The Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester is a community of scholars addressing cutting edge questions concerning theology and the nature and place of religions in the world from a wide range of perspectives. We are dedicated to excellence, both in our student-centred teaching and learning and in our research.

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  • Don Cupitt: theological pioneer?

    Graham, Elaine; Smith, Graeme; University of Chester; Sarum College (SAGE Publications, 2024-01-31)
    This final article in a three-part series exploring the contemporary significance of the theologian and philosopher of religion Don Cupitt examines the extent to which he might be considered a ‘theological pioneer’. There are three possible areas of innovation: Cupitt’s work on non-realism, his adoption of postmodern philosophy and his advocacy of a religion of everyday speech. In each of these, Cupitt carried out ground-breaking work, but it is less clear whether his ideas have exercised a significant and lasting influence. While the Sea of Faith television series (1984) generated a substantial popular following, his work has not been widely adopted or developed by successive generations of theologians or scholars of religion.
  • God's Patience and Our Work. Hans Frei, Generous Orthodoxy and the Ethics of Hope

    Fulford, Ben; University of Chester
    This book offers a new interpretation of Hans Frei's theology and ethics, their development, coherence in context and their relevance to contemporary Christian political theology and ethics. On this reading, Frei offered a subtle, flexible account of the essence of Christianity, a Christology which grounds Christ's living presence and enduring solidarity with the poor and marginalised and to history and the church in his particular identity. I show that he sought to recover the conditions for an ethics of responsibility and to articulate the terms of the publicness of Christian theology and ethics. His vision of Christian discipleship, shaped by Christ's identity, emphasises generous, reconciliatory love and practices of penultimate reconciliation amidst the structural divisions engendered by social sin. Above all, he outlined a theology of God's patience and providence to frame a hopefully realistic, contextually pragmatic, progressive engagement of Christian communities with politics and society.
  • Postliberal Theology

    Fulford, Ben; University of Chester
    An overview of Postliberal Theology, its characteristic concerns and themes, the contributions of key figures, debates about their ideas, its influence, achievement and agenda.
  • Embodying a Different Word about Fat: The Need for Critical Feminist Theologies of Fat Liberation

    Bacon, Hannah; University of Chester (MDPI, 2023-05-25)
    In contemporary Western society, fatness speaks for itself, affirming the fat person as an aesthetic and moral failure even before they say a word. Fat bodies, and fat female bodies in particular, are produced and reproduced as sites of excess and obscenity. Christian theology has protected itself from the contaminating touch of fat by ignoring fatness in theological discourse. Especially con-cerning is the relative absence of ‘fat talk’ from liberation and feminist theologies. It is time for a different word to be offered on fat that does not speak for itself and that emerges from the lived experiences of diverse women as they interpret their own faith and fatness. This essay explores the need for critical feminist theologies on fat liberation and identifies some features they might display. Here, I discuss Feminist Participatory Action Research and ethnography as methodologies that might help feminist theologians researching fat to prioritise the overlooked bodies and stories of fat women, and to continue liberation theology’s longstanding commitment to constructing historical projects oriented towards social change. Fat liberation, as a historical and theological project, calls for a ‘conversion’ to fatness and for a critical questioning of assumed ‘truths’ about fat. It positions the struggle against fat hatred as a pursuit of life and as faithful participation in the liberating activity of the God of Life.
  • Body/Image

    Bacon, Hannah; University of Chester
    According to feminist liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, if there is one thing that feminist theologies can claim in common it is that ‘the body always takes charge: our armpits come first’, more specifically our ‘bushy’ armpits. No doubt the choice of armpits here is deliberate by Althaus-Reid given the way this part of women’s bodies has been disparagingly associated with feminism and with the western feminist project of resisting restrictive beauty standards. To begin feminist theologies with women’s ‘bushy armpits’ is to begin with a confidence in women’s flesh and with a preparedness to confront and transgress social and religious norms that contain women’s bodies and mark them as disgusting. This chapter explores the ways in which Christian feminist theologies have approached the body, paying particular attention to feminist theological discussion around body image, especially concerning beauty, fatness and thinness. It first considers how feminist theologies have exposed, challenged and reclaimed aspects of Christian body theology before considering how feminist theologians have explored body image and women’s struggles for bodily integrity.
  • The Bible and the Violence of Fat Shaming

