Investigating Art and the Sacred at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

In 2021 Professor Alison Jack and Dr Caleb Froehlich started a one year project funded by the Templeton Religion Trust titled 'Investigating Art and the Sacred at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Practice-based Research with Theological Reflection'

Colour head and shoulders photos of Professor Alison Jack and Dr Caleb Froehlich
Professor Alison Jack and Dr Caleb Froehlich

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, annually features thousands of free-spirited, often quirky theater, music and comedy shows. It’s a huge attraction for people from all over the world who come to experience the pleasures and entertainment value of art in many forms.

In contrast, the Edinburgh Sacred Arts Festival, which occurs concurrently, focuses exclusively and explicitly on art that has a religious context and subject matter. It celebrates the potential of art to prompt an experience that goes beyond pleasure and pastime: the growth of knowledge and understanding of spiritual realities.

Theologians and philosophers have asserted for years that it’s reasonable to expect this phenomenon occurs. But does that assumption hold true when put to the test of real-life experiences?

The research team determined that the Sacred Arts Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe could be a rich opportunity to probe into this challenge. In an effort coordinated by Professor Alison Jack, professor of Bible and literature at Edinburgh, and Dr Caleb Froehlich and funded by Templeton Religion Trust, researchers delved into the experiences of artists and audiences at the 2021 and 2022 Festivals. Their hope was to discover glimmers of insight into complex questions, such as:

  • What sorts of spiritual takeaways does religious art produce?
  • Are the cognitive effects of religious art on artists significantly different from those of the viewer or audience?
  • Do some types of art have greater spiritual impact than others?
  • How much do the content and context of religious art matter?
  • What gets in the way of accessing spiritual realities via art experiences?

Project Video


Further Information

Templeton Religion Trust has produced a project summary with details on the findings from the year-long project. To find out the full details of the project, check out their website.

Project Summary