by Claire Reed
PhD student at Sarum College
The complex and sometimes fractious relationship between contemporary art and religion has intrigued me throughout my art career, informing my direction as an artist. It has led me to work in sacred spaces with their immediate and wider communities, to study an MA in Theology, Imagination and Culture at Sarum College, and recently to become artist-researcher at Leo Baeck College of Jewish scholarship and learning.
To expand and deepen my research at these two institutions, I am now undertaking an interdisciplinary PhD as artist-in-residence at Leo Baeck and Sarum College, investigating creative arts practice as a mode of practical theological research. My aim is to examine the extent to which this creative approach might generate fruitful inter-religious theological insights within a Jewish and Christian ministry training context. It focusses on the biblical narrative of Jacob and Esau, which I am interested in as a mother of twins, and for its use as a weaponised text in claims of Jewish and Christian identity and heritage. I chose Sarum College because it is an inspiring place to study.
Situated in the stunning, historic close around Salisbury Cathedral, it combines an open-minded embrace of the imagination and the arts with a supportive, questioning and diverse community. Crucially for me, the Sarum-Winchester PhD programme is one of the very few UK university programmes to offer a hybrid thesis in art and theology in which the creative process and resulting art output along with a written critical component are presented for examination. This is a precious opportunity which will enable me to explore the untapped potential of the creative, embodied, imaginative and material in practical theological research. This PhD research is a key part of my development as an artist engaged with theology and inter-religious dialogue. The project’s scope for innovation, conversation and insights will undoubtedly be challenging, probably unsettling, and definitely transformative.
Given uncertainty is the very nature of creative practice, who knows what unexpected twists and turns lay in store and where that might lead?
Claire Reed began her PhD through Sarum College in April 2023, and is working on a project entitled Illuminating Twins: An Inter-religious Reimagining of the Jacob and Esau Narrative through Creative Arts Practice as a Mode of Practical Theological Inquiry.