Significance of Christian art and architecture to be examined at Vanderbilt University through Luce Foundation chair

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ñ Students at Vanderbilt Divinity School will take a closer look at how art is intertwined with Christian worship with the help of Robin Margaret Jensen, the first holder of the Luce Chancellor’s Chair of the History of Christian Worship and Art.

Jensen will begin teaching at the start of the spring semester in the position funded in part by the Henry Luce Foundation in New York.

The arts merit more consideration both when considering history and in the day-to-day lives of believers, she said.

"Often, more attention is paid to documentary evidence and text–the intellectual history," Jensen said. "What I’m bringing is reflection on how physical settings and the visual arts interact with worship and theology. They influence and reflect the values of a Christian community."

Jensen graduated Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., with degrees in the visual and theatre arts. She attended Parsons School of Design before earning a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary.

"Robin brings an awareness that practices surrounding Christian worship and art have long histories and a rich tradition," said James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School. "I look forward to what she can do to ground divinity students in appreciation of the arts, and the history of the worshipping communities that they will serve."

For example, Jensen says she will encourage students to consider the deeper meaning of the architecture of church buildings.

"A church building is an expression of who the congregation is, and how they live together," Jensen said. "It’s like a house for a family, but even more profound, reflecting their theology as well as their work in the community. And it’s all done within a budget."

Jensen will also help students interpret historical settings for Christianity to better understand the context of religious rituals.

Vanderbilt Divinity School is the only ecumenical theological school in the Southern United States, and one of four in the United States. It enrolls about 200 students in two master’s degree programs, with 120 others working toward doctorates.

The Henry Luce Foundation, based in New York, was established in 1936 by the late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc. The Luce Foundation is providing $750,000 for the Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Worship and Art, half of the $1.5 million necessary to endow a chair at Vanderbilt. In the past, the Luce Foundation has provided other support to Vanderbilt faculty, students and programs.

Media contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

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