Christian Theology MPhil Pathway
Each module of the Christian Theology course is taught through four fortnightly two hour seminars and is assessed through a 5,000 word essay due at the end of term. Students who wish to write a thesis in the area of Christian Theology are required to attend the seminars during Michaelmas Term and complete The Christian God assessed essay. It is recommended that students continue on to the Lent Term modules but it may be possible in certain cases for students to audit these modules to allow them to undertake a module in another subject in the Lent Term. Students wishing to do this must consult with the Course Coordinator as early as possible.
Michaelmas Term – The Doctrine of God
The seminars in this module study key texts in the Christian doctrine of God. Texts studied in 2016 include writings by Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth.
The module aims to study the Christian doctrine of God in different periods, through the close study of theological texts.
The module objectives are to enable students to develop their understanding of the doctrine of God by analyzing and discussing theological texts in their contexts, by thinking through ways in which these texts contribute to the discussion of major issues in the Christian doctrine of God, and by writing a substantial essay demonstration such understanding and skills.
Michaelmas Term 2016
Seminars in this term will be led by Professor Soskice and Professor McFarland.
All seminars are at 2.30 – 4.30 pm in the Lightfoot Room, Faculty of Divinity.
Wednesday 19st October Augustine of Hippos
Wednesday 2nd November Schleiermacher
Wednesday 16th November Julian of Norwich
Wednesday 30th November Karl Barth
Michaelmas Term – The Christian God – Assessment
This module is assessed through a 5,000 word essay. Students may select an essay subject from the list below, in consultation with the course co-ordinator. Alternatively, students may formulate their own title on a suitable topic, within the area of Christian Theology, subject to the approval of the course co-ordinator and the Degree Committee. In either case the choice of essay subject will be dependent on the availability of appropriate supervision. Students planning to go on to the Lent Term module should be aware that they may not choose in the Lent Term an essay subject which substantially overlaps with the subject pursued in the Michaelmas Term.
Suggested Essay Subjects
Discuss, one major issue relating to the Christian God with special reference to the theology of one of the follow: Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Friedrich Schleiermacher or Karl Barth.
The relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology
The nature of knowledge of God, for instance what it means for knowledge of God to be either ‘natural’ or God or ‘scientific’
‘Male and female created he them’ (Genesis 1:27)
Doctrine and Literature
Cross Currents in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Theology, Literature and Thought
Time, eternity and revelation
Political Thought and Christian Theology
‘Universalism’ in Modern Theology
Creation and Aesthetics
The Theotokos as Christological Statement
Christ and the Church
Christology and the Eucharist
Church, Liturgy and Sacramental theology
Henri de Lubac
Gregory of Nyssa
Lent Term – Theology and Literature: Tragedy
Course co-ordinator: Giles Waller
Tragedy is the art form that raises and processes some of the most painful and perplexing questions of human life, and over the last two centuries has become a focal point for philosophical, ethical, theoretical and theological discussions. This module explores the relationship between tragedy and Christian theology through five seminars. The first two seminars focus on philosophical and doctrinal questions in the works of major 20th century theologians for whom tragedy determinatively shaped their understanding of Christian doctrine: Donald MacKinnon (on ethics and Christology) and Hans Urs von Balthasar (on the Crucifixion and the doctrine of the Trinity). The third seminar explores theological questions through the close reading of a literary text, examining the theme of tragedy and the theology of sacrifice through T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. The final two seminars explore Shakespearean drama, focusing on the ‘absolute tragedy’ of King Lear, and the theological move ‘beyond tragedy’ in the late Romances, focusing on The Winter’s Tale.
The module aims to introduce students to interdisciplinary study of religion and literature from a theological perspective closely examining the work of major theologians who have engaged with tragedy, and engaging with theological questions that arise from the close reading of literary texts.
The module objectives are by the end of the course, students should be equipped with skills of close analysis of both theological and literary texts. Students should be able to engage both in close reading of literary texts, while also tackling broader theoretical and speculative issues that arise from these texts. They should have developed an understanding of the various literary, philosophical and theological issues raised by tragedy.
Seminar 1 – Metaphysics, Ethics and the Cross: Donald MacKinnon and tragedy
Seminar 2 – Hans Urs von Balthasar: Tragedy and the Doctrine of the Trinity
Seminar 3 – Murder in the Cathedral: Sacrifice and Christian Tragedy
Seminar 4 – King Lear
Seminar 5 – Beyond Tragedy? The Winter’s Tale
Description of assessment
This module is assessed through a 5,000 word essay. Students may formulated their own title on a suitable topic, within the area of Christian Theology, subject to the approval of the course coordinator and the Degree Committee. Students will not be permitted to write on a subject which substantially overlaps with that pursued in the Michaelmas Term.
Suggested Essay Topics
Essay titles must be agreed with the supervisor and approved by the course coordinator and Degree Committee. The following are only intended as a guide for students when approaching the module.
‘Only there is no escape from contingency.’ (Donal MacKinnon) What are the theological implications of construing contingency as tragic?
