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

  • On the Trail of a Biblical Serial Killer: Sherlock Holmes and the Book of Tobit

    Collins, Matthew A.; University of Chester (T&T Clark, 2019-01-24)
    In the book of Tobit, Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, is tormented by the demon Asmodeus. She has been married seven times, but each time the demon kills her husband on her wedding night. In despair, she contemplates suicide and prays for deliverance. In the course of the narrative, Tobias, the son of Tobit, travels from Nineveh to Ecbatana and, with the help of the archangel Raphael, defeats the demon and marries Sarah. Between 1939 and 1946, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred together in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series of radio plays broadcast in the United States. One episode, aired on 26 March 1945, was titled ‘The Book of Tobit’ and featured Holmes and Watson investigating the deaths of a woman’s previous three husbands, each of whom, prior to his death, had received a threatening letter signed ‘Asmodeus’. Though substantially different in both content and context, throughout the case numerous comparisons are made with its scriptural forebear. This essay first explores the use of and engagement with Tobit in this wartime murder mystery before turning to re-examine the biblical text in the light of Holmes’ namesake investigation. By effectively transposing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated detective to ancient Ecbatana, the inherently murderous nature of the biblical tale comes into sharper focus and the peculiarities of the narrative and its folkloric origins are both reassessed and illuminated from a perspective informed by crime fiction. In doing so, this essay further illustrates the extent to which the ‘genre lens’ through which we approach a text may govern our reading of it. Putting Sherlock Holmes on the case, a rather different interpretation of the text emerges – one in which there is a serial killer on the loose in the book of Tobit, and Sarah may not in fact be as innocent as she seems.
  • Were the Early Christians Really Persecuted

    Middleton, Paul; University of Chester (Amsterdam University Press, 2019)
    In their writings, the Early Christians presented themselves as a suffering community, facing intolerance and misunderstanding from Jew and Gentile alike, to the extent that in Acts, the Jewish community in Rome are made to declare of early Christianity, ‘we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect’ (Acts 28.22). However, historians generally recognise that while members of the early Church undoubtedly did face some harassment, there was no empire-wide policy against Christianity until well into the third century, and even then, these were short lived. Where Christians experienced persecution, it tended to be localised, sporadic, and random, and resulted from pockets of prejudice rather than any official imperial interest in the Church. If we see those who take at face value the deutero-Pauline claim that ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Tim 3.12) as representing a ‘maximalist’ view of persecution, then, in direct contrast, what might be termed a ‘minimalist’ account is gaining popularity among scholars. Minimalists go beyond the view that Christians faced ‘periodic persecution’, and conclude that in all significant respects, the Christian narrative of persecution is a constructed myth. Moreover, they tend to turn Christian charges against their pagan neighbour of intolerance back onto the early Church, arguing that in a Roman environment of general imperial tolerance towards varieties of beliefs and practices, it was Christian intolerance and intransigence that led to their appearances before magistrates. However, this was not persecution in any meaningful sense, but prosecution. Both maximalist and minimalist accounts of early Christian experiences of suffering construct a context in which a generally tolerant group encounter an intolerant ‘other’. Depending on which approach is adopted, either Christians or Romans were the ‘victims’ of intolerance. In light of this apparent scholarly paradigm shift, I return to the basic question: were the early Christians persecuted? First I outline the formerly dominant ‘persecution paradigm’, arguing that this way of presenting Christian experience is already promoted in New Testament texts. Next, I evaluate recent revisionist ‘minimalist’ accounts, noting that the idea Christians invented—or at least exaggerated—the extent of the persecution can be found as far back as the eighteenth century. These re-evaluations offer an important and valuable corrective to the maximalist approach. However, minimalists, I argue, tend to simply replace a one-sided Christian reading of history with an equally skewed Roman perspective. Instead, I offer a reading which might be categorised as ‘modified minimalism’, in which I sidestep the persecution/prosecution dichotomy, and conclude that while it is certainly the case that Romans would have understood their (albeit limited) actions against Christians as prosecutions designed to protect the integrity of the State, Christians experienced those actions, not without reason, as persecution. I argue that Christians and Romans were indeed ‘tolerant’ of the other—just not where it mattered!
  • ‘Filling up the Full Measure of their Sins’: Matthew Henry on the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple

    Middleton, Paul; University of Chester (Bloomsbury, 2019-05-16)
    This essay examines the treatment of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the 17th century Bible expositor Matthew Henry.
  • Paula Gooder, Body: Biblical Spirituality for the Whole Person

    Alexander, Loveday (SAGE Publications, 2017-02-23)
  • The Scarecrow Christ: The Murder of Matthew Shepard and the Making of an American Culture Wars Martyr

