Dr ARMAND LÉON VAN OMMEN
Department of Divinity and Religious Studies
KCF19 King’s College
Old Aberdeen AB24 3UB
+44 (0)1224 272382
My research focuses on liturgy, autism, ritual, narrative, suffering, reconciliation, and disability. 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. Currently, I am working on a larger study on liturgy and autism, as well as on the sensory aspect of worship and liturgy.
I welcome PhD students who wish to work in any of the above mentioned areas and in the broader field of Practical Theology.
Sensescaping the Liturgy: The Role of the Senses for Autistic and Non-Autistic Worshipers – An Interdisciplinary Interpretation
This project is the follow-on project that emerged from the project Dr Katy Unwin and I conducted in the summer of 2021, as Summer Fellows of the New Visions in Theological Anthropology project at the University of St. Andrew's, titled "The Effects of Sensory Issues on the Experience of Worship by Autistic People."
This follow-on project investigates both the empirical and subjective experience of the sensory aspects of worship for autistic and non-autistic people. We aim to offer a theological reflection on facilitators and barriers to worship, resulting in a ‘sensescaping’ tool and training resource for churches. For this, we will work together in churches in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Singapore, and provide a 'sensescape' of six churches in these countries. From the outset, we involve autistic people who will advise us on key stages in the project. We are also working together with a partner in Singapore, the Centre for Disability Ministry in Asia.
Autism and Liturgy: Reframing Liturgy and Theology Through the Lens of Autism
In 2020 I started studying liturgy through the lens of autism. I have been awarded a Research Incentive Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the following project. (Due to Covid-19, I was not able to conduct some aspects of the project. The Carnegie Trust has kindly extended the project until the end of 2022.)
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 coordinate the new Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip) in Theology and Disability.
I also 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)
Justice and Reconciliation (DR352K, DR452K)
Pastoral Theology: Trauma, Suffering and Healing (DR305J, Dr405J)
Christian Practices (DR55M)
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When Community Gets in the Way: Reflections on Autism and WorshipReformed World, vol. 70, no. 1, pp. 48-55Contributions to Journals: Articles
For God's Joy: Autistic Persons and the Role of Music in Public WorshipWorship, vol. 96, pp. 336-356Contributions to Journals: Articles
Reframing Liturgical Theology through the Lens of Autism: A Qualitative Study of Autistic Experiences of Worshipstudia liturgica, vol. 52, no. 2, pp. 219–234Contributions to Journals: Articles
Re-imagining church through autism: A Singaporean Case StudyPractical TheologyContributions to Journals: Articles
Disability theology: a driving force for change?International Journal for the Study of the Christian ChurchContributions to Journals: Editorials
Dyslexia and Reading the BibleJournal of Disability & ReligionContributions to Journals: Articles
Disciples and Friends: Investigations in Disability, Dementia, and Mental HealthBaylor University Press, Waco, Texas. 334 pagesBooks and Reports: Books
Book Review: Tamminga, Koos. Receiving the Gifts of Every Member: A Practical Ecclesiological Case Study on Inclusion and the ChurchJournal of Disability & ReligionContributions to Journals: Reviews of Books, Films and Articles
Book Review: Delighted: what teenagers are teaching the church about joy, by Kenda Creasy Dean, Wesley W. Ellis, Justin Forbes, and Abigail Visco RusertPractical Theology, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 533-534Contributions to Journals: Reviews of Books, Films and Articles
Lament in Times of COVID-19The Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 113-125Contributions to Journals: Articles