Our PhD students conduct research in a wide variety of subject areas--to find out more about their work click on the tabs below.
- Andrew Borror
What did you study before coming to Aberdeen, and how does it feed into your current programme?I began my undergraduate coursework in the sciences, studying Exercise Science and Mathematics. I went on to complete a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology, where I used mathematical models and machine learning to predict oxygen uptake during exercise. While completing my graduate studies, I found myself pondering the ‘big’ questions undergirding my discipline: What is health? And what are the appropriate limits to its pursuit? My desire to answer these questions led me to Duke Divinity School, where I intended to study for only one year before returning to complete a Ph.D. in Human Movement Science. However, upon arriving at Duke, I fell in love with theology, ethics, philosophy and even Church history! I decided to switch tracks—to stay at Duke for an extra year to complete a full master’s degree and then venture on to Aberdeen, where I am grateful for the opportunity to continue thinking theologically about health and physical fitness.
What are you studying/researching (details about your project are very welcome)? Please let us know who your supervisor is as well. I am working with Brian Brock to posit a Christian ethic of physical fitness and exercise, asking: What does it mean to be ‘fit’ theologically speaking? How do our bodies and their limits relate to our identities? What does it mean to care for bodily health? And what are the challenges to doing so faithfully in contemporary fitness culture? My project aims to reframe the conversation about physical fitness—which tends to be individualistic and biomedical—by shifting the focus away from self-improvement and toward creaturely communion. I hope to provide more robustly theological descriptions of the body, health, and exercise, than are currently on offer. My aim is to enable faithful bodily care by foregrounding key theological concerns that often go overlooked in today’s fitness climate: the communal nature of the body and its health; the importance of Sabbath; and God’s affinity for revealing grace through the unexpected and the lowly.
What do you hope to do after finishing your programme? I hope to serve the Church as a Christian educator, working in the academy, the local parish, or the Christian Study Center movement.
What do you enjoy most about living and studying in Aberdeen?I have greatly enjoyed the rich intellectual community at Aberdeen—the doctoral seminars, meetings with other students, the stimulating conversations I have had with my advisor, and the general ethos of Aberdeen’s Theological Ethics department. As a distance student, I have not been able to experience living in Scotland, but I am looking forward to visiting this summer! I am also grateful for the opportunity to partner with Duke Divinity School, where I have continued to take courses, serve as a preceptor, and conduct research as a Theology, Medicine, and Culture Research Fellow.
- Daniel Cameron
Thesis title: The Doctrine of Order and the Church in the Theology of Thomas F. Torrance
Research: My project focuses on the ecclesiology of Scottish theologian, Thomas Forsyth Torrance. More specifically, I will be examining how his understanding of the concept of order relates to the nature, structure, and action of the church in the world in order to further Torrance studies and to provide a theological foundation to present ministry practice.
Prior to beginning my studies at the University of Aberdeen, I earned my BA in Theology from the Moody Bible Institute and my MA in Systematic Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I am an ordained minister with the Moody Church in Chicago, Il and currently serve full time as a Jr. High Bible teacher and Spiritual Life Coordinator at Calvary Academy in South Holland, Il. I am an adjunct instructor at The Moody Bible Institute in the theology department and at Trinity Christian College in the education department. I am the author of Flesh and Blood: A Dogmatic Sketch Concerning the Fallen Nature View of Christ's Human Nature (Wipf and Stock, 2016), "Thomas Forsyth Torrance: Ecumenical Theologian" (Christianity Today, Christian History: People), and multiple articles in Lexham Bible Dictionary. My research interests are as follows: T.F. Torrance, Karl Barth, H.R. Mackintosh, Christology, Ecclesiology, and Prolegomena.
- Jiseung Choi
Thesis title: Post-exilic poetic literature in Yehud, and the “theology of the poor”
Research: Prior to beginning my PhD in 2015, I received a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering at the Seoul National University (South Korea), a M.Div. and Th.M. at Chongshin Seminary and University (South Korea), and a M.Th. in Biblical Studies at the University of Edinburgh. I am working with Professor Joachim Schaper on a project which how the “theology of the poor” was formed during the post-exilic period, especially in the poetic literature. My research interests include the Psalms (and its formation), the prophetic literature, and the Israelites community in the post-exilic period.