    Middleton, Paul; University of Chester (Amsterdam University Press, 2019)
    In this essay, I examine the popular martyr-making process in respect of Matthew Shepard, arguing that both the making of the martyr and the reaction it provoked reflects American ‘culture wars’. Martyrology is conflict literature. However, as I have argued before, the most significant conflict in a martyrdom story is not necessarily between the martyr and the agents of execution, but the story-tellers and their opponents.9 Yet, martyrological narratives are difficult to control, as I will demonstrate from the contested nature of Shepard’s secular canonisation process. For at least some in the LGBT community, the dominant hagiography of Matthew Shepard, the gay martyr, is seen as unhelpful. Ironically, both LGBT activists and right-wing religious groups have in some ways sought to undermine Shepard’s martyr status, by focusing on his life rather than his death. Nonetheless, I argue, such efforts continue to have limited effect because in martyrologies any interest in the lives of their heroes is incidental, merely setting the scene for a significant death.
  • The Gülen Movement in London and the politics of public engagement: producing 'Good Islam' before and after 15 July

    Tee, Caroline; University of Chester; University of Cambridge (Taylor & Francis, 2018-03-22)
    Since the failed coup of 15 July 2016, for which it is held responsible, the Gülen Movement (GM) has been in crisis. With no foreseeable future in its homeland, the GM is now tasked with regrouping abroad. This article investigates the GM in London, a city that, for various reasons, is likely to become a significant centre for Gülenist activity in the post-coup era. Taking the Dialogue Society (DS) as its focus, it investigates the prospects of the GM’s survival by analyzing its activities, both before and after the coup, in light of Mamdani’s discussion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims in the post9/11 world. The article shows how the GM has established itself as a voice of ‘good’ Islam in the context of British debates on Islam and radicalization. It suggests that the public presence the GM has established for itself through its public engagement activities in the UK could constitute a central part of its fight back against resident Erdoğan, and be catalytic to its creation of a dynamic future in exile.
  • The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity

    Tee, Caroline; University of Chester (I.B. Tauris, 2016-08-29)
    What is the Gulen Movement and why is Turkey's President Erdogan so convinced that the organisation and its charismatic leader were behind the failed military coup of 15th July 2016? The Gulen, or Hizmet, movement in Turkey was until recently the country's most powerful and affluent religious organisation. At its head is the exiled Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who leads from a gated compound in the Pocono Mountains of the USA.The movement's central tenet is that Muslims should engage positively with modernity, especially through mastering the sciences. At hundreds of Gulen-run schools and universities, not only in Turkey but also worldwide and particularly in the United States, instructors have cultivated the next generation of Muslim bankers, biologists, software engineers and entrepreneurs. In this groundbreaking study, Caroline Tee, an expert on the Gulen Movement, analyses the complex attitudes of Gulen and his followers towards secular modernity. Considered against the backdrop of Turkish politics, Gulenist engagement with modern science is revealed as a key source of the influence the movement has exerted.
  • Creating Charisma Online: The Role of Digital Presence in the Formation of Religious Identity

    Tee, Caroline; University of Chester (Taylor & Francis, 2019)
    This article investigates the construction and transmission of charisma through online channels, and its role in the formation of religious identities. Mindful of Max Weber’s observation that charisma inhabits the relationship between a leader and their followers, I argue for a critical reappraisal of the theoretical model in light of the ubiquity in the 21st century of new, virtual forms of social encounter. I focus my analysis on the Christian creationist movement in the USA, and particularly on an influential leader called Ken Ham. Using digital ethnographic methods, I show how Ham constructs charisma online, and how a virtual community forms itself around his charismatic claims. I illustrate how this virtual community intersects with offline worlds, and suggest that the theme park attractions that Ham’s organisation runs (Creation Museum, Ark Encounter) are imbued with deflected charisma by virtue of their association with his online avatar.
  • SOTS, SBL, and WWI: Anglo-American Scholarly Societies and the Great War

