Professor Ellen Armour to give book talk Sept. 28 on significance of digital imagery in the struggle for social justice

Ellen T. Armour, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology, will discuss her new book, Seeing and Believing: Religion, Digital Visual Culture, and Social Justice, at Vanderbilt University’s Special Collections and University Archives from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature a reading by Armour, a conversation about the book between Armour and Outreach Librarian for Religion and Theology Kashif Graham, and a Q&A session with audience members. A book signing and reception will follow the discussion. Books will be available for purchase on site from Vanderbilt Bookstore.

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In Seeing and Believing (Columbia University Press, 2023), Armour uses a theological perspective to recast the significance of digital images in the struggle for social justice. Offering ways of seeing that are drawn from Christianity and found in other religious traditions, the book encourages readers to break with entrenched habits and rethink how they engage with images that grab their attention in the new media landscape.

Armour was inspired to write the book after realizing that the same photograph can affect viewers in very different ways. The widely distributed image of African American teenager Trayvon Martin in a gray hoodie was key to the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement after his murder in 2012. Yet, the outcry over Martin’s death was also a catalyst for Dylan Roof to embrace white supremacy and murder nine Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Roof’s actions, in turn, helped inspire Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant to murder more than 50 worshippers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

Armour drew upon this photographic storyline in contributing to Telling Stories / Stories That Tell, a large-scale artist book that was completed in 2019 as the culminating project of the 2017–18 Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities Faculty Fellows Program. Armour’s section, called “Seeing Is Believing,” serves as a visual companion piece to her new book. Featuring quotations from Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the Pain of Others, the Gothic arch-shaped panels juxtapose a gray hoodie, Confederate flag, and accompanying photos of Martin and Roof.

“Attending thoughtfully and deliberately to how photographs move us—especially in our visually saturated social media ‘bubbles’—is crucial to living well together,” said Armour, who was one of 10 faculty fellows who contributed to the artist book.

In addition to holding the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair, Armour directs the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She holds affiliated appointments in the Department of Philosophy and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Vanderbilt. She is the author of Signs and Wonders: Theology after Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2016) and Deconstruction, Feminist Theology, and the Problem of Difference: Subverting the Race/Gender Divide (University of Chicago Press, 1999), as well as co-editor of Bodily Citations: Religion and Judith Butler (Columbia University Press, 2006).

Co-sponsored by the Divinity School and Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries, the book talk on Sept. 28 will take place in the Reading Room on the first floor of Special Collections, located at 1101 19th Avenue. The artist book Telling Stories / Stories That Tell will be on display. Learn more about the event and register today.

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