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Exhibition Commentary on the Golden Calf

Visual Commentary on Scripture.

Essays on three paintings that comment on the episode of the Golden Calf

As the command forbidding graven images is given to Moses at the top of Sinai, it is at the same time broken at the mountain’s base by God’s people, who make and worship a golden calf. Seeing the people break the command, Moses angrily smashes the stone tablet on which it is written. The moment is remembered in both the Jewish and Christian traditions as the paradigmatic scene of idolatry.

How did Christianity, a tradition with such a strong prohibition regarding images, go on to integrate them into worship? One answer, given by German picture theorist Horst Bredekamp (2010), is that the Christian image-makers did not leave that anxiety behind, but took it with them, expressing it in the images themselves. The images, in other words, communicate a prohibition against worshipping images. They warn and even attempt to guard against the threat of idolatry. Read more.


The Charge of Blasphemy and Pope Rihanna

Church Life Journal. June 15, 2018.

When Rihanna donned papal-inspired attire for the Met Gala, some accused her of blasphemy. But is that fair? In this essay for Notre Dame's Church Life Journal, I trace a tricky ambivalence around the term for Christian thought.

As the dust of controversy settled in the weeks following the Met Gala opening for the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition, one image crystallized the event’s exploration of fashion and the “Catholic imagination” and inspired the most divergent reactions to it: Rihanna in a low-cut, jewel-encrusted mini-dress, matching coat, stilettos, and a mitre. Read more.


A Case for Iconoclasm, Part I and Part II

Transpositions: Theology, Imagination and the Arts. March 2018.

In this essay for Transpositions—the site for the St Andrews Initiative in Theology and the Arts—I argue that iconoclasm can help Christians be better image-lovers. And that opens up new ecumenical possibilities.

Though the term iconoclasm has expanded its meanings and associations over time, it still evokes a more Protestant than Catholic approach to church life. Not only are Protestants on the whole warier about the dangers of images, but Protestantism was birthed in the pangs of Reformation iconoclasm. Read Part I | Read Part II

Outsiderness: A Warning

Religion and its Publics Blog. January 12, 2018.

Writing for Religion and its Publics, I reflect on the seductiveness of being an outsider and consider the potential losses a nation of outsiders suffers. 

After the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation and the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, I find myself wondering about institutional insiders and outsiders. I wonder, in particular, about the appeal of outsiders and the status of being outside—what we might call outsiderness. What do we want outsiderness to give to us? Can it deliver on the promise of its appeal? Read More.


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Natalie Carnes’s Image and Presence

Page 99 Test Blog. December 19, 2017.

Marshal Zeringue challenged me to the Page 99 Test—in which I open my book to page 99 and see how that page can shed light (or not!) on the rest of my argument.

In the chapter where page 99 falls, I am looking at Reformation iconoclasm in particular, when iconoclasm took a theatrical turn. In Basel, Switzerland, for example, a crowd hauled a crucifix into the square and mocked it with words that echo the crucifixion accounts of the gospels, “If you’re God, then save yourself, but if you’re man, then bleed.” Read More.

The Erotic Image

Stanford University Press Blog. December 12, 2017.

In this blog for Stanford Press, I consider the slipperiness of desire, asking what differentiates holy desires from pornographic ones. 

Mary looks down toward her bared breast, which is shaped like a cone and placed rather high on her chest in Lorenzo di Credi’s Madonna of the Nursing Child. The Christ-child’s lips part to receive her breast. He seems moments from suckling, yet his eyes remain locked on the viewer. Read More.



Breaking the Power of Monuments

Stanford University Press Blog. August 29, 2017.

From selfies with broken Confederate statues to Outkast on Stone Mountain, are we in a new age of iconoclasm? In this blog for Stanford Press, I assess the history and future of iconoclasm.

In a popular video circulating amidst the national debate over Confederate monuments, protesters chanting, “No KKK, no fascist USA,” throw a yellow rope around a statue of a Confederate soldier in Durham, North Carolina and wrench it from a pedestal. The statue twists and crumples as it hits the ground. The crowd cheers. Some come forward to take pictures with the toppled statue, which lay in its position of vanquish until hauled away the next morning. Read more.

The Drama of Multiple Incarnations

Symposium on Paul Blowers’s book Maximus the Confessor: Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration of the World. Syndicate. July 2017.

In a symposium for Syndicate on Paul Blowers’s recent monograph on Maximus, I meditate on the locution “multiple incarnations” and how it can help us think about current theological conversation around “deep incarnation.”  The link goes to the entire symposium, curated by Justin Coyle and featuring essays by Father Andrew Louth, Aristotle Papanikolaou, and Jordan Daniel Wood. Read more. 



Embracing Beauty in a World of Affliction

Republics of Letters. January 14, 2017.

I participated in a symposium on Beauty and Form at Northwestern, and the presentations were collected and published in Stanford’s Republics of Letters. Mine looks at how the questions J.M. Coetzee raises about beauty open out into an important strand of reflection on the same in Christian theology.

They are locked in opposition, the two fictional sisters. Sisters in blood, Elizabeth Costello calls them, but not in spirit. Elizabeth is an aging Australian novelist imagined by J. M. Coetzee. In his story “The Humanities in Africa,” she has traveled to Zululand to celebrate her sister Blanche, now Sister Bridget, who is receiving an honorary degree from a university there. Read more.

Symposium on Beauty

Syndicate Theology. March 2016.

This symposium on my book Beauty is curated by Justin Coyle and includes essays from William Dyrness, Vigen Guroian, Stephanie Gehring, and Sarah Maple—and responses to each of them from me. Read more.



Presence, Presentness, and Grace: Reflections on Art and Theology with Michael Fried and Marina Abramovic

Transpositions: Theology, Imagination and the Arts. 

I write for Transpositions, the site for the St Andrews Initiatives in Theology and the Arts, about the significance of presence as a category of analysis in both art and theology—and what that overlap might mean.

Many of the abiding questions of both art and religion center on presence. In a theological register we ask: How does the divine become present to us? How do we become present to God? Does this particular object or image mediate divine presence to us, or does it absent us from the divine, absorbing for itself our heart’s devotions and our mind’s energies? Read more.