David Brown delivers his talk 'The Arts' Critique of Theology' for the 2014-2015 Humane Philosophy Project/Ian Ramsey Centre seminar at Blackfrairs Hall, University of Oxford.
There is a temptation in all academic disciplines to maintain self-sufficiency, and nowhere is the temptation stronger than in theology which claims to speak on behalf of God. Thus the appearance of religious belief in literature or painting is usually interpreted as purely illustrative, with nothing of special worth to teach the theologian. In this lecture Brown will challenge that claim by arguing that, so far from this being so, the arts are an indispensable ally, not least in combatting the apparent negative implications of modern changes in philosophical and cultural perspective. Four arguments will be considered: (1) the collapse of Platonic dualism and the need to find an alternative means of bridging the gap between human materiality and divine immateriality; (2) the recognition of the inadequacy of traditional arguments for God’s existence and the need for some alternative grounding; (3) acceptance of the conditioned character of all human thought and the resultant difficulty in justifying any notion of a transcendent, divine revelation and (4) acceptance of limitations to all human thought, and the resultant difficulty in interpreting some aspects of Christian doctrine. The strategy is not to offer a minimalist interpretation of Christianity but rather to suggest that, by learning from the arts, theological reflection can emerge strengthened and not weakened.
Educated at the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge, DAVID BROWN taught for fourteen years at Oxford and for seventeen at Durham before becoming Professor of Theology, Aesthetics & Culture at the University of St Andrews in 2007. While in his earlier academic career his main interest was in relations between theology and philosophy, in more recent years he has focused on interactions between theology and the arts and indeed culture more generally. This has resulted in a series for five books for Oxford University Press: Tradition and Imagination (1999), Discipleship and Imagination (2000), God and Enchantment of Place (2004), God and Grace of Body (2007) and God and Mystery in Words (2008). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2002 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2012.