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Level 7

7AATC411 The Idea of Beauty in Western Theology


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 40
Module tutor: Professor Ben Quash and Dr Vittorio Montemaggi
Assessment: two 5,000-word essays (50% each)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: one two-hour weekly class over twenty weeks
Pre-requisites: none

The module will teach students about the sustained and rich discussion of the theme of the beautiful in the Western Church, a discussion which runs through every century of its history and has often provoked fierce contention (as in the Reformation). It will introduce students to this tradition, tracing its debts to classical models of the relationship between beauty and goodness (especially in the works of Plotinus), through the medieval discussions of beauty as a transcendental (especially in the work of Aquinas), to the theological influence on philosophical aesthetics in the 18th and 19th centuries (including the observation of a distinctively British tradition in Coleridge, Ruskin, Hopkins and others). It will conclude with the major works in the area of theological aesthetics that have been produced since the 20th century (Jacques Maritain, David, Jones, Hans Urs von Balthasar, David Bentley Hart, Rowan Williams). The module will encourage students to judge the status of 'aesthetics' as a theological locus, and to relate the philosophical and theological discussions they encounter to actual works of art.

Preliminary reading
  • Umberto Eco, On Beauty: A History of a Western Idea (Secker & Warburg, 2004).
  • Edward Farley, Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic (Ashgate, 2001).
  • Richard Harries, Art and the Beauty of God: A Christian Understanding (Mowbray, 1993).
  • David Jones, Epoch and Artist (New York: Chilmark Press, 1959).
  • James Alfred Martin, Beauty and Holiness: The Dialogue Between Aesthetics and Religion (Princeton University Press, 1990).
  • Roger Scruton, Beauty (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Further information

Module aims

See above.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 7 module and in particular will be able to demonstrate:

Generic skills

•  Ability to engage sensitively and critically with primary sources (works of art as well as written theology/ aesthetic theory/art criticism);

•  Ability to access and analyse relevant secondary literature;

•  Ability to summarise and present arguments in discussion and on paper;

•  Ability to research, plan and present essays to specified deadlines.

Course specific skills

•  Critical understanding of the varying historical attitudes towards the arts in the Christian era, and the key influences that fed those attitudes;

•  Critical understanding of the varying theories of art developed by theologians and (especially in the modern period) their relationship to non-theological theories of art;

•  Knowledge of the uses made of the arts by Western churches.





module availability
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