- Robert Costello
Thesis title: The Influence of Jewish Traditions about a Mosaic Heavenly Ascent on the Nature of the Angelic Powers, the Cosmology, and the Theology of Ephesians
Research: Prior to starting at Aberdeen, I completed a Pre-doctoral Biblical Interpretation program at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, USA. My thesis was titled “The Influence of Ezekiel the Tragedian’s Exagōgē on the Writing of Hebrews.” My current research involves the influence of both Exagōgē and another Jewish tradition of a Mosaic heavenly ascent, which is reflected in the Babylonian Talmud, on the writing of Ephesians, with an emphasis on how these Jewish heavenly ascent traditions may have influenced the author’s cosmology, theology and his understanding of the nature of the heavenly powers. I hope to publish my work and contribute to the scholarly discussion in the area of biblical studies, with an emphasis on how extra-biblical writings and traditions may have influenced the authors of the New Testament.
Personal: I am retired from the U. S. Navy. In 2017, I received an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Regent University, where I was presented with the Charles Holman Biblical Studies Award. I also hold an M.S. in Systems Technology from the Naval Postgraduate School (1991), a B. A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame (1984), and a B. S. in Physics from the University of Notre Dame (1983). I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA with my wife Patricia.
- Jack Droppers
Thesis Title: Theology of Suffering in Popular Art
Research: My research asks questions of popular art (mainly film, TV, and music) and how it interacts with the pain/suffering of the creator, characters, etc. Drawing upon the study of this interaction with pain, the research will attempt to develop a pop art explanation for the role of suffering and where God is in said suffering. This will then offer as an invitation to see the Church's unique role in our attentiveness and reaction to the suffering in the world.
- Kaitlyn Dugan
Thesis title: Toward an Apocalyptic Theology of the Cross
Research: My doctoral research focuses upon the implications of Pauline New Testament apocalyptic studies for the task of systematic theology. My thesis primarily engages New Testament scholars including but not limited to Ernst Käsemann, J. Louis Martyn, Martinus de Boer, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa and seeks to probe their convictions concerning the central role of the cross in God’s conflict with the anti-God powers of Sin and Death. I’m primarily interested in the shape that an apocalyptic soteriology might take specifically in relation to questions of power and how apocalyptic theology uniquely contributes to theories of God’s redemptive activity in and for the world.
Personal: Kaitlyn is the Curator of the Barth Collection for the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. Her work involves both maintaining and developing Princeton Seminary’s Barth Research Collection along with managing the daily programs and operations of the Barth Center. She earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in philosophy and political science from Taylor University, a Masters of Arts in theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is also a member of St. James Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Harlem, New York City.
- Topher Endress
Thesis title: Literal and Theoretical Constructive Ecclesial Theology: Building a Church on Inherent Inclusion
Research: As a former minister with great love for church practice, I approach my research from a place of concern and hope. I am concerned with the lack of anthropological theology within the bulk of Christian traditions and expressions, which leads to structures which are ableism in form and function. Those with disabilities of any sort tend to be excluded, or, included only as an afterthought, in whatever manner of church expression one might seek.
I carry hope, as well, though, that a new focus on disability and theology can lead to an emergent praxis which embodies an inclusive and socially-conscious gathered community. The future of the Church, which is at once theoretical-universal and contextual-local, must be rooted in new expressions of anti-ableism.
To do this research, I am focusing on the historic architecture of major movements in Western Christianity and the resultant theological changes these architectures ushered in. I am also working with the emerging Friendship House project in Aberdeen, committed to bridging the gaps in inclusion, community, and faith-agency here and now. Taken together, my research will lead to new constructions (theological, structural, and architectural) of church modeling.
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership/Supervision at Purdue University (Indiana, USA) and my Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University (Tennessee, USA), where I met my wife. Most recently, I worked as a commissioned minister in Austin, Texas, and am still pursuing ordination in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with the goal of one day educating future church leaders on disability theology and inclusive practice.
- David A. Escobar Arcay
Thesis title: Theologia (God in se, God ad intra) and Economia (God pro nobis, God ad extra) in the Theologies of Robert W. Jenson and John B. Webster: The Importance of the Distinction in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology with Special Attention to the Doctrines of Creation and Providence.