Does an understanding of Christ’s Passion in tragic terms necessitate compromising divine impassibility?
‘His blood given to buy my life/My blood given to pay for His death/My death for His death’ (Murder in the Cathedral). Does tragedy transcend or reinforce the logic of sacrifice?
‘Christianity is anti-tragic, modernism is anti-Christian.’ Does Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral succeed as Christian tragedy?
Is ‘Christian tragedy’ an oxymoron?
‘Tragedy enjoins resignation.’ Discuss
‘To be worst,/ The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune,/ Stands still in Esperance, lives not in fear./ The lamentable change is from the best;/ The worst returns to laughter.’ (King Lear, IV.1) Discuss.
‘Oh, I have ta’en,/ Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp./ Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/ That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,/ And show the heavens more just.’ (King Lear, III.4) What is the relation between kenosis and justice in King Lear?
Lent Term – Theology and the Natural Sciences: Materiality and Embodiment
This module considers a particular topic in the relation between theology and natural science, namely the nature of materiality and embodiment. Particular attention will be given to how matter and the body are conceptualized philosophically – both explicitly and implicitly – in scientific and theology discussions.
The module aims to study understandings of materiality and embodiment from a broad range of perspectives, as well as attitudes towards matter and the body.
The module objectives are to recognise and analyse how philosophical assumptions, of both an explicit and implicit nature, underlie work in both theology and science. To identify and contrast particular examples of these assumptions and their consequences. To appreciate how intellectual understandings of materiality and embodiment relate to broader attitudes towards matter and the body. To place recent and contemporary writing in science and theology within a longer intellectual lineage. To develop skills in academic research and writing. To develop an understanding of relations between historical and constructive modes of theological engagement and study.
Description of Assessment
This module is assessed through a 5,000 word essay. Students may select an essay subject from the list below, in consultation with the course coordinators. Alternatively, students may formulate their own title on a suitable topic, in discussion with the course coordinators, within the area of the module. Titles are subject to the approval of the course coordinators and the Degree Committee. In either case, the choice of essay subject will be dependent on the availability of appropriate supervision.
Suggested Essay Subjects
An account and theological analysis of explicit and implicit accounts of materiality or embodiment in one prominent writer in science and religion from the past four decades.
An account and theological analysis of explicit and implicit accounts of materiality or embodiment in one or more prominent work or works of recent contemporary culture.
The relevance and application of one pre-modern theological or philosopher for theological understandings of one prominent dimension or discussions of materiality or embodiment today.
Emergence as a theological paradigm.
Embodiment and materiality in the relation of the Incarnation to non-human creatures (on Earth or elsewhere in the cosmos), and its consequences.
The theological meaning of ‘flesh’.
The scope and meaning of ‘the body’ as a theological metaphor.
Materiality in relation to time and/or space
The application of hylomorphic accounts of materiality to a topic of theological interest.
The relation of matter to form.
Matter and the Logos.
Matter and panpsychism.
Students will be expected to contribute a critical reflection paper, of two double-spaced sides, for each seminar, showing evidence of critical analysis of seminar papers. These should be submitted not later than 4 pm the day before the class.
Michaelmas and Lent Terms - Christian Theology Exercise Option – Theological Method
Set texts: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Seeing the Form, vol. 1 of The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics; Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 1; Dmitru Staniloae, The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 1.
This exercise will give students a range of assessment components designed to train them in succinct, distilled prose writing in order to do critical reviewing, analysis of key disciplinary relationships (theology and philosophy, theology and biblical interpretation), and overall appraisal of approaches to theological method.
There will be eight 2-hour classes, four of which will meet in Michaelmas Term and four in the Lent Term.
The Michaelmas Term classes will discuss texts focusing on the theologians’ statement of their methods, as follows, running 11 am – 1 pm:
14 October -Balthasar, Seeing the Form, pp. 17-127
28 October - Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1, pp. 1-61, 119-136, 151-171, 189-257
11 November - Johnson, She Who Is, pp. 3-103, 191-245
25 November - Staniloae, The Experience of God, chs. 1-4
In Lent term the same theologians will be re-examined, this time focusing on the application (or not!) of their stated method to a particular theological topic. The classes will again run from 11 am – 1 pm;
20 January – Balthasar, Seeing the Form, pp. 131-155, 429-509
3 February – Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1, pp. 259-336
17 February – Johnson, She Who Is, pp. 191-273
3 March – Staniloae, The Experience of God 2, chs. 1-3
Candidates will be assessed on the following:
1 A critical review of 3,000 words offering a comparison and contrast of any two of the authors studied, based on the set texts, due at the end of Lent Term
2 A class presentation of 1,000 words on the character and role of philosophy in any one of the authors, based on the set texts
3 A class presentation of 1,000 words on the character and role of biblical interpretation in any one of the authors, based on the set texts.
The two presentations (which will be given in the Lent Term) are to be submitted as a portfolio at the end of the Lent Term.