Boston University
Mission Statement

The Luce Program in Scripture and Literary Arts was created in 2000, thanks to a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation in New York and strong support from Boston University. It is intended to raise the profile of the Bible in humanistic studies, both through courses in the Jewish and Christian scriptures and in the secular literatures that grow out of these sacred traditions. In 2008 the Program expanded its vision to include explorations of the world's religious traditions across time around the world. The original focus on literary arts has also opened up to a broader examination of sacred and secular arts, including literature and visual arts from painting and sculpture to calligraphic writing and film.

Scripture and the Literary Arts

To accomplish the goal of raising the profile of the Bible and its literary "afterlife" at Boston University, the Program works on a variety of fronts to:

- Offer undergraduate courses in Boston University's College of Arts and Sciences that explore the complex relationship between sacred texts and their imaginative "afterlives." Along these lines are the courses offered by Luce program director, Peter S. Hawkins: "The Bible," "Biblical Fictions," "Made in God's Image: biblical and epic traditions," "Dante's Journey to God," and "Genesis: Scripture, Interpretation, Literature" (with Professor Abigail Gillman). In addition to these classes is "Qu'ranic Negotiations," taught by Professor Shakir Mustafa of the Boston University Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures, which looks at the presence of the Qu'ran in contemporary Islamic fiction; "Moses and the Origin of Monotheism," taught by Professor Michael Zank of the Boston University Department of Religion, which explores the afterlife of the biblical figure Moses as an abiding preoccupation of western religions, theology, literary and visual art, and secular thought; and "Apocalypse and Literature," taught by Professor Dennis Costa (also of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures), which considers the literary response to the Christian book of Revelation from ancient to modern times.

- Provide specialist training for graduate students who aspire to become teachers and scholars of religion, literature, and related disciplines. In conjunction with the Religion and Literature concentration in the Division of Religious and Theological Studies, the Luce Program hosts monthly symposia where graduate students explore texts or discuss professional issues. In November 2004 students will organize a symposium on religion and film.

- Cultivate interdisciplinary links among Boston University departments such as Religion, Judaic Studies, Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures, English, Creative Writing, History, and the School of Theology.

- Bring together scholars and students from various disciplines for academic conferences or performance events that focus on a given biblical text. Two evenings of faculty reading, "Genesis One" (2001) and "Man, Woman, Serpent" (2003), looked at the opening chapters of the Bible and the literature that has grown out of them. An interdisciplinary conference on the Song of Songs (2002) included a concert of songs, and another conference on the Book of Ruth began with a bilingual performance of the text in Hebrew and English. The latter also included the work of two artists who have "commented" on Ruth in wood- and paper-cuts. The proceedings of these gatherings are now being edited into a single volume of essays, Scrolls of Love. This Bible and the Arts focus continued in the spring 2003, when we held a faculty reading of the Psalms, and when we presented a concert of Psalm texts. In March 2007, the Program will host another conference that focuses not on a particular biblical text, but instead on the "Little Women" who garner relatively little attention in the Hebrew Bible itself but who have nonetheless loomed large in that text's interpretive afterlife. Speakers at the conference include Bible scholars, art historians, literary scholars, and writers of contemporary fiction and poetry.

- Demonstrate the vital link between the Bibles of Jews and Christians and contemporary writers. The Program has sponsored readings and lectures by Frederick Buechner, Stephen Raleigh Byler, John Clayton, Gabriel Josipovici, Michael Malone, Jacqueline Osherow, Matthew Pearl, Martha Serpas, and Franz Wright.

Scripture and the Visual Arts

Our goals remained largely unchanged when the Luce Program implemented a new grant in July 2005, with the notable exception of the addition of the Luce Visiting Professor in Scripture and the Visual Arts. This addition is predicated on the belief that in order to appreciate the impact of the Bible on our cultures it is necessary to look not only at literature but also at the visual arts. Our new grant was designed to allow us each spring to have a visiting art historian in the Department of Religion who would offer courses, give a public lecture, and generally help us think about the place of visual culture in religion.

