Theological discourse in the West has consistently valued the word over the image. Aesthetics, which discerns the criteria and value of the beautiful and what "pleases the senses," is the discipline that prioritizes sensual intelligence over the rational; this book advocates a reconsideration of the doctrine of the incarnation through an aesthetics of vulnerability, in which the ethical optics of attention to the vulnerable other becomes the standpoint in which to ponder the significance of "God became human." Relying on such diverse thinkers as Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Blanchot, Karl Rahner, and Masao Abe, Susie Paulik Babka explores visual art, images, and poetry as theological sources, designating what Blanchot called "a region where impossibility is no longer deprivation, but affirmation."
Susie Paulik Babka received the PhD from the University of Notre Dame and is an associate professor in theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego. She has published several articles exploring a range of subjects concerning theological aesthetics, which include the relationship between Christology and popular culture and suffering and art in feminist theology, as well as Buddhist-Christian conversations on kenosis and emptiness.
"Beautifully written, Through the Dark Field draws the reader in and calls to conversion. Susie Paulik Babka effortlessly weaves together diverse sources—phenomenology, expressionist art, and Christian theology—in a way that disrupts privileged certainty with compassionate vulnerability. Echoing the artists she engages, her constructive retrieval of the doctrine of the incarnation refuses easy answers to life's difficult questions, challenging the comfortable to do more than look at suffering. This is truly a stunning example of interdisciplinary Christian theological scholarship! Don't miss it!"
Elisabeth T. Vasko, Associate Professor of Theology, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Theology, Duquesne University
"The doctrine about incarnation is not the real thing. How, then, do we approach the presence of a God so self-emptied as to appear absent? The way must involve encounter, engage the muscle of the mind that makes images, and transcend the images. Susie Paulik Babka leads us on this way, accompanied by Masaccio's bringing God into our space, by Chagall's association of Jesus with ravaged Jews throughout history, by Rothko's mystical negation of representation itself. This meditative, analytical, affective, personal, penetrating, philosophically learned, aesthetically astute, dialectical, and elegantly written approach to God through the visual arts breaks new ground and should inspire the whole field of constructive theology in our present age."
Roger Haight, SJ, Union Theological Seminary
"Babka has produced a beautifully written book on the complex relationship between art, theology, and vulnerability, which also offers a commentary on recent religious extremism and violence. Recommended for college and university libraries."
Terry Maksymowych, Catholic Library World
"Through the Dark Field is a grace-filled indictment of any easy answer to catastrophic suffering. Susie Paulik Babka's call for each one of us to open to an absurd sort of excess, an overflowing of not knowing, of disorienting vulnerability, the abyss between me and you, is poetic and haunting. In the end, Babka creates a theology of the incarnation that witnesses to the suffering other. Even in our failures, and there are many, we are called to witness to the incarnation by witnessing to all others' suffering, ultimately emptied for the other. This witness is made urgent by Babka's passion for the promise of the visual arts and her sophisticated command of continental theory."
Michele Saracino, Professor and Chair of the Religious Studies Department, Manhattan College
"A truly profound and thought-provoking study that probes the meaning and existential significance of the incarnation via a gripping engagement with systematic, philosophical, and comparative theology, drawn together via the medium of aesthetics. A highly original work that will prove an invaluable addition to any class in such fields. This stunning monograph will transform how you think and feel alike."
Gerard Mannion, Amaturo Chair in Catholic Studies, Georgetown University