Research: My research interests are in the area of Christian dogmatics particularly the expressions, treatments, meanings and implications of Trinitarian theological discourses in contemporary modern systematic theology. I am primarily interested in the impact of the doctrine of the Trinity in systematics, the church, the Christian life, cultural engagement and the intellectual life. I am working under Professor Dr. Philip Ziegler (Chair in Christian Dogmatics). My project centres on two major twenty-first century master dogmaticians (British Anglican theologian John Webster and American Lutheran theologian Robert W. Jenson) whose legacy will be analysed and evaluated within the so called renaissance in Trinitarian theology as prompted by German theologians Karl Rahner and Karl Barth. My project is part of a life-long pursuit to highlight and incorporate the contribution and need of doctrine in the life of the church and in spiritual formation practices. An equal pursuit is the intersection of systematic, contextual and constructive theological discourses as they pertain towards the need for theological metaphysics in the construction of doctrine and the relationships between God's being and God’s action, God and the world, Creator, creation and creature. Other interests include the theological interpretation of Scripture, Christian ethics, the intersection of theology, culture and education (the church, the world and the academy), the history and philosophy of religious education and multidisciplinary approaches to the study of systematic theology and the practice of pastoral and spiritual theology.
Personal: Dr. Escobar Arcay was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico (United States commonwealth). Having attended and graduated from the public schools in the Caribbean island, he was then educated in the Unites States at the University of Rhode Island (B.A. Speech Communications/Public Speaking), Rhode Island College (M.A.T., Teaching English as a Second Language), Harvard University Graduate School of Education (Ed.M., Administration, Planning and Social Policy) and Boston College (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Educational Change). He has served as a teacher and administrator in the public schools. He has also worked as a United States Citizenship instructor as well as English as a second language and bilingual educator in various venues such as community colleges and non-profit community organizations. Currently, Dr. Escobar works as an international associate professor of education, leadership, culture and change at a private higher education institution in the state of Florida (USA).
Prior to entering into the Ph.D. in Divinity program at Aberdeen, Dr. Escobar completed Master of Theology (Th.M.) degrees at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan) in Systematic Theology and in Reformation and Post-Reformation Theology and a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Christianity and Classical Studies (summa cum laude, Western Classics Award) at Knox Seminary (Fort Lauderdale, Florida). While residing in the U.S. northeast (New England), Dr. Escobar completed a Th.M. in Theology and Culture (summa cum laude, The Christian Thought Award); a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) in Biblical Studies and Christian Ethics (summa cum laude, The Presidential Award) and a M.A. in Urban Ministry (summa cum laude) all at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, Massachusetts). Dr. Escobar is a highly passionate believer in the power of education to enhance the human condition, improve society for the disadvantaged and equip the church. He has served the church as a Sunday school teacher, local church Bible instructor and is currently pursuing ordination while occasionally preaching, teaching and speaking in various churches and seminaries in the United States and throughout the world.
- Danielle Hayward
Thesis title: The ‘actualisation of confession’: Karl Barth’s insistence upon proclamation as a dynamic reality.
Research: Prior to enrolling at the University of Aberdeen, I completed both BTh (2012) and MTh (2013) degrees at the Queen’s University of Belfast. My MTh dissertation focused on the ecclesiology of the Confessing Church and was entitled, ‘The German Confessing Church of the 1930s: reaction against or realistic reinterpretation of the Body of Christ?’ During the process of writing this, I became interested in the theology of Karl Barth upon whom my research at Aberdeen now focuses.
I am currently working under Professor Paul Nimmo within Barth’s doctrine of revelation. My research seeks to clarify Barth’s understanding of the creation and deployment of formal confessions of the Church with the aim of exploring how these confessions function as decisive and formal documents in view of their relationship to the dynamic truth that exists behind them. My research also hopes to contribute to contemporary discussions in ecclesiology by discerning how the Church relates to the truth statements it sets forth and claims as its own.
- Michael Hedrick
Research: My research brings together New Testament and early Christian literature with the literature and archaeology of the ancient Mediterranean world, with an emphasis on the complex interplay of narrative, ritual, and identity in early Christian communities. My doctoral research - under the supervision of Professor Tomas Bokedal - explores the role of ritual and narrative in the processes of early Christian self-definition and identity-formation in context. In particular, my project utilizes narrative-critical methodology to examine depictions of memory, remembrance, and forgetting in the New Testament, with an eye towards comparative analysis of similar themes and motifs in the life and literature of Second Temple Judaism and the broader Greco-Roman world. Ultimately, my research seeks to contribute to our understanding of the ways in which early Christian communities interacted with pre-existing narrative and ritual paradigms in the course of their attempts to conceptualize their sense of identity as individuals and communities in relation to the world around them.
Prior to my studies at Aberdeen, I earned degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (B.S., Film), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A., Biblical and Near Eastern Languages and Archaeology; M.Div., Biblical Studies), and Emory University (Th.M., New Testament). When I don't have my nose in a book, I enjoy spending time outdoors with my wife and son.
