Introduction

This site aims to encourage research in the interrelation of Christian theology and the spatial arts. Christian theology is the attempt to attend to the Word of God made known in and through Jesus Christ. The 'spatial arts', on the other hand, are those that contribute to the formation of our built environment - architecture, town planning, interior design, sculpture, landscape architecture, and so on. These arts shape the spaces we inhabit and contribute to the facilitation and enhancement of our various human projects. The purpose of this project is to consider not only how the incarnation encourages us to interpret the diverse kinds of space which we indwell and which are constitutive of our identites but how our indwelling these spaces and our reflection upon this serves to reconfigure and enhance our theological frame of reference

The Colloquium is a part of Theology Through the Arts, an interdisciplinary project established by Professor Jeremy Begbie at the University of Cambridge, and now based at the Institute of Theology Imagination and the Arts at St Andrews University, Scotland. Theology Through the Arts is the umbrella organization for two research colloquiua, 'Theology and Music' and 'Theology and the Built Environment'. The latter is undertaken with the generous support of, and in association with, The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

The primary aim of Theology Through the Arts (TTA) is to discover and demonstrate ways in which the arts can contribute to Christian theology. It is not intended that the arts become the handmaid of theology. From theology's side, a much more humble approach is envisaged. TTA is born of the recognition that theology, for all its achievements, has been impoverished by its engagement with a rather narrow range of conversation partners. Much has been gained by seeking to articulate the Christian faith in conversation with western philosophy, for example, but there is much yet to be gained, TTA believes, by broadening the conversation, by recognising that other disciplines, and especially in this case, the arts, give rise to different ways of seeing and knowing that enrich our understanding of the subject matter with which we are concerned. TTA is essentially a heuristic endeavour. It does not aim to give good advice to artists, nor does it seek to impose upon them an obligation to fall in line with its view of the truth. It hopes rather to benefit from the conversation with the arts by discovering new ways of understanding and expressing its own particular subject matter.

Amongst practitioners of the spatial arts there is a keen sense that the multiple aims of architecture, town planning, sculpture, etc., include the effort to give expression to particular visions about what it is to be a human being, to articulate meanings and values that transcend mere function, and to shape not just space but also the lives that we lead. The spatial arts, therefore, are already oriented in some measure to the questions with which theology is concerned.

With very few exceptions, spatiality as a basic category of human existence and of our created reality has been strangely neglected in the theological tradition. This contrasts markedly with the attention given to time and history. The incarnation, however, was as much an event in space as an event in time. That would suggest, perhaps, that just as the incarnation is thought to be the centre and meaning of history, transforming our understanding of what it is to be a historical being, there might also be ways in which that same event bears upon and is transformative of our understanding of what it is to exist in space. Perhaps too the spatial language of the biblical witness might be discovered to offer a more direct rather than merely symbolic reference to the being and act of God.

Theology's first responsibility is always to God in his trinitarian self-disclosure as Father, Son and Spirit. Theology's task is to be attentive to the Word of God made known in Jesus and to bear witness to it in all that it does. There is no other Word to which Christian theology is finally answerable. Theology Through the Arts, therefore, is not an attempt to introduce an accountability elsewhere, nor to have its responsibilities defined in some other way. What it does recognise, however, is that there are many ways to be attentive, all of them inadequate when considered humanly, but each made fruitful under the impact of God's grace. Theology through the arts, accordingly, is an attempt to be attentive in new ways to the God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

 

 

 

University of Otago Theology and the Spatial Arts