The Centre for the Study of Autism and Christian Community hosts interdisciplinary research into the blessings and challenges associated with the presence of persons with autism in the Christian church.
Autism is now recognized to be a common condition, and most Christian communities or families will have experience of it, in some form or another. It is easy to assume that autism can be considered in isolation from the faith commitments at work in our society, and that those who have to deal with a diagnosis of autism can process it in simply clinical or scientific terms. Communities of faith, however, always process and understand their experiences in ways that are shaped by that faith, which is itself formed by their traditions and sacred texts. Where those texts and traditions shape their lives in healthy ways, their response to the opportunities and challenges constituted by conditions such as autism will be enriched, and may facilitate a kind of care from which our society more widely may learn and may derive blessing. Where the texts and traditions are used in less healthy ways, however, the effects can be destructive and distressing. The clinical reality of autism will always be interpreted and understood through the prism of shared and embodied faith, and this must be recognized.
The Centre is intended to host research that will help to foster positive Christian understandings of autism, drawing on scripture and theological traditions, and sometimes challenging the misuse of these. In the first instance, this is intended to help churches to respond well to the pastoral reality of autism. Beyond this, however, it is intended to facilitate the sharing of such experiences with other communities of faith, associated with other religions and traditions, and with the medical world itself, as its own engagement with persons of faith develops.
The Centre for the Study of Autism and Christian Community is embedded in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy and is closely linked to three other works in the University of Aberdeen: The Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability, The Centre for Ministry Studies, and the Friendship House Initiative.
- Distinctive Features
The Centre has two distinctive qualities that set it apart from much of the contemporary study of autism, including other theological research.
First, we recognize that Christian faith is always shaped and informed by the biblical writings that are regarded as Scripture by the church, even if this relationship is conceived in different ways by different traditions. This means that theological and pastoral reflection on autism must always engage with the Bible, as it functions in the life of Christian community. Because autism is not named, as such, within the Bible, all such engagement requires careful reflection on how to read the Scriptural material properly and a willingness to challenge the misuse of Scripture, which can be destructive and alienating.
Second, we affirm that persons with autism in the church are to be considered a gift to the community, even if this gift brings challenges and responsibilities. Much theological discussion of autism treats those with the condition simply as a point of comparison with “normality,” using their perceived deficiencies as a means to cast light on what properly functioning humanity should look like. We consider such approaches to be theologically problematic, and to entail a lack of proper affirmation of the value of those with autism.
Professor Grant Macaskill, Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis, University of Aberdeen.
We are keen to build links with non-academic organisations and partners who may be interested in co-hosting events, both in Scotland and around the world. Please feel free to contact Professor Macaskill if you have ideas for such events.
Professor John Swinton, Chair of Practical Theology, University of Aberdeen
Dr Brian Brock, Reader in Theological Ethics, University of Aberdeen
Dr Léon van Ommen, Lecturer in Practical Theology, University of Aberdeen
Professor Pete Stollery, Professor of Electroacoustic Music and Composition