The Centre does not have a formal research PhD program. It is however, linked in with the PhD in Divinity (Practical Theology) within which students can focus on key issues within the area of spirituality and health. 

Below you will find more information about current and former PhD students and their research projects.

Aileen Barclay

Thesis title: Bring the Children Home: An educator of the cross reflects on school disaffection

Research: Aileen Barclay lectures part time in Educational Studies in the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen. She has had a long association with State Education as a teacher and manager, particularly in the field of Inclusive Educational Practice. Her research interests lie in exploring the theological implications of school disaffection in a system that often challenges fundamental Christian views and beliefs.

Currently, she is completing a PhD in practical Theology entitled, “Bring the Children Home: An educator of the cross reflects on school disaffection". The thesis sets out to engage with the question: what does faithful Christian discipleship mean for Christian educators working with the important public issue of School disaffection?

Allan Vint

Thesis title: Congregational Health in the Church of Scotland: Study Utilising an Holistic Model of Health/What does it mean to be a healthy church?

Research: Using the metaphor of church as a ‘living body’ and utilising an holistic model of health as a way of addressing the question this work seeks to use the tools and insights from Congregational Study within Practical Theology to examine the ‘Physical’, ‘Mental’, ‘Spiritual’ and ‘Social’ dimensions of health relative to church praxis in Church of Scotland congregations.

Carol Campbell

Thesis title: The Lived Experience of Losing a Child in the Context of Chaplaincy: Pastoral Care Amidst Suffering

Research: Carol Campbell comes to this study from a background of nursing, counselling and ministerial training. She is currently working as a full time Chaplain to the RHSC and the QMH. Her topic of research has arisen over many years of working with deep suffering and grief, but more specifically now as she seeks to care for families and children in the face of suffering and death.

What are the issues surrounding the Why me question, and how does a chaplain support a family through suffering and death... and beyond?

Carol’s study will involve interviewing a number of families. Each one will show the personal journey of suffering and will be used as a window of insight to highlight some of the tensions surrounding theodicy. However, they will also be used to help define new insights into how best pastoral care can be given in the midst of the tensions.

Elahe Hessamfar

Thesis title: "Mental illness" and Christian Care

Research: The aim of this research is to investigate the deeper meaning behind “mental illness” and to evaluate the related care practices from a Christian perspective. As such, it is necessary to evaluate this phenomenon by reflecting on the manifestation of it through a theological lens to discern how God is active in the midst of it, and what He intends to accomplish through it in His ongoing work of redemption. The discernment of meaning will lead to formulation of strategies of actions and practices for the church to respond to the call of God.

Ellen Faubert

Thesis title: How Might Psychiatrists and Chaplains Work Collaboratively? Delivering Spiritual Mental Health Care

Research: This study of the relationship between psychiatrists and chaplains will explore the ways in which chaplaincy and psychiatry can collaborate effectively in the assessment and delivery of spiritual care to people experiencing mental health problems within a Canadian context.

Within my the experience as an experienced mental health chaplain, there is often an unresolved tension between psychiatry and chaplaincy that leads to antipathy, lack of referral and the omission of vital dimensions of spiritual care that require collaboration and synergy between psychiatry and chaplaincy.

Even with the renewed interest on the effects of spirituality today on the mentally ill and the positive outcomes that research has revealed, many psychiatrists remain unconvinced about the use of spirituality in their practice.

Through a series of in-depth interviews with chaplains and psychiatrists working within inpatient mental health facilities in the Toronto area, this project will;

  1. seek to develop a deep understanding of how both of these disciplines understand themselves in relation to spiritual issues
  2. examine how they understand and respond to one another
  3. seek to develop ways of affiliation in which a potentially transformative synergy might be developed between these two vital mental healthcare disciplines
Fiona Work

Thesis title: The Lived Experience of Grief amongst Scottish Men

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing’ (Lewis 1996p. xv)

Research: Fiona has a strong background in community health having worked as a community nurse, midwife and health visitor. Currently she works as a nursing lecturer at The Robert Gordon University.

