Engaging theological research with clinical practice

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Project News

Friday, 7th March 2014Spirituality, Religion and the Medical Humanities: Durham Centre for Medical Humanities /
Wolfson Post-Graduate & Early Career Research Network next meeting


Thursday 13 March 2014, 2 pm – 3:30 pm

Collier Room, Hild and Bede College, Durham University

The fourth meeting of the postgrad/ early career medical humanities discussion group is upon us. This meeting will explore the relationships between religious belief, illness, healthcare and healing – from spiritual sicknesses and spiritual ‘cures’ to the role that religious communities can contribute to the care of the ill and fragile.  Developing the overarching CMH discussion series themes of ‘knowing’ and ‘researching’ in the medical humanities, the session will ask what space do we find for spirituality and religion in our research and (for those not working directly in this area), can we, do we and ought we engage with our subject matters at a spiritual level?


Indicative questions might include but are not limited to -

  • Can religious or secular beliefs really be incorporated into secular frameworks of health research and healthcare delivery? What are the epistemological, ethical, or practical challenges?
  • How can we understand the relations between spiritual belief and the lived experiences of illness and recovery?  If illness can sometimes lead to spiritual growth, would this therefore make illness ‘worthwhile’?
  • What do we do with non-conventional spiritual experience in health and illness?  Is it reasonable to understand some kinds of religious experience themselves as a kind of ‘illness’?
  • What space is there for our own spirituality as researchers or practitioners in a health related environment?  What are the challenges of being a spiritual – or non-spiritual – being in a professional academic context?


Once again, we are looking for one or two volunteers to provide an informal opening presentation on an aspect of their research which speaks to the theme of this session (5-8 minutes).   Please reply to Jenny Laws if you are interested in presenting, and also to register your attendance for purposes of cake and tea.


At this session there is also the possibility to get involved with a small group of early career scholars looking to develop a larger inter-institutional conference on this theme – if you can’t attend the session but are interested to know more, get in touch.


We look forward to seeing many of you next week – new members always welcome.


Dr Jenny Laws

Network convenor



Friday, 21st February 2014Seminar Thursday 27 February 2014:
Religious experience or psychiatric symptom?

This seminar took place on Thursday 27 February 2014, 4.30-6pm in Seminar Room ER152 (Room 152, Elvet Riverside 1, Durham University, 83 New Elvet, Durham – Click here to view map).

Andrew Sims, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Leeds and Past President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

To watch the Lecture, please click on the videos below:


Most people have some awareness of a spiritual dimension in life and many people will at some time suffer mental disturbance or illness. These experiences may appear quite similar to the observer, can they be told apart?

In the vast majority of situations, it is not difficult to distinguish what is religious or spiritual from what is mental or psychiatric. However, as both are common conditions of mankind, they will frequently coincide – spiritual and psychiatric. From the professional standpoint of the psychiatrist, the most useful tool for differentiation is descriptive psychopathology – what this thought or behaviour means to the person him- or herself. There are usually different patterns for religious experience from mental illness. Of course, it is extremely important that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals be well-informed on the diversity of religion and spirituality in different cultures and religious traditions.

Pointers to probable mental illness will be discussed: these help someone confronted with bizarre behaviour or statement in a person they are caring for to identify the need for further expert involvement. Indicators of probable religious experience but of an unusual kind are consistent with the rest of that person’s lifestyle and their religious social community.

It is generally possible to distinguish religious or spiritual experience from mental illness or psychiatric symptoms. It is important always to remember that both may be present in the same person at the same time.


Professor Andrew Sims has been practising psychiatry for 50 years. He is a previous chairman of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Past President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry in the University of Leeds. He has had a long term interest in the interface between faith and mental illness, and has published on this topic including Is Faith Delusion? and joint editor with Professor Cook and Dr Powell of Spirituality and Psychiatry.


Professor Andrew Sims



Wednesday, 5th February 2014Seminar Thursday 20 February 2014:
Beyond Cult or Cure: The negotiated language of ‘higher power’ in contemporary twelve-step programmes

This seminar took place on Thursday 20 February 2014, 4.30-6pm in Seminar Room ER152 (Room 152, Elvet Riverside 1, Durham University, 83 New Elvet, Durham – Click here to view map).

