Engaging theological research with clinical practice

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Wednesday, 25th November 2015UPCOMING Seminar Thursday 3 December 2015:
The neurology of religion

This seminar will take place on Thursday 3 December 2015, 4.30-6pm in Wallis Room
(St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham – Find St John’s College HERE and Wallis Room HERE).

Revd Professor Alasdair Coles, Professor of Neuroimmunology, University of Cambridge

Studying how neurological diseases affect spirituality is not only pastorally important but also reveals the neuronal pathways underlying various components of the religious life. Studying people with temporal lobe epilepsy may reveal the mechanisms of ecstatic religious experience, and those with migraine show how parietal dysfunction causes out-of-body experiences. Observations such as these allow “neurological fractionation” of the religious human. Claims have been made that people with Parkinson’s disease have selective dysfunction in spirituality, but our work does not confirm this. An overarching issue is what meaning neurological patients make of their illness; some derive spiritual significance from events which are clearly pathological.


Alasdair Coles is a neurologist at the University of Cambridge, whose main interest is neuroimmunological diseases of the brain, especially multiple sclerosis. He was ordained in the Church of England in 2008 and has a growing research interest in the spirituality of people with neurological diseases, focusing on Parkinson’s disease and “mystical seizures” in temporal lobe epilepsy.


Thursday, 5th November 2015Seminar Thursday 19 November 2015:
Theological Reflections on Disability

This seminar took place on Thursday 19 November 2015, 4.30-6pm in Wallis Room
(St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham – Find St John’s College HERE and Wallis Room HERE).

Mr Roy McCloughry, National Disability Adviser, Archbishop’s Council, The Church of England; Vice-President of disability charity Livability

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


Over the last thirty years there has been an upsurge of literature on disability theology. This body of work charts what it means to do theology from the standpoint of disability as well as asking the question of conventional theology as to what implications it has for disabled people. Concepts such as ‘normalcy’, and ‘ableism’ have entered into theological debate and the academic writings of people such as Hans Reinders, John Swinton, Nancy Eisland and Tom Reynolds have become central to the debate. What are the key issues being examined in this debate and why is the concept of the ‘normal’ seen as such a controversial idea?


Roy McCloughry studied economics at the London School of Economics before becoming director of a faith-based think tank in Nottingham. He then became lecturer in ethics and social theology at St John’s College, Nottingham. He has been chairman of publishers Lion Hudson plc and is currently vice-president of disability charity Livability. He is also currently National Disability Adviser for the Church of England. Roy is author of over a dozen books on social and ethical issues, his latest being The Enabled Life: Christianity in a disabling world. (SPCK) He has also published over forty extensive interviews with key opinion formers including prime ministers, Nobel prize winners and many leading politicians and theologians.


Friday, 23rd October 2015Seminar Thursday 29 October 2015:
On Using a Phenomenological, Hermeneutic, Mystagogical Methodology to Explore the Child’s Experience of Meditation

This seminar took place on Thursday 29 October 2015, 4.30-6pm in Wallis Room
(St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham – Find St John’s College HERE and Wallis Room HERE).

Mr Noel Keating, B.Sc., M.Litt., Co-ordinator, Meditation with Children, Christian Meditation Ireland, PhD candidate, Department of Applied Arts, School of Humanities, Waterford Institute of Technology

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


The author of this paper is a mature doctoral research student whose study explores the child’s experience of meditation in the context of a whole-school practice in primary schools in Ireland. While much research has been conducted into measurable, practical benefits of meditation on adults, very little is known about its impact on children, their experience of mystery through the practice and its spiritual fruits in their lives. In addition, most of the extant studies have been quantitative rather than qualitative. This study seeks to fill these gaps.

The study uses a phenomenological, hermeneutic and mystagogical methodology based on the writings of van Manen, Schneiders and Waaijman. This paper sets out the rationale for the chosen methodology, describes its application in a pilot study prior to the main research and examines its effectiveness in eliciting from children their experience of mystery in the practice of meditation.

Twenty-two children aged from 7 to 11 years were interviewed for the pilot study. Each child was interviewed twice for 30 minutes on each occasion. The researcher is currently engaging with a further 48 children from three primary schools using a revised protocol. He is confident that the processes he designed to enliven the conversations with the children are yielding rich fruits and offer a method that can be replicated and adapted by others engaged in researching spirituality.

Note 1: The researcher promotes the practice of Christian meditation in Irish primary schools.

Note 2: The Research Supervisor is Professor Michael Howlett, W.I.T..


Prior to his retirement in August 2012, Noel spent 40 years in the education sector. He taught in a second-level school for 17 years in Edenderry, Co. Offaly before taking up the role of Principal of Presentation College, Carlow, a co-educational secondary school of 650 students. He held that role for 13 years before taking a role as Education Officer within the Education Office of the Presentation Sisters (Northern Province, Ireland) which was responsible for the exercise of trusteeship of 17 second-level and 24 primary schools.

Noel undertook Masters research on the topic of trusteeship and mission integrity and was awarded an M. Litt (First Class Hons.) by National University of Ireland (NUI) Maynooth in 2005.