    Bacon, Hannah; University of Chester
    The Bible presents an ambiguous view of fat and fatness. Following normative gendered constructions of corpulence in the ancient world, fat symbolises excess, moral weakness, lack of self-restraint and lavish living, but it also represents divine abundance and is symbolic of life and wellbeing. Indeed, fat criticism in the Bible is reliant upon positive associations of fatness and this encourages us to read both constructions of fatness alongside one another. While negative constructions of fatness in biblical texts lend support to the gendered violence of fat shaming evidencing the ongoing influence of ancient attitudes on contemporary anti-fat attitudes, embracing the ambiguity of biblical texts troubles the contemporary political tendency to polarise fat as either ‘bad’ or ‘good’ and allows for the productive dimensions of fat shame.
  • Another World? Practical Wisdom for the End-Times

    Graham, Elaine; University of Chester (De Gruyter, 2023-11-11)
    Practical Theology today is inescapably and urgently conducted in the shadow of global climate emergency. This is made more acute by the emergence of the concept of ‘Anthropocene’, or the recognition that climate change is now being decisively driven by human intervention. This article explores aspects of contemporary ‘cli-fi’ culture which have emerged in response to environmental crisis. In their use of the language of ‘apocalypse’ to frame the nature of climate emergency, they carry strong resonances with Biblical literature and Christian theology. Can a dialogue between these different genres generate constructive theological wisdom that might direct us towards more equitable and sustainable ways of living?
  • Examining human-technological relationships and the pursuit of godhood in Battlestar Galactica

    Graham, Elaine; Knowles, Steve; Bremmer, Jonathon Paul Tristan (University of Chester, 2023-05)
    This thesis explores the extent to which science fiction conveys latent sociocultural attitudes about the human pursuit of godhood through technology. The use of myth as a conceptual lens becomes a means to negotiate different strategies for analysing popular culture, providing a rationale for the selection of methods which prioritise and emphasise certain narrative traits. The entities in this field (humanity, technology, God, culture) are located within a unifying framework and ontological scheme of process (process studies, process theology, and process philosophy). This thesis undertakes a theological engagement with fictional speculations about human divinity obtained, emulated, or performed by technological means. Theological appraisal of these exemplars against alternative conceptions of divine nature (such as those of process theism) exposes their (problematic) potential. Conceiving divinity solely in terms of creative provenance, ownership, dominion, and control alludes to the need for alternative configurations of human -technological relationships. The metaphor of myth-as-lens (described by Wendy Doniger) helps frame science fiction narratives for engagement at the level at which they are consumed. Using principles of processual research, a conception of myth is articulated to emphasise points of interest, and to facilitate both interdisciplinary dialogue, and theological research performed from an agnostic perspective. This approach recognises how some narratives seemingly solicit or call for engagement as though they were myth (in a mythical mode or manner), and how the use of myth (as a concept) is already established in theological engagements with popular culture. In this case, the mythoanalytical lens oscillates between broader genre analysis of science fiction, and more focused case study of Ronald D. Moore’s 2004-2009 re-imagined television series Battlestar Galactica. Theological appraisal of these fictional examples of relatedness exposes the truth they conceal and contain. This reveals the damaging potential of relationships conceived in techno-demonological terms of lost control, and the need for refigured relationships constituted through openness to technological agency and a nurturing encouragement of technology towards an optimal aim.
  • Seeking an Honest Word A Theological Reflection on Anna Carter Florence’s ‘Preaching as Testimony’

