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.

Recent Submissions

  • Review of Shortt, R. (2019) Outgrowing Dawkins: God for Grown-Ups. London: SPCK.

    Graham, Elaine; University of Chester
    This book is a direct response to Richard Dawkins’ book Outgrowing God: a beginner’s guide (Bantam Press, 2019) and continues Shortt’s long-standing engagement with New Atheism in such works as God Is No Thing (2015) and Does Religion Do More Harm than Good (2019). The substance of Shortt’s defence of religion is not that it does not have its destructive and dark sides, or even that atheism and religious doubt may not be legitimate intellectual positions. Rather, Shortt takes issue with charges that religious belief is illogical and intellectually specious, that religious commitment is deluded and infantile and religious institutions inherently barbaric and authoritarian.
  • Review of McClure, B. (2019). Emotions: Problems and Promise for Human Flourishing. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

    Graham, Elaine; University of Chester
    McClure undertakes an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural investigation into the role of human emotion in history, arguing that emotions are central to what makes us human. What unites all these perspectives is the way in which they set the measure of emotion against a set of value-judgements on the basis of emotions’ contribution to human virtue and well-being.
  • Perception of Spirituality among Substance Addicts with Incarceration Experience: A Phenomenological Study

    Ceylan, İsa; Metcalf-White, Liam (Association for Spiritual Psychology and Counseling, 2019-10-15)
    This paper examines the role of spirituality in a recovery context by drawing on qualitative research conducted at a residential recovery community in North Wales, United Kingdom. The study aimed to examine perceptions of spirituality among exprisoners and people identifying as in recovery from addiction. The researchers explored ideas of “spiritual coping” and “spiritual wellbeing” in terms of meaning, purpose, connectedness, forgiveness, and peace in addiction treatment programs influenced by 12-Step models, for instance, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Also, this paper focuses on both spiritual counseling services shaped by pre-determined meanings and values and secondly, on individuals’ perceptions about spirituality through the language of desires, needs, and expectations. The data for this research produced from five semi-structured interviews with male individuals who had recovered from their addiction and had practised some custodial life. To discover the common context of different perceptions of the language spirituality, the data was coded by the first and second loop encodings from the data analysis methods used. The central schemes that appear as “Spirituality in Experiences, Spirituality in Values, Spirituality as Meaning/Purpose of Life, Spirituality as Attachment, Spirituality as Coping Mechanism” have been evaluated within the framework of the concept of spirituality. In the conclusion of this study, it was observed that spirituality was used as a coping mechanism for buffering the sensation of hopelessness and powerlessness often experienced by people in active addiction.
  • Religion, Spirituality and Addiction Recovery: Introduction

    Dossett, Wendy; Metcalf-White, Liam; University of Chester
    Religion, spirituality, non-religion, and the secular (Lee 2014, 2015) are unstable categories that are nonetheless routinely reified by academics, clinicians and practitioners alike, and positioned as fundamental to experiences of addiction recovery. For instance, addiction is often framed, dramatically, as a spiritual malady, yet, just as often, as simply a poor moral choice. While ideas associated with religion or spirituality play out differently in those contrasting diagnoses, the role of religion and spirituality in their aetiology is evident. We (Wendy Dossett and Liam Metcalf-White) argue that the categories of religion, spirituality, and non-religion, as they to relate to addiction recovery, need further analysis than they receive in the clinical literature. This literature frequently presents them as extra “technologies of the self ” (Foucault 1988); either functionally worthwhile or not (Szalavitz 2017); rather than as embedded in the very culture and discourses in which addiction and recovery are named and experienced. We argue for a focus on the latter as more productive for an understanding of the field.
  • Kleśas and Pretas: Therapy and Liberation in Buddhist Recovery from Addiction

    Dossett, Wendy; University of Chester
    This article offers an analysis of Buddhist approaches to addiction recovery in the terms of some of the key debates in addiction/recovery studies. Buddhist recovery teachings are analysed for the extent to which they embody models of addiction which construe the problem as a disease, as a moral problem, as a problem of powerlessness, as a problem of control, as a choice, as a social or a personal problem, and as continuous (or not) with putative saṃsāric experience. They are also analysed for the extent to which recovery is modelled as a change of identity or of practices, and how far “recovery ideals” align with Buddhist soteriology. The article exposes philosophical and epistemological diversity across Buddhist recovery pathways, and argues that the therapeutization of Buddhism (Metcalf 2002) is inadequate as a categorical frame.
  • Pluralising practical theology: international and multi-traditional challenges and opportunities