Dr Wendy Dossett, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Chester

To watch the Lecture, please click on the videos below:


Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is considered by Twelve Step Mutual Aid groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to be a spiritual matter. Addiction is seen as a condition rooted in a ‘spiritual malady,’ a solution to which is found in the discovery or construction of a Higher Power and the development of a relationship with that power. Anonymous fellowships are evidently conservative in matters of ritual and ritual language. They are also officially conservative in the prescription of reading, having an ‘approved’ list of literature. However, they are at the same time remarkably doctrinally egalitarian; accepting of atheist and secular constructions of Higher Power, as well as nature spirituality, universalism and deism, alongside more traditional theistic views.


This paper draws on qualitative work amongst recovering alcoholics and addicts who attribute their recovery at least in part to a working concept of a Higher Power. [www.chester.ac.uk/higherpowerproject]. It considers late-modern cultural influences on the construction of contemporary Higher Power language, and the significance of ‘belief’ relative to other (spiritual or non-spiritual) mediating factors of recovery success in this model (Krentzman, 2013; Kelly, 2013). The wider Recovery Movement, originating in the twelve steps but developing beyond them, has generated distinctive cultural forms (Travis 2009). The project data shows that these have a discernable ‘pizza effect’ upon the language of contemporary twelve-step practitioners, further diversifying and subjectivising the language of twelve-step spirituality in recent decades. The paper suggests that twelve-step fellowships provide heterotopic third-spaces in which the forces of religion, spirituality, non-religion, popular culture, folk wisdom, psychotherapy, recovery subculture and devastating personal experience, meet in open territory to transformative effect.


Some critiques consider the contemporary twelve-step phenomenon to be incoherent from a ‘secular-rational’ perspective, or conversely to be diluted and dislodged from its originally strong theological ground. This paper argues that attention to the personal narratives of those involved may offer a partial corrective to both those positions. It suggests that the resilience of twelve-step spirituality may be attributable in part to the authority it assigns to personal experience and autonomy in doctrinal matters. It also argues that debates around the coherence or otherwise of Higher Power language tend to assume that twelve-step fellowships belong to a genus of religious groups making ontological and epistemological claims, when in fact they may be better understood functionally, simply as organisations dedicated to helping those who need to become abstinent from potentially harmful substances and behaviours.



Dr Wendy Dossett is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Chester, and Principal Investigator of the Higher Power Project. She is a former Associate Director of the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre. She has research interests and publications in Japanese Buddhism, religious education, and in spirituality and recovery from addiction. She has worked with addicts in a residential rehab, and undertaken field research amongst those in twelve step recovery programmes. The first findings of the Higher Power Project are published in ‘Addiction, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps’ in International Social Work. May, Vol. 56, No.2, 2013.


Dr Wendy Dossett



Wednesday, 15th January 2014Seminar Thursday 30 January 2014:
Christian healing ministry: virtue, variability and wisdom

This seminar took place on Thursday 30 January 2014, 4.30-6pm in Seminar Room ER152 (Room 152, Elvet Riverside 1, Durham University, 83 New Elvet, Durham – Click here to view map).

Dr Jamie Harrison, PhD, FRCGP, General Medical Practitioner and Sir William Leech Fellow in Applied Christian Theology, St John’s College, Durham,
& Dr Rich Bregazzi, PhD, Independent Researcher and Education Advisor

To watch the Lecture and the Discussion that followed, please click on the videos below:


Eight ministers from different denominations and traditions of the Christian church in NE England were interviewed using semi structured methodology to find out what healing means to them, what is important to them in healing ministry, what are their challenges, and their support needs.

The research provided a wealth of description, experience and meaning.  Some Ministers may feel vulnerable or challenged by healing ministry, yet it is acknowledged to be part of discipleship.  Healing ministry may be practised in private, in places of worship, and in the public square; it may be met with, by intention or chance, by those of any faith or none.  With a common source in scripture, yet mediated differently by Church authorities and shaped by individual beliefs, there are marked differences in practice and expectations.  The frequency of perceived healing differs between practitioners, and verification may be problematic. Examples of unacceptable practice are also acknowledged and described.