Upon his retirement Noel became voluntary coordinator of Meditation with Children on behalf of Christian Meditation Ireland (CMI) and Meditatio, an outreach of the World Community for Christian Meditation. Under this project, CMI is promoting the practice of meditation with children on a whole-school basis in primary schools across Ireland. Over the past three years, 100 primary schools have adopted the practice and 24,000 practice meditation as a result.[1]

In August 2013, Noel was awarded a Masters in Applied Christian Spirituality (First Class Hons.) at All Hallows College, Dublin. He also received a medal for academic excellence across the Masters programmes in the college that year. His thesis was entitled: To Investigate the Contours of the Child’s Experience of Christian Meditation. He was appointed to act a supervisor of Masters Theses by All Hallows College in 2014.

Noel is currently undertaking doctoral research on the child’s experience of meditation in the context of a whole-school practice in primary schools in Ireland and expects to submit his thesis for examination in June 2016.


Publications: Trusteeship & Mission Integrity: Having Faith in Our Schools Portarlington (Ireland): Presentation Education Office, 2006

[1] For further information, see



Friday, 9th October 2015Seminar Thursday 22 October 2015:
Varieties of Emotion: Basic and Complex

This seminar took place on Thursday 22 October 2015, 4.30-6pm in Wallis Room
(St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham – Find St John’s College HERE and Wallis Room HERE).

Dr Fraser Watts, Former Reader in Theology and Science, University of Cambridge

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


‘Emotion’ is a very general category and slides over some important differences. In pre-scientific discourse about what is now called ‘emotion’, religious thinking made a distinction between passions and affections, which is still useful. However, this paper will focus mainly on the distinction between basic and complex emotions. They differ in many ways, including complex emotions being more cognitively elaborate and more distinctively human (though basic emotions can sometimes become complexified). It will be argued that complex emotions are more significant in emotional disorders, and that their cognitive complexity makes them prone to become dysfunctional. It will also be argued that complex emotions play a particularly significant role in relationships and in religious life. The management of complex emotions is an important aspect of religious practices.


Fraser Watts was formerly Reader in Theology and Science in the University of Cambridge, where he was Director of the Psychology and Religion Research Group and a Fellow of Queens’ College. He is a former President of the British Psychological Society and of the International Society for Science and Religion. He remains Research Director of the Cambridge Institute for Applied Psychology and Religion. His books include Theology and Psychology (Ashgate, 2002); Psychology for Christian Ministry (with Rebecca Nye and Sara Savage, Routledge, 2002); Forgiveness in Context (edited with Liz Gulliford, T & T Clark, 2004); Jesus and Psychology (DLT, 2007); Spiritual Healing: Scientific and Religious Perspectives (CUP, 2011); Head and Heart: Perspectives from Religion and Psychology (edited with G Dumbreck, Templeton Press, 2013) Evolution, Religion and Cognitive Science: Critical and Constructive Essays (edited with L Turner, OUP, 2014). He has an introduction to the psychology of religion in press with CUP.


Saturday, 3rd October 2015SEMINAR PROGRAMME
Michaelmas Term 2015

SEMINAR PROGRAMME – Michaelmas Term 2015

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 will be available for you.


Also feel free to visit the Durham University website to Subscribe to these seminars, download future seminars as an iCal calendar file or download the seminar programme in pdf format.


Thursday 22 October 2015 (4.30-6pm)
Varieties of Emotion: Basic and Complex
Wallis Room, St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham
by Dr Fraser Watts, Formerly Reader in Theology and Science, University of Cambridge, UK


Thursday 29 October 2015 (4.30-6pm)
On Using a Phenomenological, Hermeneutic, Mystagogical Methodology to Explore the Child’s Experience of Meditation
Wallis Room, St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham
by Mr Noel Keating, B.Sc., M.Litt., Co-ordinator, Meditation with Children, Christian Meditation Ireland, PhD candidate, Department of Applied Arts, School of Humanities, Waterford Institute of Technology


Thursday 19 November 2015 (4.30-6pm)
Theological Reflections on Disability
Wallis RoomSt John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham
by Mr Roy McCloughry, National Disability Adviser, Archbishop’s Council, The Church of England; Vice-President of disability charity Livability


Thursday 3 December 2015 (4.30-6pm)
The neurology of religion
Wallis RoomSt John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham
by Revd Professor Alasdair Coles, Professor of Neuroimmunology, University of Cambridge



Durham University logo (transparent)


Monday, 24th August 2015Fourth International Conference of the
British Association for the Study of Spirituality
23-26 May 2016,
Chancellors Conference Centre, Manchester

We are delighted to invite you to attend the 4th International Conference of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality. The conference title will be: Can Spirituality transform our world? New frontiers in understanding and exploring contemporary spiritualities. Consideration will be given to the transformative potential in the concept and practice of spirituality when applied to key issues in contemporary society. Through four critical questions the conference aims to re-examine some cherished assumptions in spirituality discourse and push the boundaries of that exploration through the broad interdisciplinary platform on which BASS is founded. Bringing together perspectives as wide ranging as health and social care practice, the creative arts, business and education studies with contemporary religious and spirituality studies, and featuring key-note speakers from the UK, Germany, Ireland and Australia, this conference promises an exciting interdisciplinary encounter while retaining the relaxed atmosphere for which BASS conferences are renowned.


Please click on the links for the Conference Flyer, further information and to book your place online.


We look forward to seeing you at BASS 2016!


Saturday, 23rd March 2013Applications are now being accepted for our
MA/MSc Programmes in Spirituality, Theology & Health
for the academic year 2015-2016

Entry to our MA/MSc programmes 2015-2016 in Spirituality, Theology & Health is still possible for the academic year 2015-2016. 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 2013Spirituality, 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.