My research focuses on liturgy, ritual, narrative, suffering, reconciliation, and autism. Working in the area of Practical Theology I am interested in the empirical and theological reality of religious practices. Much of my work is focused on pastoral needs, especially the needs of marginalised people who are stigmatised and whose voices are not heard. Recently I have been working on sacramentology and sacraments; on the issue of taboo and stigma in public worship, especially in intercessory prayer; and on joy in the context of L'Arche. I am now moving into a larger study on liturgy and autism.
I welcome PhD students who wish to work in any of the above mentioned areas and in the broader field of Practical Theology.
Autism and Liturgy: Reframing Liturgy and Theology Through the Lens of Autism
In 2020 - and hopefully for many years beyond - I will study liturgy through the lens of autism. I have been awarded a Research Incentive Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the following project.
The project develops a novel interpretation of liturgy, by mapping the worship experiences and theological interpretations of people with autism. Often people with autism experience and understand the world around them different from others. However, this experience has hardly been taken into account in liturgical studies, either with regard to the challenges this experience brings with it (e.g. through sensory overload) or its unique contribution to liturgy and worship (e.g. redefining the importance of certain liturgical elements, such as ‘sharing the peace’ by shaking hands). Therefore, this project is significant in at least two ways. First, it acknowledges the voices and experiences of a fast-growing group in society. Second, studying liturgy and worship through to the lens of autism has huge potential to gain new insights in this core practice of Christian communities, which is also a fundamental aspect of theology in general.
The core of this project is participant observation of worship services and interviews with people with autism, caregivers and/or family members, church leaders and disability advisers. This will take place at two sites. The first is a church in Singapore which is centred on those with autism. This church will be studied as a best practice example. The second site is various churches and participants in churches in Scotland. Here the experience is studied in churches that do not necessarily focus on autism, which will be the setting for most people with autism. Thus this project seeks to reframe liturgical theology through the lens of autism.
Teachers of Joy: Learning from L’Arche
In the spring and summer of 2018 I have been working on the following project, as part of the larger Joy & Human Flourishing project of the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
What if those with learning disabilities became our teachers? Members of L’Arche communities claim that this is exactly what happens when intentional friendships develop between those with and those without learning disabilities. The project ‘Teachers of Joy: Learning from L’Arche’ follows this counterintuitive and countercultural logic, thereby making an original contribution to a theology of joy. The central question in this project is: What does joy look like from a L’Arche perspective?
L’Arche is a worldwide network of almost 150 communities where people with and without learning disabilities live and share their lives together. The L’Arche communities were founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier with the express purpose of facilitating forms of relationship within which a diversity of people could both flourish and discover joy. Joy as it is manifested in friendship and community is central to Vanier’s vision. But what does Vanier mean by joy and why might it be a central aspect of human flourishing and Christian community? This project attempts to answer these questions by studying three L’Arche communities: L’Arche Inverness (UK), L’Arche London (UK), and L’Arche Kenya. Central to this study is an interview with Jean Vanier himself. Furthermore, the project undertakes an in-depth study of the writings of Vanier, and of various documentaries and films about Vanier and L’Arche. In this way this project develops a deep sense of the theological and practical implications of joy for these communities and from there on to the church at large.
In recent years a number of contributions have been made to the theology of joy. An under-researched area, however, is the lived experience of joy, in particular from marginalised perspectives and communities. Hence this research project’s focus on what joy looks like in the practical reality of specific communities. The L’Arche communities can be arguably thought of as being at the margins of society, yet their characteristic joy makes them unique exemplars of joy. This study fills therefore a significant gap in the academic reflection on joy. Moreover, it follows the counterintuitive Christian logic where those on the margins take centre stage because those thought not to be capable of teaching become the teachers. If this logic or dynamic is central to the Christian faith, then the theological discipline will do well to follow accordingly.
The project ‘Teachers of Joy: Learning from L’Arche’ is situated in the Practical Theological discipline. The lived experience of joy in L’Arche will be researched by participant observation, interviews, and the study of Jean Vanier’s writings. From this research and in dialogue with the sources of the Christian tradition a theology of joy will be proposed, which in turn will be brought into critical conversation with the theological understanding of joy as formulated by the “Theology of Joy and the Good Life” project of the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture. This conversation will result in a mutual sharpening and deepening of our understanding of joy.
I regularly teach, contribute to, and/or coordinate the following courses:
What Does It Mean to be Human? (DR1045)
Sacramental Theology (DR251V, DR351V)
Pastoral Care (DR202W, DR302W)
Religion at Ground Zero (DR1540)
Spirituality, Health and Healing (DR302R, DR402R, ME33DR)
Justice and Reconciliation (DR352K, DR452K)
Christian Practices (DR553M)
- Further Info
I am member of the Liturgy Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church.