    Stuerzenhofecker, Katja; University of Chester; University of Manchester
    The entrance of international practical theologians of all faiths and none into the traditionally Western-centric, Christian-dominated field in the UK prompts the review of its scope and methodology. This paper argues for a shared conversation on how to achieve constructive and authentic participation for all. A recent survey of alumni from four UK-based Professional Doctorates in Practical Theology highlights omissions and opportunities, and points towards an agenda for intentional and effective pluralization. Evangelical principles and Christian liberation theology suggest internal strategies to counter possible resistance to undoing the Christian hegemony.
  • Book review: Michael Gilmour, Animals in the Writings of C.S. Lewis

    Clough, David L.; University of Chester
    Book review
  • Editorial: Hope in the Midst of Ruins

    Graham, Elaine L.; University of Chester
    This editorial article introduces the papers originally given at the annual conference of Modern Church, on the theme of "Theology in the Public Square", held in July 2019. It considers what and how, and with what authority, the Christian churches might speak on public issues in the midst of challenges such as Brexit, inequality and globalisation. The church might speak, but is anyone listening?
  • Jan-Olav Henriksen, Christianity as Distinct Practices: A Complicated Relationship (T&T Clark, 2019).

    Graham, Elaine L.; University of Chester
    Review of Henriksen's book in which he argues that Christianity (and religion in general) has been perceived, both within the academy and society at large, as primarily an intellectual undertaking, whereas it should more properly be considered as ‘a cluster of practices that taken together manifest a distinct historically and contextually shaped mode of being in the world’. While Henriksen is not unique amongst contemporary scholars in regarding ‘religion as practice’ and ‘theology as practical’, it is his attempt to forge connections between the two and to pursue the logic of a philosophical reading of religion as practice through to a theological reading of the distinctive qualities of Christian practices that is of particular significance.
  • Nicola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips (eds), Researching Female Faith: Qualitative Research Methods (2018)

    Graham, Elaine L.; University of Chester
    This article is a book review of the edited collection, 'Researching Female Faith'. The volume is a successor to 'Faith Lives of Women and Girls', published in 2013, and represents further work to emerge from a network of feminist qualitative researchers in practical theology which has been meeting since 2010.
  • Theology and the Public Square: Mapping the Field

    Graham, Elaine L.; University of Chester
    This article asks what happens when theology ‘goes public’: what some of the key issues are in relation to the changing profile and role of religion in society – global, local and national – and how theologians have approached the issue of how the voices of faith might speak into the public domain. Where are the critical points in society, economics, politics, health and welfare where we feel the voices and influence of people of faith are most effective; and where are they absent; or most needed? What moves us to hope and action in relation to our ‘Common Life’?
  • "I’m Still Reading the Bible!” Post-Christian Women’s Biblical Reading Practices

    Llewellyn, Dawn; University of Chester
    In this chapter, I highlight post-Christian women’s biblicalism as a spiritual practice, while raising two questions for gendered religious reading practices and religious feminism’s uses and approaches to literature, which might also help explain why the activity of reading is underexplored. First, post-Christian women’s biblicalism crosses the distinction between sacred and secular literature sometimes assumed in religious feminism. In the search for alternative textual sources for doing theology, an either/or separation between sacred and secular has been presumed, which has not only set the Bible and women’s writing apart, but also reading practices and processes. Second, experience has been privileged in religious feminisms’ turn to literature as it seeks examples of women’s spiritual encounters; while in biblical feminism, women’s voices are the standpoint from which to examine scripture from a range of contextual positions. However, religious feminism has tended to focus on the text to the extent that actual readers are usually implied: everyday women’s experiences of reading have been passed over. Yet, by qualitatively interviewing post-Christian women readers to listen to their reading experiences, biblical reading emerges as a spiritual practice amongst women identifying against the Christian tradition. This troubles the assumption that women who use literature as a spiritual resource are doing so because they have found the Christian testaments lacking in opportunities to access the divine, and have therefore excluded them from their personal collections of spiritual texts. While post-Christian women readers in this study are critical of the Bible and question its relevancy, they continue to read it. I begin by briefly discussing the fieldwork upon which this chapter is based and my use of ‘post-Christian’. I then point to the sacred and secular textual distinctions that have occurred in religious feminisms, followed by discussing the preference for implied rather than actual readers to suggest that post-Christian women’s biblicalism is an unexpected aspect of women’s spiritual reading practices. Finally, using examples from the fieldwork, I illustrate one of the ways post-Christian women’s biblicalism emerges in this research, as the women employ ‘filtering’ strategies to monitor their acceptance and use of the biblical texts in their spiritual lives.
  • Praise by animals in the Hebrew Bible

