A Symposium of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA)

Tuesday | February 14, 2017 | New York City





The Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA) is dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of scholarship examining the historical and contemporary relationship between Christianity and the visual arts. ASCHA is dedicated to examining problems that confront the field by identifying scholarly needs and fostering opportunities for the presentation and publication of new scholarship in a safe and respectful environment. ASCHA is a forum for the advancement of research, dialogue, and collaboration in the area of Christianity and the visual arts.




A Strange Place Still? Religion in Contemporary Art

A Symposium

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in New York City


It has been nearly a decade and a half since James Elkins’s popular study, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art, first appeared, where, in his introductory remarks, the critic and art historian summed up his sense of professional unease in pursuing his topic: “For people in my profession of art history, “ he confessed, “the very fact that I have written this book may be enough to cast me into a dubious category of fallen and marginal historians who somehow don’t get modernism or postmodernism.”  The art world, he claimed, “can accept a wide range of ‘religious’ art by people who hate religion, by people who are deeply uncertain about it, by the disgruntled and the disaffected and the skeptical, but there is no place for artists who express straightforward, ordinary religious faith.”  There is, the critic argued in 2004, a general tendency within the art world to see art that invokes religion in anything but a critical or derisive way as retrograde and reactionary.  This was shot across the bow of academic art history, a challenge to the profession to answer for its aversion to one of the most significant dimensions of human diversity – faith and religious expression.  But the academy was not Elkins’s only target: “[T]he absence of openly religious art from modern art museums,” he further contended, “would seem to be due to the prejudices of a coterie of academic writers who have become unable to acknowledge what has always been apparent: art and religion are entwined.”


Much has changed since these remarks were made.  Artists, art historians, critics, and curators have vigorously challenged the assumed secularism of institutional art history—what Sally M. Promey described and debunked as the “secularization theory of modernity” which contends that “modernism necessarily leads to religion’s decline, and the secular and the religious will not coexist in the modern world.”  Coexist they have and continue to do, and a generation of scholarship and exhibition has developed that forcefully resists the pervasive skepticism that can still come when religion is a topic of discussion in the academy.


This one-day symposium invites scholars and arts professionals to explore that still strange place of religion in contemporary art, with particular focus on the implications for Judeo-Christian faiths. We seek 20-minute papers and presentations that push beyond the unhelpful model of secular left and evangelical right, and that come to terms with faith as an irrecusable part of the social and material.  The purpose of this pre-CAA symposium is to explore the very rich place of the sacred in contemporary visual culture.  It seeks to contest the persistent narrative and to contribute to a vibrant field that has begun meaningfully to address art’s engagement with religion.


Proposals of no more than 300 words, accompanied by CV and a cover letter, are due by October 15, 2016 and should be sent by e-mail to both Prof. Ronald R. Bernier at bernierr1@wit.edu and Prof. Rachel Hostetter Smith at rcsmith@taylor.edu . Previously presented or published papers, as well as papers already committed to publication, will be considered but should be specifically indicated as such. Acceptance of papers assumes a commitment to attend and participate.


The symposium will take place on Tuesday, February 14 at The Union League Club at 37th Street and Park Avenue in New York, NY, one day prior to the CAA’s annual conference. It is sponsored by the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art with the generous support of Taylor University and the Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts.


Ronald R. Bernier and Rachel Hostetter Smith, Co-organizers


CLICK HERE to download this Call for Papers as a PDF.












Above: Kingdom of Heaven 2 (2015) by Wayne Adams



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