    Wright, Stephen; Schwáb, Zoltán; Quant, Benjamin (University of Chester, 2022-12-12)
    This thesis grew out of the dilemma of how to respond to the tension I experience when my biblical interpretation and theology differ from dominant interpretations within my context as a minister and leader in an evangelical church and denomination. This affects my public ministry, particularly preaching, leading me to seek a homiletic that enables me to speak honestly and passionately about my understanding of scripture within this setting. Florence’s Preaching as Testimony appears to offer such a homiletic. Building on historical case studies, philosophy, biblical studies, and feminist theology, Florence responds to the insights of postmodernism regarding truth and knowledge, providing practical exercises to illustrate and apply her approach. This research uses methodology based upon Graham’s ‘theology by heart’, alongside a description of the research context. Nine sermons were prepared and preached, implementing Florence’s homiletic across Acts. Chadwick and Tovey’s reflective cycle was applied to reflect upon what this revealed about her homiletic, and assess if it did indeed enable me to speak as desired. These reflections revealed the importance of Florence’s exercises. They encouraged the attentive listening she describes, and creative sermon forms, whilst applying a hermeneutical lens informed by and speaking to the contemporary world and daily life. Their application moved me as the preacher away from a presumed objective periphery to the subjective heart of the sermon, open and honest about my encounter with God in the text and life and what I believed about that, yet maintaining scripture as the heart of the sermon, taking its interpretation and application seriously. These findings indicate that in this instance, Florence’s homiletic did indeed enable me to speak honestly about my understanding of scripture within my context, offering me a way forward as a preacher and leader.
  • Homiletical Apologetics and the Local Church: Equipping believers through holistic apologetic preaching

    Wright, Stephen; McCormack, Philip; Abel Boanerges, Seidel (University of Chester, 2022-11-05)
    This thesis researches the question, ‘To what extent does apologetic preaching equip evangelical believers to defend and share their Christian faith today?’. It argues that a holistic approach to apologetics and a textual approach to apologetic preaching are helpful to evangelical believers to understand their Christian faith deeply, and to defend and share it in a relevant and contemporary manner. The three main motivations that led to this project were 1) a lack of apologetics in preaching during Sunday worship services, 2) a dearth of academic literature on apologetic preaching (and none from a British perspective), and 3) to develop professionally both ministerially and academically in this subject area. The research was conducted at Apologia Baptist Church (anonymised), a small evangelical Baptist church in the UK. Ten participants were chosen through purposive and maximum variation sampling. Norton’s pedagogical action research methodology was employed for the research, and it included two sermon series: Topical Apologetic Preaching (TAP) and Holistic Apologetic Preaching (HAP). Kemmis and McTaggart’s Spiral was used for individual sermon reflections. Originally, ten topical sermons were planned for the TAP series. However, critical reflection and reflexivity as part of my action research methodology resulted in major issues being identified. The two major issues (dominance of the intellectual nature of apologetics and the weaknesses of the topical approach to apologetic preaching) halted the TAP series after six sermons. My response to these TAP inadequacies was to develop three original ideas. First, I made a case for a holistic understanding of Christian apologetics. I argued for the inclusion of spiritual gifts alongside intellectual apologetics (moral arguments, proofs, contradictions), and I encouraged the use of action-oriented forms of apologetics (fighting injustice, solidarity, compassion). Secondly, I made a case for the HAP model with a textual approach. HAP sermons encourage believers to defend and share their Christian faith intellectually and spiritually, embracing imagination and creativity through action-oriented apologetics. Thirdly, I developed a HAP homiletical framework that enables preachers to develop holistic apologetic sermons. Six textual sermons on the Book of James were subsequently developed using the HAP homiletical framework. I employed a SWOB (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and barriers) analysis to the results of my thematic analysis. Participants reported that holistic apologetics provided opportunities to defend and share their faith in imaginative and holistic ways, and that textual apologetic sermons helped them understand their faith more deeply. The HAP Homiletical Framework was useful in generating holistic and relevant apologetic sermons. Finally, the micro, meso and macro changes for further development are presented in this thesis.
  • Candrakīrti on the Use and Misuse of the Chariot Argument

