Exploring God: Using the Arts as a Way to Engage Secondary Students in Discussions about God

From Section:
Formal Education
Mar. 03, 2016
March – April, 2016

Source: Religious Education, 111:2, 182-199


The article presents research from a practitioner research study conducted in a non-denominational Jewish secondary school. As part of the study, students created artistic works based on chapter 12 of the biblical book of Numbers. Four of the twelve student groups created works that directly engaged with their conceptions of God as represented in the text while also making direct links to God's role in their lives. Learning through the arts can be a powerful tool that teachers can draw on in order to provide space for students to reflect on their understanding of God and as a way to engage students in conversations about God.

The data paints a clear and nuanced, picture of what the arts can offer Bible students. The results suggest that learning through the arts, while frequently not employed as an option in secondary Jewish education, has the potential to be a valuable and formative pedagogical tool towards facilitating meaningful relationships between text, self, and God. Considered together, the cases presented demonstrate that learning through the arts offers students the opportunity to think about, interact with, connect to, and learn biblical text in ways that are personally meaningful, dynamic, and relevant

What also emerged as a result of the study is the recognition that students in the study are not apathetic or disengaged students of religion; they are deeply thoughtful about text, self, and God—albeit with a range of perspectives on God. Teachers of religion can make use of the arts to engage students in theological conversations that students (or teachers) might otherwise find difficult to navigate. The study shows that the arts let students, who otherwise do not speak about God, have an opportunity to struggle with God and to find a way to constructively have dialogue about God. Teachers who are comfortable with encouraging the types of questioning raised by the students can follow-up with further discussion about God and God’s behavior in both text and contemporary society. Additionally, teachers can add further complexity to the experience by introducing students to competing narratives that present God in other, perhaps more positive, benevolent and munificent, ways. The resulting dialogue can build a more complete and holistic portrait of God. What has emerged from this study is the notion that the arts are a tool that can provide a way to allow students to conceptualize their own understandings of God and a forum for teachers to better understand what their students are thinking. Through continued dialogue, deeper and more meaningful theological conversations can follow.

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
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