Art that Disturbs, an Asset to the Classroom: Mochizuki receives Sarlo Award for Excellence in Teaching

Mia Mochizuki smiles ear to ear when she talks about art as a medium for understanding religion, culture, and history. She was recently named the Sarlo Excellence in Teaching Award recipient for 2013 at the May 9 Commencement ceremony. The award recognizes a Core Doctoral Faculty member who employs creative and effective pedagogy, exhibits ecumenical and interreligious sensitivity and commitment, promotes interdisciplinary approaches, and embraces ethnic and cultural diversity.

Mochizuki, who is the Thomas E. Bertelsen, Jr. Chair of Art History and Religion at the Graduate Theological Union and Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, joins three other Art and Religion faculty who have received the award. She views the use of art in the study of religion as a “path breaker” in theological pedagogy and methodology that opens up affective experience of the divine beyond a single discipline.

“Art as a means of examining religion is still very new to so many,” she says. “It allows us to move beyond Augustine or Aquinas alone. Art and sensory experience embody lived religion.”

She quotes Georges Braque – “Art is meant to disturb, science reassures.” – to make her next point. “Art captures a range of experiences. Some people are driven to create images. Others destroy them. But the power of art remains undisputed, central, even primal.” This duality of reactions is central to her Iconoclasm and the Image class where case studies include everything from Moses and the Golden Calf to Protestant and Catholic Reformation, the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, and the Danish cartoon controversy. They all are fascinating, controversial instances of the problem of understanding the power of devotional art through its destruction and the crises that accompany imagining the divine ineffable.

Mochizuki relies on art to enrich her students’ lives. “If I can make art more accessible – and even better if students can then in turn use art to help enhance people’s lives – then I feel I’ve done my part.”

One of her students, Jorge Ochoa Valenzuela, S.J., studied the songs and material culture of the Narcocorridos (Mexican drug ballads) in order to construct a material approach to contextualized theology with an eye toward social reconciliation.

In Fall 2014, she will travel to Japan to conduct research on her most recent project with a grant from the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. Her topic focuses on the challenge of the discovery of the world – geographically, culturally, religiously – for the visual imagination, as we enter an age where we must rethink the framework of education along more global, transregional and transoceanic lines. The forthcoming book is tentatively titled, “A Global Eye: The Jesuits and the Earliest European Art in Japan, 1543-1637.”

Mochizuki noted feeling “profoundly grateful” for being recognized by this award, as she has always found her students to be the best teachers. She hopes to instill in her students “a sense of the adventure and adrenaline of what I hope will be for them, as it has been for me, a lifetime of learning.”

The award, first given in 2003, is possible thanks to the generous support of George Sarlo. Sarlo, and his wife Sejong, are actively involved in humanitarian organizations. George’s appreciation for the role education plays in shaping future generations stems from his family’s experience during the Holocaust. He supports GTU’s mission to produce pioneering leaders engaged in conversations across faith traditions and disciplines. The award is his way of motivating and rewarding professors who guide students toward these ideals which are necessary in a global society.