    Jones, Dhivan Thomas; University of Chester (Springer, 2023-06-15)
    The publication in 2015 (ed. Li) of Chapter 6 of the rediscovered Sanskrit text of Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra (MA) allows us to witness more directly Candrakīrti’s careful and deliberate critique of the ‘chariot argument’ for the merely conventional existence of the self in Indian Abhidharmic thought. I argue that in MA 6.140–141, Candrakīrti alludes to the use of the chariot argument in the Milindapañha as negating only the view of a permanent self (compared to an elephant), rather than negating ego-identification (compared to a snake in its hole). In contrast to this misuse of the chariot argument, in MA 6.150–165 Candrakīrti uses the chariot argument as an allegory to enable the meditator to refute the basis of ego-identification in seven ways. Candrakīrti’s use of the chariot argument does not establish any theory about the self or not-self, but acts as a guide to meditation as part of philosophy as a spiritual practice with the goal of liberation.
  • God with Child: A Comparison of the Respective Theologies and Pedagogies of Godly Play and Evangelicalism

    Barfield, Robin (University of Chester, 2022-11)
    This thesis notes the use of Godly Play in evangelical settings for children’s ministry. The processes of each are examined with attention paid to their pedagogical approaches and the theology which informs them both. Evangelical authors recommending Godly Play are examined and discovered to appreciate the non-directive approach, the two-way learning and the focus on awe and wonder in the process. As Godly Play raises the question of divine-child encounters this becomes the focus of analysis around four aspects of God, the child, impediments to an encounter and how those are overcome. An examination of divine communication is undertaken which examines three key differences between the two approaches in general and verbal revelation, the possibility of divine speech and language and the interpersonal engagement of God with humanity. Three key differences around the child concerning the nature of humanity, the child in Scripture and developmental approaches are then examined and analysed. This is then followed by impediments to such encounters in each circumstance examining and analysing contrasting approaches to personal sin, original sin, and the effect of sin on said encounter. How those impediments are overcome are examined with reference to the basis and process of overcoming impediments, how salvation is actualised and the possibility for the child to actualise that overcoming. This thesis finds that Godly Play is a consistent and coherent process that must be taken seriously by evangelicals, yet there are certain incongruities suggesting Godly Play would be incompatible with evangelical settings. Instead, evangelicals must take each of these four aspects seriously and reflect on how these should affect a children’s ministry process.
  • What is Working Well? Exploring a Theology of Work at Urban Community Church, Belfast

    Llewellyn, Dawn; Miskimmin, John David Mark (University of ChesterUniversity of Chester, 2022-05)
    This thesis argues that there is a need for a rehabilitation of the Reformed doctrine of vocation within the area of practical theologies of work. Theologians and Church leaders in this tradition have paid limited attention to the practice and purpose of work, despite most people spending more time at work than in any other activity (Archbishops’ Council, 2017, p. 4, Forster, 2018, p. 145). I make two contributions by advocating for an interplay of agency between God and humanity in the ordinary elements of working. First, this resets the purpose of working within the wider context of missio Dei, where human and divine action collaborate in work, rather than in private piety, ecclesiastical identity, or ethics. Second, I rehabilitate the language and performance of vocation by using the term ‘callings’ to consider work as a purposeful intrinsically valuable component of human flourishing. The study draws on qualitative research with twenty interviews conducted in a contemporary Charismatic-Evangelical church network known as Urban Community Church (UCC), which has its theological roots in the Protestant, Reformed tradition of Northern Ireland. The study critically interrogates Evangelical interpretations of vocation, and how it informs contemporary practice at UCC. The research suggests inequalities in the public validation of work in Sunday services, including the promotion of church planting, overseas mission, and paid church work to the detriment of other forms of employment. The thesis reveals how individuals attach meaning to their work through callings which are multiple, evolutionary, and less well defined than that traditional understanding of vocation as a call from God to work for the church or in a specific role. Participants in this research imagine work to have lasting significance in Christian redemptive purpose in society, beyond the promotion of the work of the church.
  • A Constructive Pentecostal Theology of Dementia: Responding to Black Women Living with Dementia

