I have begun the reading list from my new course in Durham with some inner turmoil. It has reminded me to no small degree of the emotions of being an undergraduate studying geography. Geography proved to be the most insecure subject in the Academy (perhaps except for land economy). Because they don’t study it in the States it seems to have to prove that it should exist in the University at all. It’s self stated dictum was that it was a ‘jack of all trades, but master of none’. I remember lurching from geology to environmental studies to an extraordinary course on the geographical tradition, that struggled to try to claim that every explorer, adventurer and even physicist was in their heart of hearts actually a geographer!
Enter the Durham University reading list for the DThM program. I quickly began to realise that the first part of my course was unlikely to find me consumed in great and grand thoughts about Wesley, Whitfield Evangelical revival and the nature of leadership today. Instead my reading list pointed me towards studying the study of practical theology! Practical theology is seen as a newfangled invention. A young child of the great grand school of thought historically embracing any ideas you might have had about faith in God. Practical theology, a small subset of a subset, had arisen alongside the growth in the social sciences, and has been struggling for air amidst the great deluge of previous thought.
One fascinating story I have been pointed to read, tells the self-searching of the author about her Christmas volunteering. She’s been helping to run and manage a crisis centre for the homeless, and has taken upon herself the task of theologising about her experiences. The article is actually done rather well, but it has the uncertain heritage of sounding like a slightly better version of the interminable number of speeches I heard at General Synod over 5 years.
There speaker after speaker, leads with some experience or emotional issue that they are yet to resolve, and talk about their current situation for approximately half the time, before then adding three or four allegedly theological reflections in an attempt to persuade the Right Revd so-and-so that they are actually a little bit cleverer than perhaps they rightly are. Of course Right Reverend so-and-so is most likely lost in thoughts far removed from the current speaker’s pontifications, but the illusion of influence is there, and it’s all too tempting to grasp at.
One wonders then if practical theology also merely has the illusion of influence? I’ll let you know my thoughts as I discover more. However I have been pleasantly surprised as I have started John Pritchard’s book, and just have an inkling that the idea of marrying good thinking and good practice could just scratch exactly where I itch.
In the end geography and I parted ways after just one cocky undergraduate year. This time practical theology and I will be dancing for a least six! Let the adventure begin.
Hey Richard! Great to stumble across your blog (via an Ian Paul link if you’re interested!) and really enjoying reading it. Very intrigued by the Durham doctorate. Have contemplated something similar on-and-off (mostly the latter) for the last 15 years, so am looking forward to hearing and seeing how you get on. Must catch up for a coffee this side of Christmas if we can pull that off!
Richard (another one)
Thanks Richard, it’s been a very good introduction to the course, lots of practical applicable learning to my context, and very helpful to get out of context to re-sharpen evaluative skills!
I’d recommend it so far… the cohorts in previous years include a range of practitioners and some great areas for study. Always happy to grab a coffee 🙂