“The Strange Persistence
of Religion
in Contemporary Art”

James Elkins + Jonathan A. Anderson
Interview | 
Image Journal | 2021

For this featured FSA Inspiration, we highlight the interview between James Elkins, E.C. Chadbourne professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and FSA Visionary Jonathan A. Anderson, Postdoctoral Associate of Theology and the Visual Arts at Duke University. Returning to the conversation set forth in Elkins’ seminal text On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art (2004) wherein which he concludes “it is impossible to talk sensibly about religion and at the same time address art in an informed and intelligent manner: but it is also irresponsible not to keep trying,” this interview considers the evolving relationship between contemporary art and religion over the last two decades. 

Anderson opens the interview by asking Elkins what prompted his early questions that Strange Place diagnosis. Elkins responds that his observation between the gap of religion and contemporary art arose out of his interactions with art students and their questions, while also discovering the absence of scholarship in art historical analysis. Elkins explains that this occurred amidst “the waning of first-generational conceptual and performance art and the expansion of the art market in two decades leading to that moment had provided a space for experimentation with cultural practices that did not fit the secualist, academic narratives that had been constructed from the 1960s to The Anti-Aesthetic (1983).”