    Morris, Wayne; Henry, Joyphen Clementina (University of Chester, 2022-05)
    This thesis examines Pentecostal theologies and their relationships to the experience of living with dementia. The increasing likelihood of developing dementia among ethnic minority people, particularly older Black women, poses an urgent challenge for the Pentecostal movement, not least to the British Pentecostal churches. The Pentecostal movement does not currently have an adequate theology of dementia that speaks meaningfully to the experience of living with dementia and, especially, the multi-dimensional experiences of Black women. Certain features identified in Pentecostalism require memory and cognitive capacity in order to participate in the practices of the Churches, but this has had profound harmful implications for persons living with dementia, particularly when they are unable to remember, to make decisions and to function independently. This research is the first of its kind in the quest for a Pentecostal theology of dementia that seeks to eliminate malignant structures that cause suffering to Black women with dementia. Womanist theology provides the lens with which to examine Pentecostal theology. As a theoretical tool it allows us to centralise the liberation of Black women and, in so doing, reconceptualize traditional understanding of sin. It names as social sin, any structure or system that contributes to the marginalisation, dehumanisation and suffering of Black women. Using this lens to deconstruct Pentecostal theology, highlighted doctrinal themes and practices that have harmful implications for persons with dementia including: the expectation to participate in church practices which require the use of memory; the requirement of cognition in order for the Holy Spirit to communicate with human beings and for human beings to interpret and share what the Holy Spirit revealed. Furthermore, it is necessary for individuals to be conscious of sin in order to repent, and repentance leads to relief from suffering, healing and future salvation. A reconstructed theology responding to dementia re-imagines suffering as inclusive of the experience of Black women with dementia and opposes all forms of discrimination whether theological, political, environmental, or socio-economic. It demonstrates that not all people will be healed, and that salvation can be enjoyed in the present time from the care and love expressed to persons with dementia rather than only at some future realised eschatology. A Pentecostal theology of dementia establishes the belief that God is not limited to the intellectual capacity of human beings and will minister to persons with dementia through the Holy Spirit, irrespective of their capacity to remember or understand.
  • Embodying a Different Word about Fat: The Need for Critical Feminist Theologies of Fat Liberation

    Bacon, Hannah; University of Chester (MDPI, 2023-05-25)
    In contemporary Western society, fatness speaks for itself, affirming the fat person as an aesthetic and moral failure even before they say a word. Fat bodies, and fat female bodies in particular, are produced and reproduced as sites of excess and obscenity. Christian theology has protected itself from the contaminating touch of fat by ignoring fatness in theological discourse. Especially concerning is the relative absence of ‘fat talk’ from liberation and feminist theologies. It is time for a different word to be offered on fat that does not speak for itself and that emerges from the lived experiences of diverse women as they interpret their own faith and fatness. This essay explores the need for critical feminist theologies on fat liberation and identifies some features they might display. Here, I discuss Feminist Participatory Action Research and ethnography as methodologies that might help feminist theologians researching fat to prioritise the overlooked bodies and stories of fat women, and to continue liberation theology’s longstanding commitment to constructing historical projects oriented towards social change. Fat liberation, as a historical and theological project, calls for a ‘conversion’ to fatness and for a critical questioning of assumed ‘truths’ about fat. It positions the struggle against fat hatred as a pursuit of life and as faithful participation in the liberating activity of the God of Life.
  • Don Cupitt: prophet, public intellectual and pioneer Public intellectual

