Fortress Press

Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy

Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves

How Art Shapes Empathy

Mary W. McCampbell (Author)


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Anyone reading comments in online spaces is often confronted with a collective cultural loss of empathy. This profound loss is directly related to the inability to imagine the life and circumstances of the other. Our malnourished capacity for empathy is connected to an equally malnourished imagination. In order to truly love and welcome others, we need to exercise our imaginations, to see our neighbors more as God sees them than as confined by our own inadequate and ungracious labels. We need stories that can convict us about our own sins of omission or commission, enabling us to see the beautiful, complex world of our neighbors as we look beyond ourselves.

In this book, Mary McCampbell looks at how narrative art--whether literature, film, television, or popular music--expands our imaginations and, in so doing, emboldens our ability to love our neighbors as ourselves. The prophetic artists in these pages--Graham Greene, Toni Morrison, and Flannery O'Connor among them--show through the form and content of their narrative craft that in order to love, we must be able to effectively imagine the lives of others. But even though we have these rich opportunities to grow emotionally and spiritually, we have been culturally trained as consumers to treat our practice of reading, watching, and listening as mere acts of consumption.

McCampbell instead insists that truly engaging with artists who have the prophetic capacity to create art that wakes us up can jolt us from our typically self-concerned spiritual stupors. She focuses on narrative art as a means of embodiment and an invitation to participation, hospitality, and empathy. Reading, seeing, or listening to the story of someone seemingly different from us can awaken us to the very real spiritual similarities between human beings. The intentionality that it takes to surrender a bit of our own default self-centeredness is an act of spiritual formation. Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves presents a journey through initial self-reflection to a richer, more compassionate look outward, as narrative empowers us to exercise our imaginations for the sake of expanding our capacity for empathy.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506473901
  • eBook ISBN 9781506473918
  • Dimensions 6.25 x 9.25
  • Pages 219
  • Publication Date April 19, 2022


"Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves will instruct and delight any reader who cares even a little about art, imagination, and humanity."

Karen Swallow Prior, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

"From Douglas Coupland to C. S. Lewis, from Flannery O'Connor to Toni Morrison, McCampbell paints a landscape of mystery, hope, and splendor for our imagination to be fed and to be nurtured toward the New Creation."

Makoto Fujimura, artist and author of Art+Faith: A Theology of Making

"McCampbell takes the ingredients of the familiar and invites us on a theological and experiential journey to self and neighbor compassion. In her book, both storytelling and story analysis, from film to Holy Scripture, inspire and equip us to grow what seems so lacking today: empathy."

Christina Edmondson, psychologist, cohost of the Truth's Table podcast, and author of Faithful Antiracism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change

"McCampbell has given us a vision of a flourishing community: one full of art, music, film, and fiction that tells the stories of who we are and the diverse gifts we bring to the table."

Jessica Hooten Wilson, University of Dallas


"Delightfully expansive and thoughtful, Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves is a vital resource for all who are interested in exploring intersections between the arts and Christian faith. Her work will. . . expand our canons of worthwhile narrative art and challenge ingrained aesthetic preferences, and it merits wide readership among all who seek to both imagine and truly love our neighbors as ourselves."