiences at religious institutions and Jewish learning festivals across the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as in Russia and Australia. He has written for various popular periodicals including New Humanist and Jewish Quarterly, and works regularly with artists and curators on exhibitions and catalogues.