- Daniel Jesse
Thesis title: The Religious End of Sorrow: Resurrecting Sadness through Liturgical Vulnerability
Research: Working under the supervision of Leon van Ommen and Brian Brock, I am researching the role of sadness, sorrow and grief in Christian worship. Through examination of the historical liturgies and funeral practices coupled with the works of theologians, I am tracing the negation of sadness in our worship which then leads to an inability to give sadness the proper place in our lives.
I am constructing a phenomenology of sadness inside of this to foster a better understanding of what St. Paul describes as "Godly Sadness" in 2nd Corinthians 7:10. My goal is to show that a communal liturgy that allows mourning, grief and sadness to enter the world does not negate the joy that God has given us, but augments it. Equally important to this is recapturing the prophetic nature of liturgy which calls us to repentance and communion with God and the rest of humanity.
- Brent Johnston
Thesis: How the Theology of Karl Barth and Paul Tillich Help Interpret and Critique Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prison Theology
Research: I realize that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not speak highly of Tillich’s approach to theology; nevertheless, I do believe Bonhoeffer to be making a Tillichian like move with respect to his assertion that the world has come of age by Jesus Christ, no longer in need of a nanny to be looked after where the Church provides the answers and the faithful believe without questioning as in the Middle Ages. Because of the Enlightenment, the world has come of age, matured, no longer needing to appeal to God for answers provided by religion. Bonhoeffer saw this situation as an opportunity for Christianity to shed its religious clothing, as he reminded Eberhard Bethge in a letter from prison, “Christ calls us not to a new religion but to life.” Given this religionless situation, what does worldly Christianity look like? “Who is Jesus Christ for us, today” Bonhoeffer asks.
I believe Paul Tillich is doing something similar in his answering theology for those who are Christianity’s cultural despisers. Moreover, both Bonhoeffer and Tillich are doing what Paul did in Athens. Paul started with the human situation and then related the Good News to what the Athenians worshiped in ignorance. Tillich’s method of correlation was with philosophy, biology, and psychology. Bonhoeffer’s method of correlation is with the natural sciences like physics, philosophy, and sociology. But, in each, the Good News is grounded in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. For Tillich it is in the concept of New Being, courage to be, and theonomy. For Bonhoeffer it is in the concept of Jesus - the man for others, vicarious suffering, and the world come of age.
Thus, it is the intention of this thesis to demonstrate how the theology of Paul Tillich can help interpret Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prison theology, particularly the concepts of New Being, courage to be, and theonomy so that Jesus Christ is Lord even in the religionless situation.
- Daniel Karistai
Research: The South in the United States is concretely seen in this country's cultural imaginary as inherently paradoxical. How can a region of this country have an international reputation for both its brand of hospitality and its long-standing history of racial oppression? While these two facets of "The South" and southern identity appear to contradict each other, this research seeks to make sense of it by examining the central concerns of "southern hospitality" that have to do with protecting the sovereignty of the host. This thesis will then pivot and interrogate "southern hospitality" with a theology of hospitality grounded in both kenosis and The Eucharist; but not before recognizing Christianity's own complicity in enforcing estrangements and participating racial oppression from the antebellum period through Jim Crow, Civil Rights Movement, and today's resistance to Black Lives Matter.
I completed my MTh in Applied Theology through International Baptist Theological Seminary, accredited by the University of Wales. Before that I earned a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. I currently live in New Orleans, LA and work full time in Information Technology as well as teach a couple of online courses in both philosophy and theology.
- Benjamin Kim
Research: My research seeks to investigate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s missional theology. Bonhoeffer is often considered as someone who did not have a formal missional theology, thus not having much to say on the matter, but was more concerned with the battle against the German Church and its harmful influences. However, this thesis seeks to show that mission was a central motivation throughout his life and thought and are constructive in shaping his ecclesiology and his ethic of obedience.
I received an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and an S.T.M. from Boston University School of Theology. I am a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and have a variety of pastoral and chaplaincy experiences.
