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Theology, Modernity and the Visual Arts is a four-year research project led by Professor Ben Quash at King’s College London, in collaboration with Duke University, and generously sponsored by the McDonald Agape Foundation. Its purpose is to enquire into a theological reading of modernity in the company of visual artists, asking how the visual arts can help us to understand the theological (or even anti-theological) currents of modernity more deeply. Theology, Modernity, and the Visual Arts is part of a larger enterprise (Theology, Modernity, and the Arts) established by Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts, which is undertaking research in three main areas: music, the visual arts, and literature.

The programme for Theology, Modernity, and the Visual Arts has consisted of a series of academic symposia hosted by major international art galleries in the UK, USA, and Europe. It began in 2018 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and then met at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2019. In 2020–2021 the programme was continued online because of the global pandemic. Its final meeting in 2022 was held in Berlin, at the Akademie der Künste and the Bode-Museum. Attended by a core group of international scholars in theology and art history, these meetings provided an opportunity for a sustained discussion of how the visual arts can help in interpreting the theological dimensions of modernity, and how theology can reflect on and inform interpretations of modernity in and through the visual arts.

The group is exploring what theology can learn from the insights and suggestions of modern and contemporary art, even when that art seems deliberately to provoke or repel. Given the abiding power of Christian motifs, ideas, and styles in a host of modern works that superficially look un- or anti-Christian, the group is also considering these indications that visual art and Christian tradition have not become complete strangers, and asking how contemporary viewers (Christian and non-Christian) interact with historical Christian art, and how modern sensibilities affect our viewing of earlier Christian artworks and artistic traditions.

The symposia are accompanied by public events with high-profile artists, theologians, and critics. These are opportunities to reflect on the visual arts as an arena in which some of the deepest questions of life and death, meaning and purpose, continue to be raised, and on the relationship of visual art with Christianity, both as cultural heritage and as contemporary lived faith.

TMVA project participants

  • Project Director, Theology, Modernity and the Visual Arts: The Revd Canon Professor Ben Quash, Professor of Christianity and the Arts; Director, Centre for Arts and the Sacred at King's College London.
  • Dr Jonathan Anderson, Associate Professor of Art, Biola University, La Mirada, CA.
  • Professor Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor, Duke Divinity School, Duke University, NC, (Director of Theology, Modernity and the Arts).
  • Dr Jeremy Biles, Assistant Professor, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Ms Christina Carnes Ananias, Research Student, Theology and the Arts, Duke University, NC.
  • Dr Johann Hinrich Claussen, Kulturbeauftragter der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland. (commissioner of cultural affairs of the Protestant Church in Germany).
  • Professor Thomas Crow, Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art, New York University.
  • The Revd Canon Dr William J. Danaher, Jr, Rector of Christ Church Cranbrook; Professor of Theology, Ethics and the Arts, Ecumenical Theological Seminary, Detroit.
  • Dr Rebekah Eklund, Associate Professor of Theology, Loyola University, MD.
  • Dr Felicity Harley-McGowan, Lecturer, Yale Divinity School.
  • Dr Christine Joynes, Director, Centre for the Reception History of the Bible, University of Oxford.
  • Dr Neil MacGregor, Formerly Director of the British Museum, and previously of the National Gallery, London.
  • Mr Peter McDonald, President McDonald Agape Foundation.
  • Dr Matthew Milliner, Associate Professor of Art History, Wheaton College, IL.
  • Dr Chloë Reddaway, Research Fellow, Centre for Arts and the Sacred, KCL.
  • Prof. Aaron Rosen, Professor of Religion & Visual Culture, Director of the Henry Luce III. Center for the Arts & Religion, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.
  • Dr Daniel A. Siedell, Senior Fellow, Modern Art History, Theory & Criticism, The King's College, New York City.
  • Dr Jennifer Sliwka, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King's College London; Deputy Director, Visual Commentary on Scripture.
  • Professor Frances Spalding, Chair of Art + Christianity; Fellow of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge.
  • The Revd Dr Casey A. Strine, Senior Lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern History and Literature, University of Sheffield.
  • Dr W. David O. Taylor, Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.