October 26, 2021
Dr. Taylor Worley will use his 18-month, $238,000 grant to research the intersection between conceptualism and Christian contemplation.
Wheaton College Visiting Associate Art History Professor Dr. Taylor Worley was recently awarded a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust for a project titled “Thinking About Thinking: Conceptual Art in the Contemplative Tradition.”
The grant is part of a Templeton Religion Trust initiative called “Art Seeking Understanding,” which is aimed at testing aesthetic cognitivism, a theory that argues that art is not only a source of delight and pleasure but of knowledge and understanding.
“My project will focus on how conceptual works of art can offer moments for spiritual contemplation,” Worley said. “I might be the only person on the planet interested in bringing these things together for the sake of research, and it will be an absolute joy to pursue it.”
Emerging in the 1960s and 70s, conceptualism is an art movement in which the essence of the artwork is the idea conveyed—and that idea can be conveyed through any means, whether a performance or an installation or a photograph, among others. The art form has always fascinated Worley, especially its staying power, and recently he’s grown increasingly curious about conceptualism’s connection to the Christian tradition of contemplation.
As Christians, many of us wrestle and come to a place of peace with the hiddenness of God, of not knowing everything, and of some level of uncertainty in our faith, Worley said. “To me, there are connections to the experience of many museum goers,” he said. “When engaging with art works, the best things happen when we’re open and are willing to say, ‘I don’t have to have all the answers. What could this be?’”
With this planning grant, Worley will organize a study in collaboration with faculty across multiple College departments with the goal of understanding how conceptual art can inspire contemplation.
“We are thrilled that the Templeton Foundation has confirmed something we have believed all along in the Art Department: namely, that art is not mere decoration on previously formulated ideas but itself does cognitive work,” said Wheaton College Associate Professor of Art History Dr. Matthew Milliner. “By choosing Wheaton as a host for his exciting research, Dr. Worley is set to take us even further in this direction. His teaching—enriched by extensive art world connections and a proven research track record—is already showing us how the arid heights of conceptual art can merge with the placid depths of Christian contemplative tradition.”
Worley comes to Wheaton College from Trinity International University, where he served as the Visiting Associate Professor of Faith and Culture and the Managing Director of the school’s Center for Transformational Churches. In 2010, Worley was awarded his Ph.D. in Theology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He received an M.Div. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2004 and a B.A. in Christian Studies from Union University in 2001. Worley has published multiple articles related to the intersection of arts and theology, and he is the author of four books, including the 2019 Memento Mori in Contemporary Art, which examines how four contemporary artists explore the question of death in their religious imagery.