This book is the culmination of a decade offering courses in philosophical aesthetics to divinity students. Before my appointment (in 2006) to a newly established position in philosophy and the arts at Princeton Theological Seminary, I had taught aesthetics over many years in the philosophy departments of two largely secular universities. Covering an appropriate curriculum in these contexts allowed limited reference to religious art, but it certainly did not require it. Books and papers were few in number, and in fact the subject of the relationship between art and religion was infrequently and only lightly touched upon in the growing number of guides and handbooks to aesthetics that were coming out from academic presses. Even the college text I myself published (Philosophy of the Arts, 3rd revised edition 2005) made only fleeting references to religious art. As a consequence, the move to teaching aesthetics in a divinity school presented both a challenge and an opportunity.
The challenge was to engage with second degree students who generally had little or no background in philosophy and no knowledge of the traditional topics of aesthetics, while at the same time convincing them that philosophy in the Anglo-American analytical tradition could have interesting things to say about the subjects that interested them most – namely, Christian faith and practice. In addition, there was the challenge of ensuring that it was indeed philosophical aesthetics to which they were being introduced, and not the burgeoning area of theological aesthetics that was developing at the same time. This meant largely ignoring the rapidly growing literature in theological aesthetics, even though any alternative literature I could call on for reading lists that would be directly relevant to the topics of my courses was very limited indeed. At the same time, the other side of this challenge was a corresponding opportunity to uncover new connections between philosophy, art, and religion, and to preserve philosophy's distinctive mode of thought with its emphasis on conceptual clarity, dialectical exchange, and argumentative cogency while avoiding the level of abstraction that often leads philosophy to leave the substantial content of art and religion behind.
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