What is Beauty?

Phrases like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “beauty is only skin deep” suggest that beauty is a category that need not be taken seriously because it is associated with subjectivity, superficiality, and consumerism. However, the history of philosophy and theology shows that beauty has been an important category in Western thought. A philosopher’s thoughts about beauty and aesthetics are an excellent window onto what he or she believes about the nature of reality in general.

More specifically, in theology, what we believe about beauty is bound up with what we believe about the nature of God, his self-revelation in Christ, his relation to creation and ourselves, and the nature of salvation and ethics.

The first part of the course seeks to equip students with an understanding of the history of how beauty, and related categories such as art and nature, has been conceptualized from Plato to the present and we will tie this philosophy to the art objects that these different schools of thought have produced.

The second part of the course explores the significance of beauty for various dimensions of the Christian narrative (the nature of God, the incarnation, creation, sin, and the nature of salvation). These explorations will help students to understand how different approaches to beauty are appropriate to Christian theology, as well as encourage students to understand how beauty is a significant dimension of their own relationship with the divine.