Fiona is in her third year of an MPhil/ PhD study entitled ‘an exploration of male grief: a hermeneutic phenomenological study’. As an active grief counsellor and lecturer, she is particularly interested in the field of grief, death, dying and bereavement. 

The seed for wishing to engage in this research was sown after finding distinct differences in the overall counselling experience between male and female clients. The male clients appeared to respond to the person-centred environment and had less contact overall. Hours of supervision still have not answered the rationale for this for her and the literature on the topic gave no definitive answers.

Studies appeared to be dominated by gender comparison, stereotyping and there was a dearth of studies focusing on the unique experience of male grief. Consequently, Fiona wishes to explore the lived experience of male grief using their own unique grief stories as data to fill that gap in the literature and perhaps lend some guidance for practitioners in the field of male grief.

Ibidun Daramola

Thesis title: The impact of Western Psychology on the Counselling Ministry of African Churches within the UK: A grounded theory approach to Integration in Pastoral Counselling

Research: A number of the African churches both within Africa and in the Diaspora are rich in their understanding of the bible and the use of the same in ministry. This ministry includes counselling which is the focus of this research. But then they do not seem to be very open to integrate western psychology into their counselling ministries. This thesis seeks to research into the pastoral counselling ministry of the African churches within the United Kingdom as an example of the churches in the Diaspora that have been exposed to the concept of Western psychology

With the use of integrated correlational conversation model, grounded theory methodology and practical theology as an overarching framework, this research will study the impact of this exposure of the African churches to Western psychology and seek to compare this with what prevails in the churches in Africa currently.

Being a grounded theory research methodology, the findings will be allowed to evolve. The thesis will then offer its recommendation depending on the findings of the research. It is expected that the outcome of this research would enrich the curriculum of the churches and theological institutions in Africa as they seek to consider integration between counselling and psychology and or other disciplines as the findings may reveal.

Jim Prust

Thesis title: Disability and the Image of God: The Construction of Disability within Society

Research: What does it mean to be a human being created in the image of God that has a disability? One aspect of human disability is the way in which it is socially constructed. In other words, society is designed in a way that does not consider the effects of biological disability resulting in the disabling of the functionality of certain people within society. In a similar way, theology that does not consider the experience of disability can disable the spirituality of people with that experience. Many of the problems associated with “disabling theology” have been addressed by disability theologians often resulting in an abandoning of traditional theology in a way creates God in a human image that reflects disabled experiences.

This study seeks to address the question of the creation of humanity in the image of God by beginning with traditional theology and through empirical research into the Christian experience of people with disabilities within a church context dialogue on the ways that the traditional theology fails to consider and account for disability. The expected outcome of this dialogue is a revised theology of humanity created in the image of God that considers and accounts for disability. The revised theological understanding then becomes the underpinning for a revised Christian praxis that realizes the place of people with disability in the community of believers.

Liam Waldron

Thesis title: EU Policy and a just Vision of the Human Person: That all may have life and have it to the full

Research: I am interested in a dialogue between theology and secular politics in the European political context, which focuses on the issue of disability. I believe that Christian theology provides invaluable insights for those who formulate social policy on disability in the secular political sphere.

Having worked as a teacher, literacy tutor and campus minister in the past, in 2000 I went to work for National Learning Network, which is the largest non-governmental training agency in Ireland. It assists those people at a disadvantage in the labour market to learn the skills they need to build lasting careers in jobs that reflect their interests and abilities. The majority of learners enrolled on courses have some kind of disability. As a tutor of persons living with disabilities, and having studied theology formally in the past, I was frequently moved to ask myself questions of a theological nature about my work, some of which were questions about the nature of suffering or the meaning of community or the value of hope. For example at the opening of the Special Olympics in Dublin in 2003, Mrs Kennedy-Shriver spoke about the many people with learning disabilities sitting at home wondering why it was that they had no friends. I thought of this in theological terms, as a failure of the type of community we are called to be as followers of Jesus Christ.