    Collins, Matthew A.; University of Chester (T&T Clark, 2019)
    In January 1917, in the midst of the First World War, a small group of biblical scholars gathered at King’s College London for the inaugural meeting of the newly-formed Society for Old Testament Study (SOTS). The decision to create such a society had been taken the previous summer at Queens’ College, Cambridge, on 29 June 1916, just two days before the commencement of the Battle of the Somme. Thus the origins of this British-based society are to be found firmly (and somewhat peculiarly) planted in the context and conflict of the Great War. As a result, the records and history of the early years of the society afford us a valuable window through which to view the landscape of biblical scholarship of the period. Likewise, the detailed minutes and papers of the wartime meetings of the larger and already established US-based Society of Biblical Literature (SBL; founded in 1880) offer a similar (yet distinct) insight into academic attitudes on the other side of the Atlantic and especially the challenges to biblical scholarship (both ideological and practical) posed by the outbreak of war. Accordingly, in thinking about the wartime mobilization of biblical studies, this essay takes as its focus the effect of the war upon British and American scholarly societies (epitomized here by SOTS and SBL) and the response(s) of those societies as indicative of shifts and trends in both wartime and post-war biblical scholarship. Although predominantly a historical survey, drawing upon the records and minutes of the two groups in order to reconstruct events, it is argued that, in both their rhetoric and the practical steps taken towards scholarly reconciliation, these societies may be seen as having actively resisted the idea of 'the enemy' prevalent in propaganda material of the time. In doing so, they were subsequently well positioned to play a significant role in the swift re-establishment of international scholarly relations after the First (and indeed later, the Second) World War. Thus, it is argued that, during wartime, these scholarly societies performed a potentially unintentional yet vital regulatory function as tools enabling and encouraging the maintenance, preservation, recovery, and continuity of international biblical scholarship.
  • The First World War and the Mobilization of Biblical Scholarship

    Collins, Matthew A.; Mein, Andrew; MacDonald, Nathan; University of Chester; University of Durham; University of Cambridge (T&T Clark, 2019)
    This fascinating collection of essays charts, for the first time, the range of responses by scholars on both sides of the conflict to the outbreak of war in August 1914. The volume examines how biblical scholars, like their compatriots from every walk of life, responded to the great crisis they faced, and, with relatively few exceptions, were keen to contribute to the war effort. Some joined up as soldiers. More commonly, however, biblical scholars and theologians put pen to paper as part of the torrent of patriotic publication that arose both in the United Kingdom and in Germany. The contributors reveal that, in many cases, scholars were repeating or refining common arguments about the responsibility for the war. In Germany and Britain, where the Bible was still central to a Protestant national culture, we also find numerous more specialized works, where biblical scholars brought their own disciplinary expertise to bear on the matter of war in general, and this war in particular. The volume’s contributors thus offer new insights into the place of both the Bible and biblical scholarship in early 20th-century culture.
  • Levi (Son of Alphaeus)

    Middleton, Paul; The University of Chester (De Gruyter, 2018-12)
    A dictionary entry on Levi (son of Alphaeus)
  • Mapping Shia Muslim Communities in Europe

    Shanneik, Yafa; email: Y.Shanneik@bham.ac.uk; Heinhold, Chris; Ali, Zahra (Brill, 2017-12-04)
  • Brexit, Babylon and Prophecy: Semiotics of the End Times

    Knowles, Steve; University of Chester (MDPI, 2018-12-03)
    This article examines the predilection some Christian premillennialist preachers and teachers have with the semiotic association of geopolitics and biblical prophecy concerning the end times. This was epitomised in the run up to the United Kingdom’s referendum on continued membership of the European Union in June 2016. Since its inception, many premillennialists have interpreted the European Union as the place where the Antichrist emerges. Material objects associated with the European Union such as architecture, sculptures, currency and even posters, have been routinely highlighted as providing clear signs of the coming eschaton. Prophetic links between the European Union and satanic agencies, purported to be behind the ambition for an expanding European confederacy, ensured that many premillennialists voted to leave the European Union or were advised to do so in light of such prophetic signifiers. Utilising Webb Keane’s notion of representational economies, I argue that a premillennialist representational economy drives the search for signs in the everyday, and specifically those associated with the European Union. In this case, such semiotic promiscuity ratified the need to leave the European Union.
  • Luther’s Legacy: Rethinking the Theology of Lay Discipleship 500 Years after the Reformation

    Graham, Elaine; email: e.graham@chester.ac.uk (Brill, 2017-09-23)
  • Promoting the Good: Ethical and Methodological Considerations in Practical Theological Research.

    Graham, Elaine; LLewellyn, Dawn; University of Chester (SCM Press, 2018-10-31)
    In this chapter, we draw on our experiences as supervisors on a Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology (DProf) at the University of Chester, UK, to reflect on the ethical dimensions of undertaking research in this field of study. Using three case-studies, based on our students’ work, we examine how the ethical challenges they have navigated and addressed – using a range of methods -- offer examples of the ways practical theological research can trouble and speak back to well-established practices. First, we contextualize the Professional Doctorate in practical theology and introduce the idea of the ‘researching professional’, before suggesting that although practical theology is a broad discipline, it aims to transform the researcher’s practice, their institution, and the academy. The chapter then moves to outline the part that qualitative methodologies play in the discipline and focus on its forms of research as implicated and therefore ethical project. Finally, we discuss three illustrations of recent doctoral work in practical theology that raise issues of consent, privacy, anonymity, and avoiding harm. In particular, we draw out that these examples point towards ways that qualitative research strives towards ‘the good’.

View more