Rebekah Smick

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Associate Professor of Philosophy of Arts and Culture

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"[M]ore and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete, and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry."

— Matthew Arnold, The Study of Poetry

About My Work

Few today would argue with the main thrust of Arnold's projection that poetry, broadly speaking, has replaced religion as a kind of metaphysical antidote to the supposed certainties of modernity's predominantly scientific worldview. Not as beleaguered as religion by the particular demands of scientistic thinking, it is the arts that remain the place where one might still respectably ponder the imponderables. Arnold's consecration of art, however, was not simply the gut response of a poet to his own society's general loss of confidence in religion. His conflation of the religious and the aesthetic depended upon connections between art and religion that had for a long time punctuated the history of thought about art in the Western tradition. It had long been observed, for example, that art's particular modes of discourse, e.g. image, story, and symbol, might give special access to values and meanings of a religious and theological nature. Further, the peculiar power of these discourses to move us deeply was thought to have an ethical and religious relevance. 

In the hope of better understanding our own contemporary understanding and valuation of the arts and their relation to theology and religion, unearthing the intricacies of the relationship between art and religion as they get expressed in the art literature of the early modern period is what orients my teaching and research. My published scholarship includes studies of key aesthetico-religious issues in the early modern period, such as the role of touch in relation to architecture or the character of Renaissance storytelling and narrative in the visual arts. I am presently working on a book that examines the aesthetic significance of compassion in early modern art and art critical literature, a theme that is resurfacing in modern aesthetics in the context of wider discussions of the role and function of empathy. I am also working on a study that seeks to place the most significant art critical concept of the early modern period, the concept of grace, into its artistic, philosophical, and theological contexts.

Research Foci


Rebekah Smick, PhD

Associate Professor of Philosophy of Arts and Culture

BA (Brandeis University), MA (Columbia University), PhD (University of Toronto)

Rebekah Smick specializes in pre- Kantian art theory and criticism, in particular the relation of early modern visual arts theory to poetics and rhetoric in the Western tradition. Her research and teaching investigate the aesthetic values of beauty and grace in the early modern period, the link between knowledge and imagination, the aesthetic function of metaphor, and the place of compassion. She is especially interested in delineating the connections made during the early modern period between aesthetics, metaphysics, ethics, and theology. She is author and editor of Antiquity and Its Interpreters (Cambridge UP, 2000) and is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà as Image in the Theology and Aesthetics of Compassion.


My Books

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More of my projects can be found listed on the ICS Research Portal.



Courses and Syllabi

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