Naturally in my work I was subject to policies and procedures that were not founded directly on theological principles but I found it curious that theological and non-theological accounts of the (disabled) human person share the common language of rights and dignity and autonomy. For my dissertation I will work at the ‘boundary wall’ between these two accounts, and with a focus on disability, develop a theological anthropology that can dialogue with political notions of citizenship as they stand in the European political sphere.

So my research will focus on specific EU policies on disability which I will critique from a theological point of view with the help of insights from my dialogue partners which include Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, political philosophers John Rawls and Martha Nussbaum and the late Pope, John Paul II.

Mike Holroyd

Thesis title: Wholeness in the Body of Christ: Inclusion, Society, and the Church

Research: Western society has made significant legislative progress in the last 10 to 15 years in the perceived inclusion of Disabled People into all areas of society. However, the Christian Church has not on the whole reflected this move to full inclusion. Moreover, there has been little theological engagement on issues of equal opportunity for Disabled People. 

My work will attempt to explore the theological frameworks needed to ensure equal opportunity for all – with a particular emphasis on Disabled People. It will draw together experiences of a wide variety of Disabled People and seek to draw upon aspects of liberation theology in charting a way forward for the Church, and identifying a prophetic role that the Church has to play in the wider discourse in society.

Some key concerns are:

  • Drawing on existing theological frameworks which promote a radical re-interpretation of justice and equality eg liberation theology, feminist theology and queer theology.
  • Seeking to be informed by the life stories of Disabled People both within and outwith the Church.
  • Investigating current thought and practice in a number of Christian denominations on the inclusion of disabled People.
  • Exploring interpretations of the Eucharist that signify brokenness and Wholeness in the Body of Christ.
  • Developing original thought and practical guidelines to assist in the Church’s movement from a re-active to pro-active voice on Disability.
  • Being aware of the role of the place of reflexivity in my research as a Disabled Person.

Whilst I continue to enthusiastically engage with theologians who have devoted much time to Disability Theology eg Stanley Hauerwas, Thomas Rennalds and Amos Yong, I am particularly interested in identifying theological contributions from people who have a personal embodied experience of Disability. In a recent lecture to theological students in Bristol I asked if anyone could tell me how many feminist theologians they could think of who are not women - there was no response, and a slightly uncomfortable silence because I asked the question in the context of the exploration of disability Theology.

Whilst there has been a considerable amount of extremely helpful material written about the relationship between Disability and Theology, much has been written by people who do not have a personal embodied experience of disability themselves. If the church is to be prophetic about the full inclusion of disabled People, then we must be able to find ways of not just including, but empowering Disabled people to take full control of the theological discourse that attempts to relate our experiences to the wider narrative of Christianity and spirituality.

Miles Greenford

Thesis title: Spirituality in Public Health within the NHS: Health and Spirituality

Research: This research study is attempting to explore the role of spirituality in relation to health promotion. For the purposes of this study, the context of spirituality is that of nursing in general.

This study intends to identify the main concept or concepts of spirituality currently present within the academic nursing literature, along with their health promotion relationships. Once identified, refine the findings of the literature review for their application in the field of Public Health Nursing in relation to the promotion of health.

Apply the findings in the specific context of promoting physical activity (walking), evaluating the effects of walking on spiritual health and spiritual health on physical activity (walking).

As a Public Health Nurse currently practicing in Scotland, I am aware of the positive impact of walking on the health of individuals, families and communities, in promoting and sustaining health. There is now ample robust evidence supporting the beneficial effects of physical activity across a range of diseases, as well as in the prevention and treatment/recovery process.

I am also aware that current health promotional methods in relation to physical activity, where effective, appear to impact for about 3 months before individuals drop off their physical activities. As a potential action then can spiritual health promotion increase uptake of physical activity rates generally but more so for those whom are politically labelled ‘disadvantaged’?