    Graham, Elaine L.; Smith, Graeme; University of Chester; University of Chichester (SAGE Publications, 2023-05-09)
    The 1984 BBC TV series The Sea of Faith offered Don Cupitt an exceptional degree of public recognition and notoriety. His advancement of a non-realist and social constructivist theology had a strong polarizing effect on his audience, engendering disapproval and approbation in equal measure. Opinion was strongly divided between those who resisted any kind of critical approach to Christian teaching and those who felt liberated by Cupitt’s call for a more modern and questioning theology. Through archives of audience reactions to his broadcasts and writings, this article considers whether Cupitt’s influence through The Sea of Faith and other writing and broadcasting was sufficient to rank him as a ‘public intellectual’. It will argue that the controversy Cupitt attracted and his categorization as ‘atheist priest’ and ‘radical theologian’ may ultimately have limited his efforts to promote broad-based, serious theological debate in Church and society.
  • Jaspers and Sartre: transcendence and the difference of the divine

    Casewell, Deborah; University of Chester (Taylor & Francis, 2023-05-05)
    This paper takes the movement of transcendence in Sartre and examines it in relation to another understanding of transcendence in relation to God circulating in Paris in Sartre’s formative years: that of Karl Jaspers. Through exploring the transmission and reception of Jaspers' thought in French philosophy, different understandings can be advanced as to why he engages with the figure of God as that which we transcend towards, however impossibly, and why he counts Jaspers as a Catholic existentialist.
  • Why Were They Not Radicalized? Young Members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Aftermath of Egypt's 2013 Military Coup

    Abdelgawad, Doha; University of Chester (Middle East Institute, 2022-12-01)
    While many young members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood became politically disengaged in the wake of the 2013 military coup, others resorted to violence. Drawing upon fieldwork conducted in 2016/17, this article investigates the forces of radicalization among younger Brotherhood members after the coup. Rather than there being a positive correlation between repression and radicalization, I argue that the majority of rank-and-file movement members remained inclined against radicalism due to the effects of state repression, organizational schism, and transformative personal experiences.
  • Working with God: the practice of connecting Christian faith with everyday work

    Fulford, Ben; Graham, Elaine; Tee, Caroline; Leach, James (University of Chester, 2022-08)
    Against the background of moves, especially in the Church of England, to close the so-called Sunday-Monday gap and encourage whole-life discipleship, this thesis explores the ways that Christians connect their faith with their everyday work in practice. The research is based on analysis of semi-structed interviews with thirteen self-identifying Christians in non-faith-based paid employment who were associated with an evangelical Anglican church in the South East of England. Working with the theological consensus that sees work as co-operation with God, I found that the dimension of closeness, or proximity, to God and God’s purposes characterised the most salient connections between faith and work. Using categories from David Miller’s The Integration Box/Profile, participants tended to experience their work most strongly as co-operation with God when they could perceive God’s purposes being achieved at the closest, micro, level of their everyday activities. This tended to be more salient than a perceptually more distant connection at the mezzo (corporate) and macro (societal) levels of the overall activity and purposes of the enterprise. Such micro level connections were reinforced by experiences of God’s presence and providential activity at that level, framed as personal encounters with God. The more that participants experienced these close connections in their workplace experience, the more they felt that they were working with, as opposed to merely for, God. This suggests that teaching an overarching, macro-level, theological framework within which daily work finds a place will not be sufficiently salient to overcome the Sunday-Monday gap on its own. In several cases the experience of close co-operation with God was associated with deliberate practices of attentiveness and reflection. The evidence suggests, however, that further encouragement and training in such practices, perhaps especially in a workplace group setting, could have a significant impact on workplace discipleship. In identifying the significance of proximity to God and God’s purposes and connecting the experience of proximity with particular Christian practices, this thesis resources practitioners aiming to nurture workplace discipleship.

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