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Art As Witness: A Practical Theology of Arts-Based Research
Helen Boursier
Lexington Books / Hardcover / 2021-06-01 / 1793628238
Theology/Studies in Religion
price: $156.00 (may be subject to change)
336 pages
Not in Stock, usually ships in 7-10 business days

Art As Witness is an invitation for professors, researchers, clergy, educators, students, and activists to creatively integrate the arts in theology and religious studies for a practical theology of arts-based research that prioritizes public witness. This methodology challenges the traditional written word as being the privileged norm, arguing that this emerging research genre is an excellent, viable, and necessary option for research that supports, promotes, and publicizes liberating theology for the marginalized, victimized, and oppressed. It includes a detailed case study of “Art Inside Karnes,” the all-volunteer arts-based ministry of presence the author facilitated inside a for-profit immigrant family detention center that became the Power of Hope traveling art exhibit for education, advocacy, and public witness. This primer covers practical ethical, legal, and political matters; includes pedagogical examples for how to use arts-based research for student assessment in theology and religious studies; and provides an overview of arts options, including literary genres, visual arts, fabric arts, theater, filmmaking, and new media with digital content. Art as Witness features 40 illustrations, several case studies, and multiple contributing theologian-artists who engage the arts in themes that include immigration, HIV/AIDS, biblical studies, political protest, gender equity, gun law reform, racial justice, and more.


Art as Witness is an essential guide for all those who want to use the arts in their creative and catalytic work for social justice. Boursier provides both compelling case studies and incisive theological rationales of why this work is essential, as well as detailed and rigorous accounts of how to actually do this work in ways that are empowering and ethically responsible. I see it as an essential required text for graduate and undergraduate students - part of research methods courses, as well as classes on all theologies of liberation. Boursier’s combination of vision and practical instruction is unique, and greatly needed as we learn to use all of the arts, literary, visual, fabric, theater, filmmaking and new digital media to foster empathetic truth telling that brings the voices of the marginalized and silenced into public view, and empowers people to work together for expansive and transformative social justice.

Sharon D. Welch, Author of After the Protests Are Heard: Enacting Civic Engagement and Social Transformation

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” Now Boursier comes with love, time, and care to help this vulnerable population of immigrants. She brings theological and spiritual depth in this labor of love. She shares a practical guide that others may easily follow.

Martha Ann Kirk, Professor Emerita, University of the Incarnate Word

Boursier’s pastoral care with migrants at the US-Mexico border intersects with her background as a theologian / artist in this innovative arts-based research primer. Art as Witness also includes diverse examples from contributing theologian-artists who engage the arts with urgent social concerns, including racial justice, gender equity, political resistance, and more.

Jacqueline J. Lewis, senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church, New York City; author of Fierce Love: A Bold Path to a Better Life and a Better World (2021)

Boursier’s volume offers an innovative integration of arts-based research, trauma theory, practical theology, spiritual care, and art as it illuminates and uplifts the suffering of Central American women and children asylum seekers in Texas’ detention centers. Boursier inspires and facilitates our continued scholarly and activist engagement with these issues.

Yudit Kornberg Greenberg, George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Endowed Chair of Religion, Rollins College

Witness is often thought of as verbal testimony. This book shows powerfully, with multiple illustrations, how the arts resonate widely and cross barriers that words cannot, providing a powerful means for making theological and religious insights publicly accessible.

Kirsteen Kim, Fuller Theological Seminary

Helen Boursier brings years of experience in the arts together with robust theological research to demonstrate their substantive and vital connection for academic study and public witness. In doing so, she advocates for an ethical and courageous public witness that gives voice to the marginalized.

Eric Black, past resident fellow, B.H. Carroll Theological Institute

The Rev. Dr. Helen Boursier is an activist and passionate advocate for immigrant families. Her earlier books look at refugee families with a deep dive into facts, philosophy and theology. But Rev. Dr. Boursier also is an artist. In this latest book, she explores the intersection between art and advocacy and the ways in which art can be used to understand, shape, transform, and influence attitudes and actions about any social justice issue. Through stories and witness, she teaches us how to use art to broaden our reach and to amplify the issues we care about. I am thrilled to add this important work to my collection of writings by Rev. Dr. Boursier.

Hope Frye, executive director at Project Lifeline; lead attorney at Flores monitoring

Table of Contents:



Acronyms and Terms



Section One: Cultivating the ABR for TRS Connection

1.Arts-Based Research Definition and Overview

2.Cultivating the Arts-Based Research (ABR) to Theology and Religious Studies (TRS) Connection

3.ABR Enhances A Practical Public Theology

Section Two: Practical Matters: Ethical, Legal, and Political

4.Ethical Considerations for ABR as TRS

5.ABR Legal Factors and Political Implications

6.Case Study Part 1: The Power of Hope: Art as a Ministry of Presence Inside an Immigrant Family Detention Center

7.Managing ABR Data for a Hermeneutics of TRS Theological Reflection

8.Case Study Part 2: The Power of Hope Traveling Art Exhibit

Section Three: ABR Smorgasbord of Possibilities for TRS

9.ABR Literary Options for TRS

10.Visual Arts Choices for ABR with TRS

11.Fabric Arts for Empowerment, Education, Advocacy, and Public Witness

12.Theater Arts for TRS Data Collection and Public Witness

13.Filmmaking and New Media with Digital Content: YouTube Videos, Blogs, Podcasts, and Radio

Section Four: Moving into the Public Square

14.The Vulnerability Factors TRS Engaging ABR for a Practical Public Theology

15.ABR Praxis for Action: Practical Theology Goes Public


Appendix A: Sample ‘Cease and Desist’ Letter

Appendix B: ABR for TRS Data Filing System Example

Appendix C: TRS Job Board Example: Keeping Track of Projects In and Out

Appendix D: Interfaith Welcome Coalition Power of Hope Exhibition Agreement

Appendix E: Power of Hope Press Release Template

Appendix F: Student Assessment Poetic Reflection Complete Example

About the Author:

Helen T. Boursier is a public theologian, educator, author, activist, minister, and artist. “Pastora Helena” has been a volunteer chaplain with refugee families seeking asylum, both inside and outside of family detention, since 2014. She teaches theology at the College of St. Scholastica.

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