- Alex Mason
Research: My research explores a Reformation-era theory of resistance to authority called the doctrine of the lesser magistrate, which was introduced in the Magdeburg Confession of 1550. This doctrine teaches that in certain scenarios when a ruler has become an incorrigible tyrant, he has abdicated his claim to legitimacy and relinquished his de jure status in exchange for that of a de facto magistrate. Consequently, the doctrine holds that those magistrates with lesser authority under the illegitimate magistrate may defy and resist him (and his unjust laws) for the sake of protecting others. By suffusing the ethical conception of political engagement with a thentofore atypical configuration of the freedom of individual conscience and a duty to resist injustice, the Confession offers us a usefully clarifying window into the West’s transition into modern democratic politics. In order to bring the doctrine into conversation with more recent political theory/theology, I am examining the socio-political and theological aspects of the Confession through a lens crafted from the biopolitical theory of philosopher Giorgio Agamben, whose homo sacer theory provides an applicable metanarrative about the abuse of political power in a fallen world. My purpose for this project is to excavate a theological/ethical understanding of submission and resistance for faithful Christian living in post-Christian societies. In a time when the ideas of resistance and revolution are discussed with increasing frequency, I hope this project will be helpful to anyone who seeks to think carefully and biblically about these issues.
Personal: I am blessed with a wife and two daughters. Prior to moving to Aberdeen, I completed an MA in Christian Ethics at Southeastern Seminary, an MDiv at Southern Seminary, and an MA in Public Policy and a ThM in Church History at Liberty University. My current research at Aberdeen is the result of a long convergence between my interests in political theory and Christian theology. In my free time, I am an amateur architectural photographer.
- Matthew Mason
Thesis title: Human Flourishing in the Moral Theology of John Webster
Research: I am working under the supervision of Professor Paul Nimmo to explore how the late John Webster’s fundamental dogmatic commitments shaped his account of the moral field within which human action takes place.
I am an ordained Anglican minister, a Fellow of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics Research Institute, and a Fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians.
- Nathan McConnell
Thesis title: ‘Prisoners of Hope’: Asylum Seeking and the Christian Mission in Malta
Research: My research explores the theological, political and ecclesiological ramifications of irregular migration and asylum seeking. More specifically, the use and role of containment for those seeking asylum to the European Union. Part of this research involves ethnographic/phenomenological analysis of North and East African migrants and the complications of their entry, acceptance and integration.
Previous to my PhD project, I completed my MTh in Practical Theology and Christian Ethics at King’s College, University of Aberdeen under the direction of Brian Brock and Chris Brittain.
- Daniel Mcdowell
Thesis title: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth
Research: My doctoral work, taken under Professor Paul Nimmo, is a focused comparative analysis of Schleiermacher and Barth's pneumatologies as set forth primarily in Christian Faith and the Church Dogmatics with a constructive aspect that attempts to come to a more complete doctrine of the Holy Spirit for the church, and the Reformed tradition in particular. The comparative aspect will use several sub-themes of pneumatology as a heuristic lens with which both pneumatologies can be compared, defended, and ultimately drawn together.
The constructive aspect of the research would seek to address the problem of subjectivity for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This flows naturally out of the comparative aspect of the research, as the problem of subjectivity, and turning theology into anthropology, lies at the very heart of Barth’s criticism and rejection of Schleiermacher, and is also perhaps the key problem for pneumatology in general.
Personal: Daniel is an ordained ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently serving on session at historic First Presbyterian Church “Old South” in Newburyport MA. He is also under care of the Presbytery of Northern New England as he pursues pastoral ordination. He was educated at Central Washington University (B.A., history), and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.A., Theology; MDiv.; ThM, Theology), where he also worked as a Byington Scholar and the Semlink Theology Teaching Fellow. He and his wife have two children and reside on the North Shore of Boston.
- Rubens Ramiro Muzio
Thesis title: Godliness and Sanctification in Early Modern Protestant Spirituality
Research: This study envisions a roundtable conversation, particularly among leading Puritan thinkers within the late seventeenth century, gathered together in a panel discussion. Relatively unknown but remarkable devotional writers - Joseph Alleine, William Bridge, Thomas Brooks, Anthony Burgess, Jeremiah Burroughs, John Flavel, Walter Marshall, Thomas Watson, Thomas Boston, among others who wrote major works on doctrine and devotion in Early Modern Protestantism - will be, metaphorically speaking, invited to discuss specific elements concerning Christian life development and the doctrine of Sanctification.
Rubens Ramiro Muzio graduated from the Southern Presbyterian Seminary in Campinas with a B.A. in Theology. He has a Th.M. in Pastoral Theology from Calvin Seminary in Michigan and a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) in Pastoral Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. He is the author of ”O DNA da Liderança Cristã” (The DNA of Christian Leadership), “O DNA da Vida Cristã” (The DNA of Christian Life), and “Jornada de Fé” (The Journey of Faith) among other books.