We found virtue in the motives of those engaged in healing ministry; variety in practice; and variability of governance and accountability.   A number of questions arise: is variety in practice a positive or a negative, a response to complexity or a lack of clarity, a looseness within which poor practice may develop; is variability of governance and accountability a continuing option, how do we safeguard practice yet avoid problems seen in the NHS of complicated regulation and continuing unacceptable practice; how do we maintain the virtue of healing ministry and shape ‘wise practice.’

The fundamental model is the life death and resurrection of Jesus

I’ve seen people humiliated

When you pray and…really believe…and it doesn’t happen…that does weigh on you very heavily



Dr Jamie Harrison is a local General Practitioner. He recently retired from his post as Deputy Director of the Postgraduate School of Primary Care in the NE, in order to further develop his interest in healthcare and the church, taking up a Leech Fellowship in Applied Christian Theology at St John’s College, Durham. Among many Church roles, Jamie is a Lay Member of the Church of England General Synod, Lay Chair, Durham Diocesan Synod, and was a Member of the General Synod Working Party on an Occupational Health Scheme for Clergy. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of GPs.


Dr Jamie Harrison


Dr Rich Bregazzi is an independent educationalist and researcher.  He has worked extensively in the fields of special needs, industry, and healthcare.  Until recently he was education advisor to the Northern Deanery, supporting the postgraduate education of doctors, and he is an Associate Lecturer in the School of Medical Sciences Education at Newcastle University.  He is particularly interested in how people learn to be skilled professionals.  He is a member of the UK steering group for postgraduate medical education in South Sudan, the world’s newest independent country, and has led a number of visits to that country to offer support and guidance.


Dr Rich Bregazzi

Thursday, 9th January 2014SEMINAR PROGRAMME
Epiphany Term 2014

SEMINAR PROGRAMME - Epiphany Term 2014

These seminars are open to all staff and students of Durham University and to the general public. However, please be aware that they are aimed at a postgraduate level and are therefore especially suitable for MA, PhD and DThM students, as well as for others engaged in postgraduate study in relevant areas of enquiry.


If you would like to attend any of these seminars, please send an e-mail to Charidimos Koutris (charidimos.koutris@durham.ac.uk) in order to ensure that a place is reserved for you.


Thursday 30 January 2014 (4.30-6pm)
Christian healing ministry: virtue, variability and wisdom
Seminar Room ER152, Room 152, Elvet Riverside 1, Durham University, 83 New Elvet, Durham
by Jamie Harrison, PhD, FRCGP, General Medical Practitioner and Sir William Leech Fellow in Applied Christian Theology, St John’s College, Durham
& Rich Bregazzi, PhD, Independent Researcher and Education Advisor


Thursday 20 February 2014 (4.30-6pm)
Beyond Cult or Cure: The negotiated language of ‘higher power’ in contemporary twelve-step programmes
Seminar Room ER152, Room 152, Elvet Riverside 1, Durham University, 83 New Elvet, Durham‎
by Wendy Dossett, Dr, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Chester


Thursday 27 February 2014 (4.30-6pm)
Religious experience or psychiatric symptom?
Seminar Room ER152, Room 152, Elvet Riverside 1, Durham University, 83 New Elvet, Durham‎
by Andrew Sims, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Leeds and Past President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists


Durham University logo


Saturday, 23rd March 2013Applications are now being accepted for our
MA/MSc Programmes in Spirituality, Theology & Health
for the academic year 2014-2015

Entry to our MA/MSc programmes 2014-2015 in Spirituality, Theology & Health is still possible for the academic year 2014-2015. These programmes provide a unique opportunity for inter-disciplinary and inter-professional study in this field. They form a good basis both for theological reflection on professional practice and also an introduction to research methods for those who are thinking of working towards a PhD or DThM. They can be pursued part-time or full-time.


