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Faculty of Divinity


Christian Theology MPhil Pathway

Description of Course


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 dissertation 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 Coordinator: Professor David Fergusson,


The seminars in this module study key texts in the Christian doctrine of God.  Texts studied in 2022–23 include writings by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Kathryn Tanner.


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 analysing 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 demonstrating such understanding and skills.



Seminar Timetable


Michaelmas Term 2022


Seminars in this term will be led by Professor Fergusson.

Seminars normally take place on alternating Wednesdays, from 2.00 – 4.00 pm in Room 4, Faculty of Divinity. 


Wednesday 19  October                    Augustine of Hippo

Wednesday 2 November                  Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday 16 November                Friedrich Schleiermacher

Wednesday 30 November                Kathryn Tanner


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, the essay subject should make special reference to the theology of Augustine, Aquinas, Schleiermacher, or Tanner.  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



Christ and the church

Christology and atonement

Divine sovereignty and human freedom

Divine transcendence and immanence

Mystical theology

Naming God

The Creator-creature relation

The nature of knowledge of God (for example, what it means for knowledge of God to be either ‘natural’ or ‘scientific’)

The relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology

The relationship between the doctrine of creation and incarnation

The relationship between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity

The relationship between unity and plurality in God

Time, eternity and revelation


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 Mari van Emmerik,


This module considers a topic in the relation between theology and natural science, namely the nature of materiality and embodiment. We will look at how matter and the body have been thought about – both explicitly and implicitly – in scientific, philosophical and theological 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.


Pre-requisites: A Michaelmas Term module from either the Christian Theology or the Philosophy of Religion tracks.



Seminar Topics


1 Materiality and Embodiment in Theology an Religion: An Orientation

2 Embodied Cognition and Religious Experience

3 Accommodation, Revelation and the Incarnation

4 Religious Ecologies and the New Materialisms





Students will make a presentation in the class.



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 coordinator. Alternatively, students may formulate their own title on a suitable topic, in discussion with the course coordinator, within the area of the module. Titles are subject to the approval of the course coordinator and the Degree Committee. In either case, the choice of essay subject will be dependent on the availability of appropriate supervision.


Suggested Essay Subjects


How should scientific accounts of embodiment inform a theology of the body?

Does the embodied nature of human cognition place limitations on creaturely knowledge of God?

Are theological concepts grounded in embodied experience?

What role do rituals and material culture play in religious formation?

What are the consequences of accounts of embodiment for understandings of religious experience?

Can we understand matter?

What does a better understanding of materiality or embodiment mean for theological consideration of life elsewhere in the universe?

How should embodiment be treated in theologies of disability?

Do theological treatments of gender adequately account for embodied?

How do iconoclastic movements in theology relate to the embodied nature of humans?

What is added to our understanding of the incarnation in stressing the divine assumption of materiality?

How can the sacramental deployment of material elements inform a theological understanding of materiality?

What does death mean for a theology of materiality or embodiment?

What does materiality or embodiment mean for a theology of death?

What do contemporary philosophical discussions of panpsychism offer theology?

What do contemporary discussions of embodiment, offer for theological accounts of non-human life?

Is the body essential for eco-feminisms?