Jensen, Robin Margaret 1952- (Robin M. Jensen)

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Jensen, Robin Margaret 1952- (Robin M. Jensen)


Born 1952. Education: Concordia College, B.A., 1973; Columbia University, Union Theological Seminary, M.A., 1977, M.Phil., 1986, Ph.D., 1991.


Office—Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University, 2201 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37235. E-mail—[email protected]


Columbia College, New York, NY, instructor, 1986-89; John Carroll University, Cleveland, OH, Walter and Mary Tuohy Chair in Interreligious Studies, 2000; Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, TN, 1991—, began as assistant professor, became Luce Chancellor's Professor of the History of Christian Worship and Art; Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, MA, director of theology and arts program, 1993-2003. Lecturer; contributor to educational video tapes; consultant.


International Catacomb Society (board of directors, 1997—; vice president, 1999—), Massachusetts Council of Churches, Society for Art, Religion, and Theological Studies (board of directors, 2002—), Christians in the Visual Arts (board of directors, 2002—), Society for Art, Religion, and Contemporary Culture (board of directors, 2003-05), Interfaith Forum for Religion, Art, and Architecture, American Academy of Religion, North American Patristic Society, Society of Biblical Literature.


Presidential fellow, Columbia University, 1983-84; Chamberlain fellow, Columbia University, 1988-89; grants from the American Academy of Religion, 1993, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Lilly; Younger Scholar's Award, Association of Theological Schools, 1994-95; fellowship and grant, Luce Foundation.



Understanding Early Christian Art, Routledge (New York, NY), 2000.

The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community, William B. Eerdmans Publishing (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004.

Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2005.

Contributor to books, including Jews, Christians, and Polytheists in the Ancient Synagogue, edited by Steven Fine, Routledge (London, England), 1999; and The Early Christian World, Volume 2, edited by Philip Esler, Routledge (London, England), 2000. Contributor of articles and book reviews to periodicals, including Bible Review, Theology Today, Biblical Archeology Review, Arts, Critical Review of Books in Religion, Art and Christianity Enquiry Bulletin, Journal of Early Theological Studies, Church History, and Journal of Early Christian Studies. Member of editorial boards of Prism: A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ, 1992-98, and Faith and Forum: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 1995—.


Theologian Robin Margaret Jensen also studied theater arts and trained as a visual artist, leading to her interest in the history of the integration of visual art and architecture and religious worship. Her research interests, according to her curriculum vitae, also "include a study of the architectural space and iconography of early Christian baptism and the practice of Christianity in Roman North Africa."

Jensen's first book, Understanding Early Christian Art, is an examination of the art of the early Church during two periods that include the pre-Constantine third and fourth centuries and the early Byzantine period from the fourth to the sixth centuries, a period during which the quantity of Christian art greatly increased. Jas Elsner noted in the Journal of Religion that Jensen covers "the range of iconographies (e.g., the Good Shepherd) that she groups under five chapter headings after setting out the scope of the subject as she sees it. These deal with her main themes: nonnarrative images, pictorial typology and exegesis, portraits of the incarnate God, images of the suffering redeemer, and images of the resurrected body and Eden regained." "Her approach," noted Michael Morris in Theological Studies, "fortifies the notion of Christian art emerging from a complex but receptive community of believers who considered visual material to be a legitimate expression of faith." David John Marley commented in Church History that this volume "is a valuable study for scholars of early Christianity and advanced students in the field."

Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity is a study of the visual portrayal of Jesus and God in Christian theology. Elsner noted in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History that until the late 1970s, the study of Christian art fell within the domain of art historians, and that it wasn't until the 1980s that theologians contributed to this area of scholarship. Jensen considers the various portrayals of Christ, for example, both as a clean-shaven youthful man and as a dark, long-haired bearded man, showing that there are many representations of Jesus, none of which is inaccurate since they are interpretations of the figure he was. She considers the origins of Christian art and rather than stay within the confines of Jewish-Christian influence, she expands her reach to the wider Greco-Roman culture. Journal of Religion reviewer Lucy Grig wrote: "Jensen's readable and fascinating study sets out to explain the hesitant genesis of divine portraits in the early church. The story is a complex one; and in order to make it comprehensible Jensen needs to deal with questions of theology, history, and iconography, and it is to her credit that the reader is negotiated through these areas with ease."



Church History, September, 2002, David John Marley, review of Understanding Early Christian Art, p. 640.

Commonweal, January 12, 2001, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of Understanding Early Christian Art, p. 26.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, January, 2006, Jas Elsner, review of Face to Face: Portraits of the Divine in Early Christianity, p. 95.

Journal of Religion, October, 2001, Jas Elsner, review of Understanding Early Christian Art, p. 641; April, 2006, Lucy Grig, review of Face to Face, p. 319.

Theological Studies, September, 2001, Michael Morris, review of Understanding Early Christian Art, p. 651.


Vanderbilt University Web site, (February 14, 2007), curriculum vitae.

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