The first such scholar, in residence at Boston University in spring 2006, was Professor Gauvin Bailey. Professor Bailey -- educated at the University of Toronto and Harvard – joined us this spring at a time of transition in his career. For almost a decade he was Professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art at Clark University in Worcester; but in fall 2006 he began a new appointment in the Department of Theology at Boston College. During his semester at Boston University, Professor Bailey taught an undergraduate lecture course, "Western Art and Its Relationship with Christianity", and a graduate seminar on his own recent research, "“The Impact of European Sacred Art in a Global Context," which explores the interaction of Catholic missionary art and indigenous art in Latin America during the colonial period.

Professor Bailey's successor in spring 2007 was Professor Kristin Schwain of the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. A scholar of art and visual culture in the United States, Professor Schwain's courses -- "Introduction to the Visual Culture of American Religions" for undergraduates, and her graduate seminar "Word and Image in American Religions" -- focused on the visual engagements of both "high" and "low" culture with the Bible in the United States.

For Spring 2008, the Luce Program sought a scholar versed in medieval and Renaissance European art . Professor Susanna Caroselli is Professor of Art History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where she received the 2007 Outstanding Teacher Award. Her work on the Middle Ages deftly explores the visual interpretation of scriptural material. The “marginalized women” of the Hebrew Bible have long attracted Caroselli’s interest.  In addition to her research, Professor Caroselli brought to her teaching more than 15 years of experience in the museum world, during which time she held curatorial and editorial posts at the Frick Collection, New York; the Detroit Institute of the Arts; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She offered two courses during her semester at Boston University: the undergraduate lecture course “Biblical Imagery in Medieval and Early Modern Art,” surveyed representations of biblical figures and narratives in Jewish and Christian art from the third to the seventeenth centuries, with an emphasis on issues of communication and reception of biblical iconography; and an upper-level seminar on “Images from the Hebrew Bible in Medieval Christian Art” that focused on the significance of visual presentations of the Hebrew Bible in medieval European religion and culture. 

In many ways, Professors Bailey, Schwain, and Caroselli are – and intentionally so, on our part – a study in contrasts.  Professor Bailey is primarily an historian of the Counter-Reformation and Baroque interested in what happened to European art and religion when it became local in South America and, to a lesser degree, the Far East.  Professor Schwain is an Americanist, fascinated with the material culture of Protestant and Roman Catholic religion in 19th through 21st centuries. Professor Caroselli is a scholar of the art of medieval and Renaissance Europe whose work focuses on representations of marginalized biblical figures -- mostly women -- in both Jewish and Christian art. All of them, however, are committed to bringing the study of religion and of art history into conversation.

Broadening the Horizons: The Program in Scripture and the Arts

When Peter Hawkins left the University in 2008, the administration recognized the remarkable contribution that he and the Luce Foundation-funded Program in Scripture and Literary Arts had made since 2000 and was eager to see the Department of Religion continue and build upon that work. Rather than appointing a single faculty member to direct the newly renamed Program in Scripture and the Arts, the Department organized a new interdisciplinary directorial committee made up of faculty from across the University whose various disciplines, methodologies, and research interests reflect the expanded goals of the Program. 

In the 2008-2009 academic year the committee includes seven faculty members from throughout Boston University: the Departments of Religion, Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, English, and Art History, and the School of Theology are all represented. In addition, committee members’ work ranges from antiquity to the twenty-first century, and from China and the Near East to Europe and North America. This range is key, as going forward the Program’s definition of “scripture” is broadening to include sacred text across a wide range of traditions and “the arts” is expanding to include the visual and musical as well as the literary.

Peter S. Hawkins, professor of Religion at Boston University, directed the Luce Program from its inception in 2000 until August 2008. For more information on the directorial committee that has overseen the Program since September 2008, please visit the staff section of this Web site.

For more information, please contact Program Coordinator Cristine Hutchison-Jones at 617-358-1754 or

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