- Madeleine Parkes
Thesis title: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’: How do modern healthcare chaplains practically address the spiritual needs of non-religious patients, and what theological challenges do they overcome in order to do this?
Research: Traditional religious adherence in UK society declines, yet many people would still consider a spiritual dimension to life important, whether or not they believe in a God or higher power. There are also an increasing number of people who would consider themselves not spiritual at all, yet in my experience there still remains an existential struggle around hope, meaning and ‘big questions’ that need to be answered without reference to religion. This is especially true during times of crisis and ill-health.
This research is primarily concerned with moving the debate around the relationship between spirituality and healthcare forward, moving from conceptual ideas about ‘what is spirituality?’ to practical implementation of spirituality in healthcare - what does it look like in a hospital setting when delivered by chaplains? As part of this, I will be looking at the theological challenges chaplains face when they address an atheist or non-religious patient and how this impacts their approach.
I am currently working as a Spiritual Care Facilitator in the chaplaincy department of a large mental health NHS Trust in the West Midlands of England. Prior to beginning my PhD I gained my undergraduate degree in Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham and subsequently trained in clinical research at post-graduate level. I have also enjoyed additional training in counselling and psychotherapy which I find valuable to my pastoral work.
I have contributed to the nationwide discussions on spirituality and mental health through articles and conference presentations, and have recently completed a book during my time in paediatric chaplaincy entitled Multifaith Care of Sick and Dying Children and Their Families (2014 Jessica Kingsley). My current research aims to contribute to the developing role of the chaplain in hospital who is serving an increasingly secular and diverse society.
- Martin Phillips
Research: My research, under the supervision of Prof. Tom Greggs, attends to the relationship between repentance and holiness in the theology of John Wesley by drawing out his rootedness in Augustine. Wesley presents a timely and necessary corrective amidst problematic trends within and without contemporary Christianity. Reading Wesley's account of holiness—or, as it’s more notoriously understood, 'Christian perfection’ presents a striking assertion that acknowledging human finitude through repentance is the place and ground of holiness. This account of holiness depicts a call to continual submission and self-effacement, to a life that constantly situates oneself in overflowing gratitude. My working hypothesis is that holiness, or Christian perfection, presents a constructive and critical way to understand the particularity of the Christian life and the immediacy of salvation upon social and individual transformation.
Prior to this project, I earned a MTh in systematic theology from the University of Aberdeen and a BS in social studies from Indiana Wesleyan University. My Master's thesis dealt with Paul Tillich's doctrine of justification. My wife and I both are driven by concern for education as a means towards healing and transformation. While I explore this in an academic setting, she teaches primary school in a nearby town. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, fishing, and following Michigan sports (Go Tigers!).
- James Wesly Sam
What did you study before coming to Aberdeen, and how does it feed into your current programme? I have completed postgraduate studies in Theology as well as Social Work. My Theological training starting from Bishop’s College (Kolkata) and the training in social work within the Indian context continues to help me in deepening my understanding of the problems faced by individuals made invisible and confined to the margins of society. The potency of hope in making people resilient fascinated me since my Master of Theology studies at United Theological College. Further, my interactions with persons with visual impairment through a Christian Mission Organisation (Mission to the Blind) helped me to ask questions about the role of hope in making people resilient amidst loss and this has led to the current research project.
What are you studying/researching (details about your project are very welcome)? Please let us know who your supervisor is as well. My supervisor is Dr Brian Brock and my preliminary title is; Theology of Hope Out of Blindness: A Practical and Ministerial Investigation of Christian Hope Amidst Loss.
Visually impaired persons in India lack access to employment opportunities and so live in extreme poverty. For most begging is their only means for survival. Persons with blindness are often confined within closets of despair, rejection, pity, manipulation, humiliation and traumatic experiences. They are often treated as objects of charity and recipients of care, incapable of being creative. The best efforts of even disability theologies are limited in scope if they argue only for enabling access, equality, embracing diversity. What is required is an ever-progressing transformation towards a world where the gifts the Blind are able to share are nurtured, bring to fruition and the Blind are able to flourish with their Blindness.
