Senior Lecturer

Email Address
Telephone Number
+44 (0)1224 272382
Office Address

Department of Divinity and Religious Studies

KCF19 King’s College

Aberdeen University

Old Aberdeen AB24 3UB

United Kingdom


+44 (0)1224 272382

School of Divinity, History, Philosophy & Art History

Memberships and Affiliations

Internal Memberships

Co-Director of the Centre for Autism and Theology.

External Memberships

I am member of the Liturgy Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church. 

Latest Publications

View My Publications


Research Overview

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. In recent years I have worked 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. 

Current Research

Access Denied: Spirituality at the Intersections of Autism, Ethnic Minority, and Non-Speaking Autism (Jan '24 - Dec '25; funded by the AHRC)

This project seeks to listen to autistic people and their communities – especially non-speakers and Black people – who are marginalised both in society and in autism research. This project researches their spiritual and religious lives. It has been demonstrated that spirituality and religious participation enhance the quality of life of autistic people and their carers, and that both are especially important in Black communities. Stories by autistic people of experiencing the Divine or other spiritual experiences abound, yet there is a persistent claim in the literature that autistic people have a reduced capacity to be spiritual. Access to spirituality and religion is denied to autistic people in various ways: 

  1. By autism theories: some scholars (and autistic people) argue that autistic people cannot be spiritual. This is sometimes explained by the claim that autistic people have no Theory of Mind (ToM, also called ‘mindblindness’), that is, reduced mentalising capacities, despite the fact that ToM has received significant criticism;
  2. By theologies: when the causation of autism is seen as curse from God or ancestors, demon-possession, the sin of the parents, or the result of the Adam and Eve’s ‘Fall’ in paradise;
  3. By religious culture: autistic people testify to difficulties in participating in or even exclusion from church activities and the central act of worship;
  4. By religious practices (closely aligned with religious culture): when activities are set up in a way that are inaccessible (e.g., because of particular forms of social interaction or sensory input).

When intersectionality is added to this, spiritual and religious flourishing may become even harder. Intersectionality refers to the multiple marginalisation due to certain characteristics that come together in one person or group, e.g., being Black and a woman, or being autistic and Black. Indeed, these examples call for the decolonisation of autism itself, when we realise that the stereotypical autistic person is White, male, and a child.

Autism Theology, as an emerging discipline, is ideally suited to address the above concerns. The project will be a major contribution to the discipline, as the issue of spirituality and religious participation is core to theology but has not been a substantial subject of research in Autism Theology. Another major contribution of this project to Autism Theology, and to autism studies broadly, is the focus on marginalised communities. Moreover, the project hopes to contribute to the quality of life of autistic people by highlighting their wishes and needs regarding spirituality and religion to their communities. Finally, this project aims at facilitating the dialogue between Autism Theology and other disciplines. 

The project makes these contributions as follows. The first part of the study entails a cross-disciplinary literature review, evaluating the arguments for the claim that autistic people have a reduced capacity for spirituality. The second and third parts entail two case studies of Christian spirituality and religion (Black communities and non-speakers). Autistic people, their caregivers, and leaders of their religious communities (if they participate in one) will be interviewed about their views and experiences of spirituality and religion in relation to autism, followed by an in-depth theological analysis and discussion. Finally, in addition to an Advisory Group consisting of autistic and ethnic minority scholars, a Stakeholder and Impact Group (SIG) will collaborate on devising strategies to create impact through the stakeholder’s own policies and beyond. SIG members will include both faith-based and professional organisations.

By conducting this specialised research into fundamental questions within Autism Theology, engaging in cross-disciplinary research, and by undertaking a bespoke development programme, undertaking this project will enable the Fellow to become a leading voice in the field.


Sensescaping the Liturgy: The Role of the Senses for Autistic and Non-Autistic Worshipers – An Interdisciplinary Interpretation (Until June 2024)

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

Past Research

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.


Teaching Responsibilities

I coordinate the new Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip) in Theology and Disability

I also regularly teach, contribute to, and/or coordinate the following (selected) courses:

What Does It Mean to be Human? (DR1045)

Sacramental Theology (DR251V, DR351V)

Pastoral Care (DR202W, DR302W)

Pastoral Theology: Trauma, Suffering and Healing (DR305J, Dr405J)

Disability: Reflective Practices in Context (DR555B)

Dissertation in Theology and Disability



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