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Christian Theology MPhil Pathway

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

Course Coordinators: Professor Ian McFarland and Dr Elizabeth Powell

The seminars in this module study key texts in the Christian doctrine of God.  Texts studied in 2017 include writings by Athanasius, John of Damascus, 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.

 

Seminar Timetable

Michaelmas Term 2017

Seminars in this term will be led by Professor McFarland and Dr Powell.

All seminars are at 2.30 – 4.30 pm in Room 7, Faculty of Divinity.

Wednesday 18th October                  Athanasius of Alexandria

Wednesday 1st November                John of Damascus

Wednesday 15th November             Friedrich Schleiermacher

Wednesday 29th 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, or may write on a suitable topic agreed in consultation with the course co-ordinator.  In either case essay subject needs to make special reference to the theology Athanasius, John of Damascus, Friedrich, Schleiermacher or Karl Barth.  Approval of a given topic will be dependent on the availability of appropriate supervision, and all students 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

Naming God

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’

Divine, transcendence and immanence (with special reference to the incarnation)

Mystical theology

Apophaticism

Theology and literature

Religious language

Time, eternity and revelation

Political thought and Christian theology

 ‘Universalism’ in modern theology

The doctrine of the imago Dei

Creation, incarnation and aesthetics

Christ and the Church

Christology and the Eucharist

Church, liturgy and sacramental theology

Divine sovereignty and human freedom

Lent Term – Gesture, Perception, Event

Course co-ordinator: Dr Elizabeth Powell

Whilst the Middle Ages were influenced by certain Greek philosophical traditions which regard truth and science as an abstraction from matter, time, body and contingency, at the same time, however, the central doctrine of Christianity, that of the Incarnation, suggested that truth has been fully manifested in one particular time, as one particular embodied person.  Here, truth is as much a performative manifestation as it is a theoretical indication of the universal.  It also consists in Christ’s deeds and gestures (for example, on Maundy Thursday) as much as in his words.  Later Christian thought tended to resolve this tension in terms of a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural levels of understanding.  But this was much less true of earlier Christian thought which made no abrupt distinction between philosophy and theology, as between the physical senses and metaphysics.  Hence, the Greek pagan and Biblical traditions tended to be seen as mutually interfering.  Furthermore, the notion of a ritual and performance dimension to truth was not wholly alien to the former tradition.  Our project would seek to investigate this mutual interference in the High to Late Middle Ages.  Seminars will focus on a selection of Latin, Italian and English primary sources that range between ‘literary’, ‘devotional’, or ‘theological’ modes as a main focus, with associated readings, except for the first two sessions which introduce the main research questions under consideration in the course as a whole.

Teaching provision: 4 x 2 hour seminars (attendance at the first two seminars is required whilst the other two may be chosen).

Prerequisites: A Michaelmas term module from either the Christian Theology or the Philosophy of religion track.

Seminar Topics

1. The Gestures and Postures of Prayer in Medieval Europe

2. The Gestures of Dante’s Comedy I

3. Perception and Revelation in Dante

4. Perception and Revelation in Julian of Norwich

5. Catherine of Sienna: Performing the Passion; Performing Compassion

6. Nicholas of Cusa’s On the Vision of God

Module aims: This seminar would allow extension of ongoing research collaborations into teaching, and provide an institutional framework for the exploration of questions that are relevant to the study of medieval texts but which transcend the boundaries of specialism of any one lecturer or faculty.

Description of Assessment: This module is assessed through a 5,000 word essay.  Students may select a subject from the list below, in consultation with the module co-ordinator.  Alternatively, students may formulate their own title on a suitable topic, in discussion with the module co-ordinator, within the area of the module.  Titles are subject to the approval of the module co-ordinator and the Degree Committee.  In either case, the choice of essay subject will be dependent on the availability of appropriate supervision.

Coursework: Students will be expected to present at least once per term.  Oral presentations will be agreed with module co-ordinator and will be 10-20 minutes in length.  Students not presenting at a given seminar will be expected to contribute a critical reflection paper, of two doubled-spaced sides, for each seminar.  These should be submitted not later than 4 pm the day before the class.

Sample Questions

Any of the following may be discussed in relation to one or more of the set readings:

“And thus I saw him and sought him …And this is, and should be, our common working in this life, as to my sight” (Julian of Norwich).  What does it mean to see God as part of ‘our common working’ in this life?

In what sense is the body “a substantial advantage” (Thomas Aquinas)?

How does “that Divine Artefacture which we call the Incarnation” shape gesture and/or perception?

“By love of a thing seen we may be drawn to love what is unseen.”  How is this meditative ascent variously embodied and performed?

“For through the mystery of the Incarnate Word, the light of thy claritas has shone anew into the eyes of our mind” (Preface of the Christmas Mass).  What is the relation between Incarnation and illumination?

“Love was his meaning.”  In what ways is love the hermeneutical key for these writers?

“An art work’s ‘fidelity to nature’ consists in its being fidel to ‘super-nature’ in some way.” (David Jones) How are the natural and supernatural related in these works?

“In seeing me you, who are the hidden God, give yourself to be seen by me.” (Nicholas of Cusa)  Of what does God’s vision consist?

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 topics

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.’ (Donald 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

Course Coordinator: Dr Andrew Davison

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.

Coursework

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.

Purpose

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.

Teaching

There will be eight 2-hour classes, four of which will meet in Michaelmas Term and four in the Lent Term.  In both terms the classes will meet from 11 am – 1 pm in Room 7.

The Michaelmas Term classes will discuss texts focusing on the theologians’ statement of their methods, as follows, running:

13 October -Balthasar, Seeing the Form, pp. 17-127

27 October -   Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1, pp. 1-61, 119-136, 151-171, 189-257

10 November - Johnson, She Who Is, pp. 3-103, 191-245

24 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 methodological principles to Christology;

26 January – Balthasar, Dramatis Personae: Persons in Christ, pp. 13/56, 149-202

9 February – Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 2, pp. 325-397

23 February – Johnson, She Who Is, pp. 191-273

9 March – Staniloae, The Experience of God 3, chs. 1-4

Assessment

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 texts of the two 1,000-word presentations (which will be given in the Lent Term) are to be submitted as a portfolio at the end of the Lent Term, along with 3,000-word critical review.