In the summer of 2022, ten Calvin University faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines gathered for an intense week together exploring the relationship between Christian faith and creativity. The seminar, “Faith Cultivating Creativity,” sponsored by the de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development, invited participants to reflect together on the role of creativity in life and learning. Prof. Lew Klatt of Calvin’s English department and Prof. Anna Greidanus of Calvin’s department of visual and performing arts served as co-leaders of the seminar.
Each day of the seminar consisted of a rhythm of devotions, group art exercises, poetry, wide-ranging discussions, and a shared meal. Chapters of Makoto Fujimura’s recent book, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, provided framing themes for each day’s projects and conversations. For example, the first day’s theme was, “If God is Artist…” Other days focused on motifs such as “making is loving” and “imagination + tears,” a key feature of Fujimura’s kintsugi art and his theological reflection upon suffering.
In working closely together, seminar leaders Greidanus and Klatt drew from their areas of expertise (visual art and poetry, respectively) to craft a faculty development experience that fused together careful consideration of key concepts with hands-on making that brought those concepts alive. As Greidanus put it, the experience joined together “making and the meaning of making.” Klatt observed that one result of the seminar was an invitation to consider a new way of understanding God—“God the Artist before God the Lecturer.” He was also struck by Fujimura’s encouragement to Christians to think of redemption not merely “as repairing or fixing but as metamorphosis and new creation.”
The faculty who participated in the seminar found it deeply impactful. Though from a diverse range of disciplines and with varying levels of experience in areas of art and design, the participants encountered meaningful insights for their lives as Christians and their work as scholars from the week’s contemplation of ideas along with an experience of the creative process. Julie Wildschut, an engineering professor, was “amazed by the overlap between pottery and my materials science class for engineers. Anna [Greidanus] was talking about the earth and materials and the amazing transformation through heat. Her descriptions involved soils, conservation, chemistry, engineering, and art. It inspired me to see if there is a way to get my [engineering] students over to the art studio for a ceramics lab.”
Similarly, Dave Warners, from Calvin’s biology department, also reveled in the profound connection between the topic of the seminar and his work as a restoration ecologist. “Although often overlooked, imagination and creativity are essential components of doing restoration ecology well, and beauty is an elusive, though deeply desired goal. It’s not just about returning functional ecosystem services or cleaning up a polluted stream; it’s more about coaxing beauty out of a degraded landscape, similar to how a sculpture draws beauty out of a lump of clay.”
History professor Eric Washington was struck by the connection between art and his own discipline: “One of the definitions of history that I use is by John Fea, who defines history as the art of reconstructing the past. Just as creating art is a process so is history, especially the writing of history. Like working with clay as a source of a finished piece, historians have primary material that needs to be shaped and molded into a narrative.” And philosophy professor Rebecca DeYoung appreciated the “contemplative” mood of the seminar, observing that it was an appropriate counterbalance to “the Reformed attitude of constant activity.”
In addition to being a challenging and refreshing experience for these faculty participants, the seminar promises to bear fruit for their ongoing work as teachers and scholars. Warners noted: “My teaching will be enhanced by bringing in some of the pedagogical and content insights I gained from this week.” Similarly, English professor Gary Schmidt said “And to have a week when we all felt nourished, and fed (body and soul) in such lovely ways--well, it really was spectacular. I know that this is going to affect my writing classes in terrific and exciting ways.”