Researchers Embark to Determine How Faith & Art Intersect

Two Baylor University scholars and a third at Fuller Theological Seminary are setting out to determine the relationship between two difficult, if not impossible, things to measure: art and faith.

Wade Rowatt, Baylor professor of psychology said, “It feels great to embark on this journey exploring how art affects us psychologically and even spiritually.”

Fellow researcher Sarah Schnitker, associate professor psychology at Baylor remarked the undertaking will be highly demanding.

“It is both fascinating and challenging to be involved in scientific research that seeks to understand how art can shape our spirituality,” said Schnitker, an associate professor of psychology at Baylor.

“Although most people would recognize the power of art, not many studies have quantified the effects of art on our religious and spiritual development,” she said, adding that it “could have implications for the way religious organizations engage art in worship and discipleship.”

Both Rowatt and Schnitker acknowledge that art is known to have profound impacts on people’s faith experiences.

Schnitker said, “The big-picture idea is that human beings can learn things through aesthetic artistic encounters that are unique, that impact us in a different way than reading a book or listening to a podcast.

“There is something about this engagement that uniquely affects us, especially as it relates to what we might call spiritual understanding,” she added. “We want to isolate what it is about encountering a piece like the ‘Mona Lisa’ or a beautiful building like the National Cathedral that sparks something inside a person and can impact the ways they perceive God.”

Schnitker and Rowatt have partnered with associate professor of theology Kutter Callaway of Fuller Theological Seminary.  The trio have received a $234,000 grant from the Templeton Religious Trust to create a theoretical framework to quantify the functional and psychological impact of art.

The researchers will use experimental psychology to account for subtle differences in artistic predispositions that influence an individual’s experience with art. The goal is to conduct a study based on broad theories but offer testable predictions and have quantifiable results.

Rowatt said, “We are trying to figure out how it facilitates understanding, insight or something deeper than that.”

Additionally, the project will examine perceptions of the divine when experiencing art. Rowatt confirmed the researchers have already begun gathering data to formally begin next spring and conclude December 2021.

Schnitker added, “It is quite fun to interact with experts across disciplines. Conversations between scientists, theologians and artists that are a part of this work spark new insights and hypotheses.”

Source: Baptist News Global