Professor John Swinton

Professor John Swinton
Professor John Swinton
Professor John Swinton

BD, PhD (Aberdeen), RMN (Registered Mental Nurse),
RNMD (Registered Nurse for People with Learning Disabilities)

Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies

Email Address
Telephone Number
+44 (0)1224 273224
Office Address

School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, King's College, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen. AB24 3UB

School of Divinity, History, Philosophy & Art History

External Memberships

I am a former member of the AHRC panel review committee, the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology, the International Academy of Practical Theology and the American Academy of Religion. I am also a member of the Scottish Association of Healthcare Chaplains and a registered member of the NMC. (Nursing and Midwifery Council) I  sit on the National Board of Social Responsibility within the national Church of Scotland and the local boards of mission and ministry.

I am curretly one of the editors of the Journal of Health and Social Care Chaplaincy. I am a former editor of Contact: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Pastoral Studies (Contact (Now re-titled Practical Theology) is the leading journal of practical theology within the United Kingdom).I was the founding editor of the Scottish Journal of Healthcare Chaplains. I sit on the editorial board of various other leading pastoral journals in Britain and the United States including: The Journal of Religion, Disability and Health, Contact, The Scottish Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, The Journal of Healthcare Chaplaincy.


Research Overview

Psalm 147 The foundation for much of my research and teaching has emerged from my background in nursing, ministry and healthcare chaplaincy. I worked as a nurse for sixteen years initially within the field of mental health and latterly within the area of learning disabilities. I also worked for a number of years as a hospital chaplain, latterly as a community mental health chaplain. It was whilst working in these fields that I began to gain a passion for developing modes of care that are genuinely person centred and which take seriously the significance of theology, spirituality and religion within the processes of healing, healing and community building.

I am an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland with a strong commitment to supporting the work of the church. I am member of Aberdeen Presbytery and currently secretary of Christ's College, which is responsible for the welfare and education of candidates for the ministry of the Church of Scotland.

I have a particular interest in multidisciplinary education and research. At present I teach cross-college courses in the schools of nursing and medicine at the University of Aberdeen. For a number of years I have taught an interdisciplinary course on spirituality and health that involves nursing students, medical students and students from the Arts and Theology. To my knowledge there is no other course like this in the UK. I also teach on spirituality and healthcare to nurses and occupational therapists at Robert Gordon's University in Aberdeen.

I also engage in cross-college interdisciplinary research. An example of this would be our ongoing collaborative research with Professor Steve Heys who heads up the Breast Cancer Unit at Forresterhill Hospital in Aberdeen. We are working on a number of projects exploring the relationship between spirituality and women's experiences of breast cancer.

My research profile is similarly multidisciplinary in its emphasis, and I have published extensively within the area of practical theology, pastoral care, mental health studies, disability theology and nursing.

I am honorary professor of nursing in the Centre for Advanced Studies in Nursing at the University of Aberdeen ( where I teach the role of the humanities and healthcare, nursing ethics and qualitative research. I supervise PhD students in nursing studies within a variety of areas. I continue to research and publish in the areas of nursing and medicine.

Disability Theology

I have a strong interest in disability issues and in particular the theology of disability. We are currently working on a variety of important projects. We have just completed an Arts and Humanities Research Council fudned project to develop an approach to accessing the spiritual lives of people with advanced dementia. This project is now completed and the materials are beign produced within The Purple Bicycle Project. This is a unique project that will fill a vital gap in our practical and theological knowledge. We are currently working on various projects within the area of disability studies exploring areas such as: dementia, theology and mental health, genetics and disability, the spirituality of people with profound and complex needs, religion and autism.

I have a new book out on dementia: Dementia: Living in the Memories of God and myself and my colleague Dr. Brian Brock have a new reader in disability which came out in 2012: Disability in the Christian Tradition: A reader (Eerdmans 2012). I've also just finished a littel book on mental health in the Parish which I wrote with Jean Vanier: 


Pastoral Care

I have a particular interest in the pastoral ministry of the church. This interest emerges from my position as a minister in the Church of Scotland as well as my background in nursing and hospital chaplaincy. I teach courses at postgraduate and undergraduate levels focusing on various aspects of pastoral care and counselling and have a number of publications which explore various dimensions of this area of ministry. I am particularly interested in mental health issues both as they relate to the spiritual dimensions of care offered by religious communities as well as the spiritual care offered by established "secular" mental health services. I also have an interest in the role of the church as a community in the care of marginalised people. I direct the department's MTh program in Practical Theology which provides a unique blend of pastoral, ethical and missional studies designed to enable students to develop vital insights and skills within this area.


Current Research

The School of Practical Theology in Aberdeen has developed a unique prespective which brings together practical theology and combines it creatively with moral theology in a way that is academically rigorous and practically transformative. Our discipline begins and ends with inquiries focused on practices. The ground for this focus is an understanding of faith as a lived entity. Our task is to think through faith not as "belief" but as lived. Thus the primary reference of our theologizing is the lived life in all its contemporary forms. This contrasts with biblical studies focus on texts, systematics focus on doctrines, church history's focus on the history of the community of faith, but relies on these forms of inquiry in understanding what it means for faith to be lived.


The Kairos Forum for people with Intellectual or Cognitive Disabilities

(KFICD) seeks to highlight and respond to the spiritual and religious needs of people with disabilities. Our aim is to facilitate the crafting and empowerment of ‘community of belonging’, both within religious and secular settings. Our expertise will provide specialist services and resources which will enable and empower people with disabilities to experience dignity, respect, care, access and authentic participation within well formed and empathic communities


European Society for Theology and Disability

The European Society for the Study of Theology and Disability seeks to stimulate and support theological reflection on the lives of people with disabilities and their families. It confesses that the Christian Church and its theology often have not used their valuable sources to support such people. It therefore seeks to include people with disabilities in its own activities. It believes that rigorous theological thinking has much to contribute positively to the understanding of social and cultural processes that currently shape their lives. It is particularly concerned with tendencies that target "disability" as a problem to be solved, and that approach it within the framework of liberal individualism and its obsession with consumer choice. The Society brings together people who are committed to support the increasing participation of people with disabilities in Christian communities and in society at large through their research and writing.


Centre for Minsitry Studies

I recently formed teh Aberdeen University Centre for Minsitry Studies. (CMS) The Centre endeavours to be a centre of excellence that seeks to facilitate world class education and training for people involved in Christian ministry at home and internationally. Through developing and nurturing creative and innovative working relationships between the academy and the church, the Centre strives to produce scholarly work and practical training initiatives designed to enable people to think and to practice well.



Teaching Responsibilities

I teach courses within a variety of areas including:

  • Pastoral care and counselling
  • The theology of disability
  • Theology, spirituality and mental health
  • spirituality, health and healing
  • The church in a post-modern context
  • Healthcare ethics
  • Qualitative research methods.

I teach and supervise students at postgraduate and undergraduate levels within the full range of practical theology.


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