Robin M. Jensen

Robin M. Jensen
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology
  • Academic Concentration: Theology, Medieval Studies, History of Christian and Jewish Art and Architecture
  • Residential Fellow (2017-2018)
  • "The Intercessory Image: Christians and the Potency of Material Objects"

Robin Jensen is the Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology, a Fellow of the Medieval Institute and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, and a concurrent faculty member in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design. She specializes in the history of Christian and Jewish art and architecture, primarily from the third through ninth centuries. Her research and writing particularly attends to the function of material objects in liturgical practice and the ways that sacred images and purpose-built worship spaces convey religious meaning and shape ritual action. Her current project explores the role of relics, icons, and sacred places as mediators of sacred presence and recipients of veneration as well as attending to early Christian theological critique and defense of such practices.

Professor Jensen is the author of The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (2017), her most recent work, as well as Understanding Early Christian Art (2000); The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (2004); Face to Face: The Portrait of the Divine in Early Christianity (2005); Living Water: The Art and Architecture of Early Christian Baptism (2011); and Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity (2012). She was co-author of Christianity in Roman Africa (with J. Patout Burns; 2014) and co-editor of The Art of Empire: Christian Art in its Imperial Contexts (2015). She serves as co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Early Christian Art and The Cambridge Handbook of Late Antique Archaeology (both forthcoming). Professor Jensen was a contributing editor and essayist for Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (2007) and she is author of more than fifty book chapters and essays in peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Early Christian Studies, Worship, and Religion.

Professor Jensen’s scholarship has been supported by grants from the Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University, the Lilly Endowment, the Association of Theological Schools, and the American Academy of Religion. She is past president of the North American Patristics Society and the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological education. She also serves as Vice President of the International Catacomb Society and sits on the editorial boards of the Faith and Form: The Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art, and Architecture; The Journal of Early Christian Studies; the Irish Theological Quarterly; and Inventing Christianity, a series of the University of California Press.


  • From Idols to Icons: The Emergence of Devotional Images in Early Christianity

    University of California Press, 2022

    Robin M. Jensen

    Jensen Idols Crop

    Even the briefest glance at an art museum’s holdings or an introductory history textbook demonstrates the profound influence of Christian images and art. From Idols to Icons tells the fascinating history of the dramatic shift in Christian attitudes toward sacred images from the third through the early seventh century. From attacks on the cult images of polytheism to the emergence of Christian narrative iconography to the appearance of portrait-type representations of holy figures, this book examines the primary theological critiques and defenses of holy images in light of the surviving material evidence for early Christian visual art. Against the previous assumption that fourth- and fifth-century Christians simply forgot or ignored their predecessors’ censure and reverted to more alluring pagan practices, Robin M. Jensen contends that each stage of this profound change was uniquely Christian. Through a careful consideration of the cults of saints’ remains, devotional portraits, and pilgrimages to sacred sites, Jensen shows how the Christian devotion to holy images came to be rooted in their evolving conviction that the divine was accessible in and through visible objects.

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