To quote one of our MSc students:

Every trip to St John’s College, Durham is eagerly undertaken; not just because Durham is such a fantastic city with a fascinating history and heritage, but because the teaching on the course is to such a high standard, with immensely knowledgeable lecturers who are obviously keen to impart that knowledge and to engage in meaningful debates with the students.


Applications and enquiries from prospective students are always welcomed. For further information, please contact the Postgraduate Admissions Secretary in the Department of Theology and Religion, Mrs Susan Tait (e-mail: susan.tait@durham.ac.uk).


Alternatively, you can contact one of the members of Academic Staff to discuss potential thesis topics.


To find out more please click on the Courses tab above, download the Spirituality, Theology & Health MA – MSc Flyer, and visit the Department of Theology & Religion website:


Spirituality, Theology & Health


Friday, 22nd March 2013New Book:
Spirituality, Theology and Mental Health
edited by Christopher Cook

Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Editor: Christopher Cook

ISBN-13: 9780334046264

ISBN-10: 0334046262

Publisher: SCM Press

Format: Paperback

RRP: £45.00

Publish date: 31/05/2013

Flyer: You can view the book’s flyer by clicking here


A few words about the book:

In 2010 a Durham conference on Spirituality, Theology & Mental Health was made possible by support from the Guild of Health. The conference was attended by more than one hundred delegates, from a variety of different professional and academic backgrounds including those working in university departments of theology, anthropology and philosophy, as well as chaplains, clergy and healthcare professionals. The present publication comprises a series of chapters by authors, all of whom presented papers at the conference. It is thus informed by the debate that took place at the conference, but it is more than simply a set of conference proceedings. The aim has been to create a book with multi-disciplinary and multi-professional contributions which show the relevance of theology to healthcare today, and which will provide a resource for postgraduate teaching, research and professional practice.


This book provides reflections from leading international scholars and practitioners in theology, anthropology, philosophy and psychiatry as to the nature of spirituality and its relevance to constructions of mental disorder and mental healthcare. Key issues are explored in depth, including the nature of spirituality and recent debates concerning its importance in contemporary psychiatric practice, relationship between demons and wellbeing in ancient religious texts and contemporary practice, religious conversion, and the nature and importance of myth and theology in shaping human self understanding. These are used as a basis for exploring some of the overarching intellectual and practical issues that arise when different disciplines engage together with an attempt to better understand the relationship between spirituality and mental health and translate their findings into mental healthcare practice.


Are you still unsure why buy this book?

Here are two Commendations by Professors Harold G. Koenig and Sheila the Baroness Hollins


Professors Harold G. Koenig:

Scientists and clinicians will find in this book contributions from theology, philosophy and pastoral practice that will give them new insights into the importance of spirituality in mental healthcare. Theological and inter-disciplinary perspectives offered here help all of us to see things differently. This book is commended to all mental health professionals, chaplains and pastoral carers, and academics wanting a broader perspective on spirituality and mental health.


Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins:

Theology and Mental health will be essential reading for clergy, health professionals and academics from different disciplines who are learning, talking and working together in the hope of better addressing the place of spirituality in mental health care. It’s a fascinating book that’s integrative of spiritual and theological perspectives with clinical and pastoral care, importantly introducing theology into a debate that has largely ignored a contribution from this discipline. Many of the writers explore the boundaries that sometimes separate different domains of expertise and differing values and assumptions in diverse settings.


Consequently, wait no more and pre-order the book here:




Spirituality, Theology and Mental Health by C.Cook

Monday, 15th June 2009Spirituality & Psychiatry

Eds. Chris Cook, Andrew Powell, Andrew Sims, Royal College of Psychiatrists Press, London, 2009

Spirituality and PsychiatrySpirituality & Psychiatry is a new book published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Emerging from the work of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it considers the relevance of spirituality to clinical practice in psychiatry. It is edited by Chris Cook (current Chair of the Special Interest Group and Director of the Project for Spirituality, Theology & Health at Durham University) along with two past Chairs of the Special Interest Group (Dr Andrew Powell and Professor Andrew Sims). Further information, and the opportunity to purchase the book, is available from the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ website.