Vanderbilt Divinity School to use grant for arts interaction
All theology – like all politics – is local.
In that spirit, Vanderbilt Divinity School is planning new emphasis on engaging the creative community in its home city of Nashville. Financed by a $340,000 five-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the divinity school will soon ring with music and be the site of film screenings.
Hallways and classrooms will double as art galleries and concert venues.
“I expect it to start feeling different around here,” said Robin Jensen, the Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Worship and Art, who will administer the grant. “It has the potential to spark a real culture shift for the school.”
Vanderbilt Divinity School, began as the Biblical Department of Vanderbilt University upon its founding in 1875, is one of four university-based interdenominational divinity schools in the United States and the only such institution in the South. The divinity school is situated on the Vanderbilt campus a few blocks from Music Row, the center of the country music business. The Christian music industry operates substantially out of Franklin, Tenn., about 20 miles south. Yet until recently, Vanderbilt Divinity School has had little or no interaction with these vital industries.
“The funny thing is that perhaps a good 25 percent of our students are musicians, and I’d say that’s a low estimate,” Jensen said. “Hit songwriters like Marcus Hummon and Craig Wiseman have taken classes here and others have gone on to become music critics and have other ties to the industry. We are involved this year in a semester-long program, God in Music City, through Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Religion and Culture.”
The new program, which Jensen jokingly calls “The Johnny Cash School of Sacred Music,” will attempt to harness the creativity of the arts for theological reflection, as well as provide a venue for leaders in the popular culture industry to explore the theological context and religious dimensions of their work.
Plans call for the creation of a Master of Theological Studies degree program in Religion, Culture and the Arts, as well as regular performances and film screenings and weekend events for working clergy and artists. Additional financing will be sought to continue and develop the program after its five inaugural years.
“Vanderbilt Divinity School is uniquely located in an arts and music Mecca,” Jensen said. “Besides the $6.4 billion music business that is basically in our back yard, Nashville has a new state of the art Schermerhorn Symphony Hall, art museums, an opera, ballet and a flourishing religious publishing industry.
“If our students learn to enrich their ministries with the culture that is in Nashville, they will take those skills and abilities and do the same thing wherever they go after they leave here.”
With the Religion, Culture and the Arts program, Vanderbilt Divinity School joins a select group of divinity schools and seminaries offering courses or programs that extensively incorporate the relationship of arts, religion and contemporary culture with traditional theological education. Those include the Fuller Theological Seminary’s Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts; the Yale Institute of Sacred Music; the Calvin Theological Seminary’s Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the University of California, Berkeley-associated Graduate Theological Union.
Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS