Art & Soul
“Art and Soul: Theological Imagination” originated with Saint Ursula religion teacher Lisa Woodall after she took what she describes as an “impactful course” while pursuing a master’s degree in theology at Xavier University (XU). “It blew me away,” she said of the Theological Imagination class, taught by Christopher Pramuk, then a theology professor at XU. “It was so rich in terms of revealing meaning in my faith.”
Woodall was so inspired that she prepared a plan to teach the class at the high school level for her dissertation. Art and Soul was offered for the first time during the 2020-21 academic year as a senior religion elective.
“I just feel this is something that is so important to teach before the students leave their formal religious education, to engage their imaginations to give meaning to their faith throughout their lives, being able find God in all things and seeing divine images and messages aligned with Catholic Social Teaching in popular culture,” Woodall explained. “God is all around us. We just need to be aware of and awake to that presence.”
The class is designed to introduce students to a broad sampling of theological imagination as expressed in architecture, music, painting/sculpture, literature and theatre/film. Students are exposed to Catholic theologians and thinkers who have studied imagination and faith as a “bridge of expression” over which faith may pass from formation to lived experience, along with learning to recognize where works of art and beauty “shed light upon [the] path and destiny …” of our faith. (Pope St. John Paul II)
ART IN PRACTICE
During a week focused on social justice, for example, the class sampled art in its many forms – poetry, sculpture, music, theatre and graphic art – that honors God’s creation and human dignity. The students were particularly moved by the life and art of Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Corita Kent, a mid-century artist, teacher and social justice activist.
Art and Soul also includes variety of guest speakers on sacred art and visits to local examples of sacred architecture, including the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains, St. Joseph Cemetery in Price Hill and Our Lady of Peace Chapel at Xavier University.
Another significant aspect of the course is the chance for students to review their own spiritual journeys and identify experiences of God grace. They are also able to compare their personal spiritual experiences to those of artists, architects, composers, writers, filmmakers and actors.
A final project engages their imagination in some way, be it writing, music, visual art or software design for what their ideal sacred space would be. The goal, Woodall said, is to “use everything we’ve talked about in the course and their artistic inclination to make meaning of what they’ve learned throughout their religious education.”
Feedback from the students who have taken the class, just over 100 to date, has been positive. Julia Brockman, who graduated from Saint Ursula in May, said she was intrigued by the course as soon as she heard about it. “I’m not an artist,” she said, “but I’ve always been interested in art and thought combining it with a religion class would be a good opportunity.”
What surprised her the most were the varying ways that Jesus, biblical figures and significant events in Church history were portrayed in different cultures. “We all have a different image of God, yet have in common what God provides for us, what He does in our lives,” she said. “We’re all created in His image and likeness and made to love one another as He loves us.”
This article appeared in the October edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here