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. The school also offers the Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology.
Wholeness in the Body of Christ
Inclusion, Society, and the Church
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.
By Mike Holroyd
EU Policy and a just Vision of the Human Person
That all may have life and have it to the full…
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.
By Liam Waldron
Disability and the Image of God
The Construction of Disability within Society
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.
By Jim Prust