11. A Hand Outstretched in Darkness: Evangelical Encounters with Art

Religion and Sight - Louise Child

Philip Francis [+-]
University of Maine
Philip Francis is a professor of philosophy and religion in his home state at the University of Maine-Farmington. His book, When Art Disrupts Religion: Aesthetic Experience and the Evangelical Mind, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017. Following professorships at Carleton College and Manhattan College, he was Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania in 2016. His work has appeared in Harvard Theological Review, The Atlantic, and the LA Review of Books. He teaches courses on religion, aesthetics, and back-to-the-land spirituality.


This essay will draw upon my ethnographic work on American evangelicals who left the fold through the intervention of the arts (a five year study, with hundreds of participants). I will focus on the metaphorical wall that conservative evangelical communities construct between themselves and the outside world, in large part to keep certain things, oftentimes works of art, out of sight. To quote one of my participants, a Bob Jones University alumnus: “I can tell you that there were cracks in the wall between my evangelical world and the outside world. And no matter how quickly the pastors, parents and elders of our community worked to patch them up […] one could look through the holes, taking in that other, strange world through the eyes[…] This is how I came across the artists whose work connected me to the outside world, who drew me into that world, and who changed the course of my life.” I will make arguments about the role of aesthetic experience in relation to this wall, addressing 1) what it was like to view the arts through the wall 2) In what ways the arts created sight lines over and through the wall; 3) how the arts tore down the wall.

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Francis, Philip. 11. A Hand Outstretched in Darkness: Evangelical Encounters with Art. Religion and Sight. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Sep 2020. ISBN 9781781797495. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=35756. Date accessed: 20 Jun 2019 doi: 10.1558/equinox.35756. Sep 2020

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