    Atkins, Peter Joshua; University of Chester
    Among ancient Near Eastern societies was a widespread and particularly intriguing belief that animals were able to worship and praise deities. This study shows the Hebrew Bible evidences the idea that animals were capable of praising God too and proceeds to observe and document the presence of numerous examples of this in specific biblical texts. Through understanding the place of animals in the Hebrew Bible, and their perceived activity in the ancient Near East, this study suggests animals are distinct agents of praise in their own right in the biblical texts.
  • The Final Frontier? Religion and Posthumanism in Film and TV

    Graham, Elaine L; University of Chester (2014-10-08)
    Whilst science fiction is often considered secular in emphasis, more recently it has started to exhibit a different sensibility. This may reflect wider social and cultural change, and the emergence of a ‘post-secular’ culture, in which new and enduring forms of religiosity co-exist, albeit in certain tension, with secular and atheist world-views. In contrast to the assertion that any future or technologically-advanced world would have no need for religion, are more sympathetic treatments of religious belief and identity. This does not represent the extinction of science fiction’s elevation of scientific enquiry and secular humanist values, however: rather, faith is regarded as both inimical to progress and an inescapable part of what it means to be, and become, fully human.
  • Divine Imaginaries: The Turn to Literature in the Feminist Theology and Spirituality

    Llewellyn, Dawn; University of Chester
    At least since beginnings of the second wave of the women’s movement, feminist theologies and spiritualities have turned to the literary world, particularly women’s writing, as a resource. The novels, poetry, prose, and drama authored by women have been used by feminist scholarship to critique the patriarchal and androcentric language, teachings, doctrine, and scriptures of religious traditions, and to reimagine the sacred in ways that validate, recognize, and speak to women’s spiritual lives. In this chapter, I discuss religious feminism’s very literary disposition, and the ways it has harnessed women’s creative written worlds. First, I highlight two connected reasons for the ‘turn to literature’ - the dissatisfaction with Christian scripture and the desire for an alternative set of ‘sacred texts’ to inspire and generate new theological and spiritual insights – drawing on feminists whose work draws together religion and women’s literature. Second, the chapter highlights that while the use of literature has been vital in the development of feminist religious thinking, the reading strategies adopted have tended to rely on the often problematic categories of women’s experience and authorship. This can mean that feminist literary spiritualities have been guilty of essentializing women’s religious identities, and by preferring women’s writing as its sacred texts has limited literature. Finally, the chapter suggests that despite the prevalence of literature in feminist theology, actual, embodied women readers are a neglected but important part of the turn to literature.
  • Maternal Silences: Motherhood and Voluntary Childlessness in Christianity

    Llewellyn, Dawn; University of Chester (Brill, 2016-06-20)
    In Christianity, there is an ideology of motherhood that pervades scripture, ritual, and doctrine, yet there is an academic silence that means relatively little space has been given to motherhood and mothering, and even less to voluntary childlessness, from a faith perspective. By drawing on qualitative in-depth interviews with Christian women living in Britain, narrating their experiences of motherhood and voluntary childlessness, I suggest there are also lived maternal silences encountered by women in contemporary Christianity. There is a maternal expectation produced through church teaching, liturgy and culture that constructs women as ‘maternal bodies’ (Gatrell 2008); this silences and marginalises women from articulating their complex relationship with religion, motherhood, and childlessness in ways that challenge their spiritual development. However, this article also introduces the everyday and intentional tactics women employ to disrupt the maternal expectation, and hereby interrupt the maternal silence.
  • Going Off the Map: 'Transcendental Dependent Arising' in the Nettippakaraṇa

    Jones, Dhivan Thomas; University of Chester
    The early Buddhist exegetical text, the Nettippakaraṇa, apparently uniquely, describes the stages of the path as ‘transcendental dependent arising’ (lokuttara paṭicca-samuppāda), in contrast with the twelve nidānas, called ‘worldly dependent arising’ (lokiya paṭicca-samuppāda). A close reading of the Nettippakaraṇa in relation to another, related, exegetical text, the Peṭakopadesa, reveals that the latter interprets the same stages of the path in a different way. More broadly, while the Peṭakopadesa takes paṭicca-samuppāda to refer only to the twelve nidānas, the Nettippakaraṇa’s exegetical strategy takes paṭicca-samuppāda to refer to an over-arching principle of conditionality, both ‘worldly’ and ‘transcendental’. This exegesis has proved popular with modern western Buddhist exegetes.

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