School of Communication and the Arts


Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art (MFA)


Joshua Wilson


catechesis, visual learning, Protestant Doctrine, catechism, teaching Christian doctrine, stained glass


Education | Fine Arts


A lack of catechetical instruction within contemporary Protestantism in the United States has resulted in a large number of self-identifying Christians not knowing important tenets of their faith. The modern era also presents a unique dilemma in that North American culture is steeped in visual stimuli due to technology, so that even were catechistic instruction revived, many individuals might balk at a traditional, text-centric process. This thesis explores improving comprehension and retention of orthodox Protestant doctrine in the United States through integrating pictorial illustrations into the classic Christian pedagogical methodology of catechesis. Because of unceasing debates surrounding numerous, nuanced theological stances among different orthodox Christian sects, this study will focus on those elements of the faith that would be, as nearly as possible, universally accepted as comprising “‘mere’ Christianity” (to use C.S. Lewis’ phraseology, appropriated in turn from Richard Baxter). A thematic review of relevant literature was combined with a concise case study of artwork from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder, visual analyses of several instances of didactic imagery since the Reformation, and an overview of several contemporary efforts within visual catechesis. The goal was first to evaluate doctrinal knowledge of present-day Protestants in the United States; second, once comprehension was determined deficient, to analyze causes; and third, to explore possible solutions from the purview of the visual arts. Upon completion of research, the literature and data decisively lend both scholarly and empirical credence to the original hypothesis: in the 21st century, many self-proclaimed United States Protestants are either ignorant or misunderstanding of foundational dogma; a major factor thereof is a lack of catechizing; and imagery emphatically enhances nearly all learners’ abilities to perceive and recollect information. These results suggest that incorporating a prominent display of pedagogical illustrations into modern catechesis would markedly increase desired religious educational outcomes as well as distinctively suit the visual predilections of U.S. culture. Because of the broad array of formats that pictorial content can assume, along with the plethora of environments in which it can be encountered, the visual solutions created for this thesis are designed to appeal to a far-reaching demographic within U.S. Protestantism, as well as being easily adaptable to multiple viewing contexts.