Finding meaning in the context of blindness is not easy and many resign to accepting it as their fate or their lot for their sinfulness or lack of faith. The writings of the theologian John M. Hull document his personal journey of sight loss and finally complete blindness. Hull’s experience of Blindness definitely transformed his theology and has brought out a theology emerging from his experience of Blindness. Hull writes about his own experience of going blind and also surveys the helpful and not so helpful ways of understanding blindness and disability of others. Hull came to embrace blindness as a “a strange, dark and mysterious gift from God”. Hull’s work is a rich and underappreciated exploration of the experience of blindness, and offers many helpful insights into nuances of sharing life with persons with blindness and what it means to flourish with Blindness. Hull believed that healing comes through acceptance and hope, and lived out this faith by discovering meaning within blindness rather than its absence. Hull calls blindness something that he did not want, yet ultimately came to understand as a gift, a gift from God. The theology that emerges from the experience of blindness stands as an offer of a deeper understanding of hope amidst loss that is of wide relevance to the church as a whole.
What do you hope to do after finishing your programme? I will be going back to India to continue my teaching at Bishop’s College, Kolkata. I also wish to work in the area of pastoral counselling and training laity in the ministry of pastoral care. Further, I would also plan to engage both academically and practically in the area of blindness and disability so that persons with disabilities will find rightful opportunities to flourish within the Church and wider society.
What do you enjoy most about living and studying in Aberdeen? Interacting with people from diverse background; walking around the city and visiting different places around Scotland.
- Rahel Siebald
What did you study before coming to Aberdeen, and how does it feed into your current programme?Both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees were in the discipline of theology. Thus, they were providing me with a broad background and knowledge of theology for my current studies in the field of theological ethics.
What are you studying/researching (details about your project are very welcome)? Please let us know who your supervisor is as well. My research focuses on the origins and impacts of managerial leadership theories and the question of whether these should be incorporated into church life. We live in a time where it has become normal to perceive all sorts of organizations and areas of our lives as something that needs to be managed. Christians likewise can end up understanding the church like a business that needs to hunt for growth and efficiency. The idea of developing and training leaders is one form this can take. My project starts out with the observation that it is for us almost impossible to leave the managerial view behind. Yet, I believe that the Christian resources of Scripture and tradition can teach us another perspective on what it means to be church and what it means to be pastors in the church. One way of a different framework of thinking about church seems to me considering the practices of prophecy and discernment when it comes to the question of how churches can find guidance.My project is situated at the intersection between ethics, ecclesiology, and practical theology. And more broadly I’m interested in questions around authority, technocracy, political theology, and the intertwinement of sociology and theology. My supervisor is Prof. Brian Brock.
What do you hope to do after finishing your programme? With my research being invested in what it means to be a church, I would hope to be in some way part of a church as a pastor or in another form and/or to teach students in divinity to become the next generation of pastors and teachers.
What do you enjoy most about living and studying in Aberdeen?I’m very grateful for a diverse, welcoming, intellectually sharp but at the same time very humble community in the divinity department. I have learned and continue to learn so much from students around and enjoy an environment where the questions of the church are not excluded from academic theology.
- Jared Stacy
What did you study before coming to Aberdeen, and how does it feed into your current programme? Before Aberdeen, I spent nearly a decade in pastoral ministry in the United States. My theological education was tailored towards that end. Much of my work now is an effort to understand and repair various aspects of my own tradition. It’s a work of self-examination as much as anything.
What are you studying/researching (details about your project are very welcome)? Please let us know who your supervisor is as well. Presently, my work involves understanding the theological undercurrents of Evangelicalism in the United States which intersect with the evangelical penchant for political conspiracy theories. I’m studying under Professors Tom Greggs and Brian Brock.
What do you hope to do after finishing your programme? I hope to contribute work that changes conditions “on the ground” be that in the Church, the social sphere of American culture & democracy or elsewhere. Christian theology is not a mere intellectual exercise, but rather finds its fullest expression in the lives of those who confess the faith. To that end part of my being here at Aberdeen as been preparatory to learn how we might ask better, formative theological questions together as the people of God in and for the world.
What do you enjoy most about living and studying in Aberdeen? Aberdeen has a rich history that sets it apart. The collaborative community here is truly remarkable. As an American expat with a family, the chance to live, worship, and learn from the people of Scotland is really a once in a lifetime opportunity.
- Anthony Stiff
Thesis title: Befriending the Invisible Stranger at the Table: Toward a Theology of Food-Related Disabilities
Research: I am working under Professor John Swinton in the area of disability theology. The research I am doing has an intersectional quality to it. It utilizes several disciplines, including: disability theory, disability theology, food theory, theology of food, and food in the Christian tradition (looking specifically at monastic practices and early reformation eucharistic theologies). As an exercise in Practical Theology my research also explores food-related practices in the Corinthian body and in congregations today.
