Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Digital Technology, Faith & Religion, Photography

Photography and Spiritual Formation (3): In the Classroom

In the first post in this series (Photography and Spiritual Formation (1)) I mentioned Andrew Norton’s influence on my thinking about photography. Alongside Andrew, Eileen Crowley’s work on photography and religious life has also been significant, including shaping some of the ways I use digital technology in my teaching.

I first met Eileen at THEOCOM at Santa Clara University back in 2015 and again at subsequent meetings. In 2017, Eileen presented on media storytelling as ministry, as well as the Photovoice project. See the links below:

Her paper focused on mediated storytelling – in particular, mediated by digital technologies – as part of a cycle of grace supports human flourishing. This is part of her academic work which includes:

  • Liturgical Art for a Media Culture. American Essays in Liturgy. Collegeville, MN.: Liturgical Press, 2007.
  • A Moving Word : Media Art in Worship. Worship Matters. Minneapolis, MN.: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.
  • Crowley, Eileen D. ““Now I See”: On the Creation of Media Arts in Religious and Theological Studies.” ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies 23, no. 1 (2011): 33-43.
  • ““Using New Eyes”: Photography as a Spiritual Practice for Faith Formation and Worship.” Dialog 53, no. 1 (2014): 30-40.

In her presentation and the paper, “Using New Eyes,” Eileen talked about using digital photography as with different groups of people to explore the world around us and as a tool for spiritual formation. In the post linked to below that talks about this, she says:

This mini-course is not a typical photography course. It’s an introduction to a process that — while you are doing photography — will encourage you to “see” differently, to “receive the light” by opening yourself up to the Spirit moving within you and all of creation, and to share what you discover with others in a small group process.

Photography as a Spiritual Practice (

After hearing Eileen speak on this, and reading some of her writing, I designed an assessment module in my Theology and Media course that used digital photography. Students picked a particular topic – such as family, work, identity, exclusion, whakapapa, or another of their own choice, took photos using their everyday mobile phones that connected to that, curated a selection of around a dozen photos that narrated that topic, presented those, and included a theological exegesis of both the topic and the photos. I was really pleased with what the students presented, including the way that using photography made them more present in their own communities as they were looking for photographs and also in how they narrated their selection. Definitely doing this again at some point with students or others in the small group setting.

For me, I think the thing about photography is that it gives me a way of processing the world around me. I take photos, reflect on them, and then organise them in ways that speak to something those places including my and others’ experiences of those locations and times. More on that later.

Both religion and art require belief for them to work,” writes Daniel A. Siedell. For the Eucharist to fulfil its function, he says, the recipient needs to believe that the wine is the blood of Christ, the wafer his body; in a similar vein, the viewer of an artwork must believe that the paint smeared on the canvas means something. It takes faith to appreciate a photographed image: faith in the photographer, in her intent, in there being a meaning to what we see. Which of course brings us back to the similarity between the respective workings of faith and art. Having spent years with the study of the relationship of religion, spiritual experience and art—an elusive subject whose assessment is undergoing change—I hardly find this surprising. Nor should anyone do so in the age of postsecularism.

ZOLTÁN KÖRÖSVÖLGYI, photography and faith –