Can the general 3 month impact of current health promotion techniques be extended with spiritual health promoting actions? Does the physical activity itself undertaken have an effect on the promotion of spiritual health?

Priscilla Oh

Thesis title: Reframing and Witnessing the Lived Experience of Mental Health Problems: The Problem of Suffering and the Christian Community

Research: The fundamental problem of the Christian community to usher a hospitable presence for people with mental health problems is not about practice in itself, but about how we respond to the issue of suffering and pain. This research seeks to wrestle with ways in which the Christian community faithfully responds to the problem of suffering with those who experience mental health problems.

The primary focus of the research is on the narratives of the living voices of mental health problems and their families. By adopting the method of autoethnography and dialogical narrative analysis, the research begins with firsthand experience to bear witness of the life with mental health problem as a starting point and attempt to map our lives that are intricately bound together in the experience of suffering.

It explores the possibilities of a faithful theological response to the issue of suffering and pain identifying through two moments: witnessing through the stories of the life with mental health problems and witnessing the Good News through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Where do we locate the experience of suffering with mental health problems in the redemptive story of the death and resurrection of Jesus? Through narrating the stories of those who suffer from mental health problems and a re-reading of the event of crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the research seeks to think about what it means to live in the redemptive narrative of the new life with those who painfully seek to identify themselves within Christian faith. In so doing, we also seek to think deeply about what it means to truly become a welcoming community of faith.

Sarah C. F. Shea

Thesis title: "What does it mean to be saved?": Evangelicalism and People with Profound and Complex Learning Disabilities

Research: The key question the research project seeks to answer is: ‘What does it mean for people with profound and complex learning disabilities to be saved?’ This question emerges from a reflection on evangelical theology and some inherent issues that become problematic within the lives of people with profound disabilities. Certain formulations of evangelicalism make it appears difficult or even impossible for this group to appropriate the faith necessary for salvation. Whilst this is rarely articulated formally, it is an issue that lurks within the lives of parents and churches as they seek to work through how best to incorporate such lives. The intention of this study is to engage with this tradition and to explore what it might mean for evangelicalism and for people with profound disabilities to understand what the gospel might look like without words. I therefore approach this study as an evangelical who has a calling to understand and minister to the needs of people with profound intellectual disabilities. The particular context that is my focus is the evangelical church of Hong Kong. Whilst the kind of argument I am developing has had much attention within Europe and the US, little attention has been paid to how the issues might work out within the evangelical churches in the Hong Kong SAR. 

Following Swinton’s pioneer effort in researching the spirituality of people with learning disabilities, and his advancement of a critical and faithful stance of undertaking practical theology, this study adopts Swinton and Mowat’s four-stage model of practical theological method. This method integrates theological reflection and qualitative research; specifically it harnesses qualitative research methods into the service of theological reflection, which gives precedence to the generation of faithful performance of the Christian gospel.  

The starting point of the investigation is a concrete pastoral situation of a Hong Kong Alliance church, in which ministers have experienced difficulties in providing spiritual care for people with severe/profound cognitive impairments.

Stage one of the practical theological reflection process will describe the existing practices of spiritual care of this church, and explore them in the light of a recent awareness of the spiritual care of people with learning disability amongst local evangelical churches. Core values and convictions of the worldwide evangelicalism will also be brought into consideration in this exploration. 

Stage two will deepen the above preliminary reflection by entering into dialogue with different sets of material including:

  1. empirical data collected from this church
  2. the ‘evangelization of people with disabilities’ movement in Hong Kong
  3. the mission theology of the Alliance Church in Hong Kong

Stage three will reflect on the theological formulations of the practice, both implicit and explicit. The Alliance mission theology and practice in the context of this church will be critically analysed; and in particular, they will be interrogated by selected theologies of disability, exegetical insights, and Christian doctrinal resources. Eventually, alternative forms of practice and gestures that enable the ecclesial community to re-conceive faithful evangelical responses to this group will be developed in stage four. A trial of such gestures will be conducted in an action research in the selected congregation.