The church in via is beset by many ism's and phobia's that obscure its true form. Among them, ableism, "the ideological hypervaluation of ableness and the ways in which such norms of abled and disabled identity are given force," (Fiona Kumari Campbell, Keywords for Disability Studies) has left a legacy that is less than hospitable within the Christian tradition toward individuals whose particular embodiment's are neither anticipated, understood, or celebrated. Nevertheless, I believe there are rich theological anthropologies and food-related practices that once heard clearly can offer wisdom for the late modern church's food-related practices.
By asking these simple questions: whose God is the God we worship and whose Jesus do we follow? (see John Swinton, "Who is the God We Worship? Theologies of Disability; Challenges and New Possibilities); and why did God create a world in which every living creature must eat? (see Norman Wirzba, Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating) we can begin to imagine what a theology of food-related disabilities looks like. And, in our practice of shared meals, we can begin to befriend the invisible strangers at our tables, and receive the gift of their friendship as well.
Personal: I have a Doctor of Ministry degree from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI in the area of spiritual formation. My Advisor was Chuck DeGroat. My thesis title was, "Worship as Public Truth: Toward a Liturgical-Missional Ecclesiology for Evangelical Congregational Leaders." I also have a Masters of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA in the area of urban missiology. I am presently an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with over eighteen years of ministry experience across the U.S.A. My family comes from Sacramento, California where I served as an Associate Pastor for the past seven and half years at a large twelve hundred person congregation. I am married to Jessica Stiff, and we have two children (Cali, nine years old; Liam, six years old). Our son Liam has a food-related disability. When Liam was one he was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune illness called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE). One of the symptoms of EE is that individuals can also have life-threatening allergic reactions to a variety of foods which create challenges for them to share meals with others in a number of settings, both public and sacred. Other food-related disabilities include individuals with Crohn's disease, severe forms of Celiacs, Type Two Diabetes, and according to some disability scholars anorexia and obesity.
- HN Vo
Thesis title: Should the church use media in discipleship to youth?
Research: Digital media, especially the Internet, has permeated our everyday lives, especially the lives of youth who grow up surrounded by digital media. However, it seems that the church has either missed the importance of media in the life of the youth or does not know what to do about it. As one who has been ministering to youth for quite a number of years, I seek to study this phenomenon deeply in order to assist the church in discipling the youths of this digital age. The aim of this research is to provide an understanding of how digital media affects the communication of the gospel to youth and to point towards some ways forward for the church to practically disciple youth in the digital age.
I completed MTh in Theological Ethics at the University of Aberdeen before starting PhD research under Dr Brian Brock. I also received a Master of Divinity and a Bachelor of Computer Science and Engineering before coming to Aberdeen. I had eight-years working experience in software industry and also served as a youth worker at my local church.
- Luman Wing
Thesis Title: Epigenetic and Theological Perspectives on Addiction Research
Research: There is substantial evidence that prolonged stress or even a single traumatic experience can lead to persistent neurobiological and behavioural changes. One of these changes is addictive behavior, which is associated with epigenetic changes that result in altered gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence. These epigenetic changes may result in the abnormal responses to environmental stimuli that may lead an individual to addictive behavior. The epigenetic changes involve a memory component and an inability to extinguish unwanted behavioural responses, particularly long-term memory effects involved in addiction.
Current research in understanding of neurobiological circuits and epigenetic mechanisms that mediate substance abuse, has found that activating this circuit periodically may cause relapse of drug-seeking behavior. There is an emerging consensus that the best treatment strategies engage the circuits involved in behavioural inhibition, coupled with pharmacological manipulations designed to target those circuits, with the goal of creating lasting behavioural inhibition. However, it is important to determine if spiritual transformation also engages the circuits involved in behavioural inhibition, and whether continual spiritual experiences either complement or supplant these other treatment strategies. An epigenetic assessment of behavioural inhibition may determine the efficacy of spiritual transformation.
Due to the changeable dynamics of epigenetic mechanisms that mediate substance abuse, behavioural inhibition may also have a theological foundation, particularly as it related the sin nature of man. In the fallen state of man, early-life adversity may be profoundly affected by spiritual transformation as this implicates epigenetic alterations, consisting of molecular modifications that alter gene expression. Through spiritual experiences, creating lasting behavioural inhibition as a result of epigenetics to approach memory suppression may be a particularly useful avenue to pursue in designing treatments for disorders that involve failures of inhibition, such as substance abuse.