Master of Arts: Theopoetics and Writing

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Master of Arts: Theopoetics and Writing

Bethany Theological Seminary provides a unique educational experience with its graduate degree in theopoetics and writing (MATW). The first of its kind at a seminary, this degree enables students to write and think at the intersection of creativity, faith, and meaning-making. Theopoetics suggests that religion’s nearest analogue is art and therefore practices theology as a poiesis: an inspired, inventive, imaginative, and improvisational act of composition that brings spirituality into conversation with the whole of life. The MATW joins theology, poetry, narrative, and the visual arts together in the pursuit of inquiry and understanding that result in creative production across multiple genres.

Drawing on the strengths of Bethany’s curricular offerings in theopoetics and the arts, and the Earlham School of Religion‘s Ministry of Writing program, the MATW degree was developed through a collaboration by the schools. The degree is offered independently by both Bethany and ESR and requires 36 credits (twelve 3-credit-hour courses). At Bethany it may be done as a residential student or through our distance education program, Connections, and there is no residency requirement.

The MATW degree is led by the following faculty:

Dr. Joelle Hathaway

Joelle Hathaway Assistant Professor of Theological Studies
Bethany Theological Seminary

Ben Brazil
Assistant Professor and Director of the Ministry of Writing Program
Earlham School of Religion


The Master of Arts: Theopoetics and Writing is designed to enhance students’ ability to write and think at the intersection of creativity, faith, and meaning. Along with academic study, it trains students in various forms of written communication and other media that bring spirituality into public conversation with the whole of life. This program requires 36 hours of course work directly connected to the study of theopoetics and writing.

Graduates from the MA: Theopoetics and Writing program will be prepared to:

1. Hone skills in different genres and mediums of theopoetics and writing.

a. Exhibit knowledge and understanding of the content and  method of various genres, such as narrative, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, essay, scholarly argument, visual arts, and public speaking.

b. Recognize and explain theopoetic moves in multiple mediums.

c. Engage in linguistic creativity as a formative spiritual practice, both for communities and for individual lives,  including one’s own.

2. Describe the connection between theology and the imagination.

a. Identify the various conversations within theopoetics in terms of method, meaning, and value.

b. Describe one’s own theological imagination informed by theological investigation.

c. Articulate connections across theology, theopoetics, and the arts that are critical, generous, and creative.

3. Integrate learning that is interdisciplinary, intercontextual, and imaginative across theology, theopoetics, and the arts.

a. Demonstrate critical awareness of one’s own context and the ways in which different genres and mediums operate in the lives of readers in other contexts, in ministry, and in work for peace and justice.

b. Assess diverse, lived possibilities of theopoetics in different contexts, such as justice advocacy, peacemaking, and community living.

c. Analyze, critique, and synthesize diverse frameworks and insights related to theology, theopoetics, and the arts in  dialogue with creative and scholarly partners.

4. Demonstrate expertise in theology, theopoetics, and the arts in a select number of genres and/or mediums as exhibited in a cumulative project.

a. Exhibit extensive knowledge of content relevant to project goals.

b. Employ various genres and/or mediums appropriate to one’s project goals.

c. Show expertise in the writing process, including creative idea  generation, drafting, receiving and giving feedback, revision, and presentation for public engagement.

Note: The subpoints under each Program Objective are illustrative. All of the subpoints are not required to be assessed in each course working at the specific Program Objective.

Summative Exercise (one courses, 3 hours)

  • MATW thesis, portfolio, or project completion course, taken in the student’s final semester

Core Theopoetics and Writing Courses (seven courses, 21 hours)

  • Theopoetics
  • Theopoetics, Mythopoetics, Aesthetics
  • Two 200-level writing courses from list below
  • Three other elective courses from list below

Open Elective Courses (four courses, 12 hours)

Theopoetic Elective Courses

  • Applied Storytelling
  • Afrofuturism and Theology
  • Art and Spirituality: Prosopon Icon Writing Workshop
  • Art, Justice, and Peace
  • Christian Themes in the Gallery, Contemporary Images in the Church
  • Composing a Life: Embodied Poetry
  • Contemporary Spiritual Writing
  • Creative Non-Fiction
  • Death and Resurrection in Modern Fiction
  • In Their Own Words: Readings in Christian History
  • Narrative Ethics and Theopoetics
  • Narrative Theology
  • Poet and Prophet: Building Bridges Through Preaching and Public Discourse
  • Poetics of Jesus
  • Poetry Writing Workshop
  • Preaching, Theopoetics, and Society
  • Science Fiction and Theology
  • Sex, Gender, and Empire in the Book of Esther
  • Spirituality and Ecology: The Sabbath Poetry of Wendell Berry
  • Theatre, Theology, and Public Performance
  • The Holy Spirit, Imagination, and Creativity
  • The Spirituality of Howard Thurman
  • Theology and Poetics of Place
  • Theopoetics, Art, Justice: LA, California
  • Truth, Lies, and Trust in Storytelling
  • Methodologies in Theopoetics
  • Violence in Story and Theory
  • Visual Communication and Faith
  • Visual Biblical Interpretation
  • Visual Theologies
  • Writing Mental Illness/Writing as Mindfulness
  • Writing Public Theology
  • Writing the Story

Spring 2023
January Intensive
Ecological Theology and Christian Responsibility
Violence in Story and Theory

Regular Semester
Liberation Theologies
Narrative Theology
Preaching, Poetry, and Prophetic Imagination
Theopoetics, Mythopoetics, and Aesthetics
Afrofuturism and Theology
Composing a Life: Embodied Poetry
Theology of the Holy Spirit

May Intensive
Christian Themes in the Gallery, Contemporary Images in the Church

Fall 2023
August Intensive
Creative Non-Fiction

Regular Semester

In Their Own Words: Readings in the History of Christianity
Methodologies in Theopoetics
Poetry Workshop
Preaching, Theopoetics, and Society
Science Fiction and Theology
Theology and Poetics of Place
The Spirituality of Howard Thurman
Truth, Lies, and Trust in Storytelling
Writing the Story

Spring 2024
January Intensive
Creative Non-Fiction
Theopoetics, Art, Justice: L.A., California

Regular Semester

Afrofuturism and Theology
Applied Storytelling
Contemporary Spiritual Writing
Narrative Ethics and Theopoetics
Theopoetics, Mythopoetics, and Aesthetics
Visual Theologies

May Intensive
Art and Spirituality: Prosopon Icon Writing Workshop  

Dr. Margaret Elwell, Assistant Professor of Peace Studies and Director of Bethany BOLD

Dr. Scott Holland, Professor Emeritus of Theology and Culture

Dr. Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, Brightbill Professor of Preaching & Worship

Dr. Steve Schweitzer, Academic Dean and Professor, Title IX Coordinator

Dr. Tamisha Tyler, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture, and Theopoetics, Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Dan Ulrich, Wieand Professor of New Testament Studies

Although Bethany and ESR represent two distinct traditions—Church of the Brethren and Quaker—they share a common Peace Church tradition. While they have been partner schools since 1994, the theopoetics and writing degree represents a new level of collaboration. If you are interested in learning more about ESR, please visit their website here.

For more information about the master of arts: theopoetics and writing at Bethany, refer to Bethany’s Academic Catalog.

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