Engaging theological research with clinical practice

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Wednesday, 27th April 2016UPCOMING Seminar Thursday 5 May 2016:
Medieval Muslim ‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapists’ al-Kindi and al-Balkhi

This seminar will take place on Thursday 5 May 2016, 4.30-6pm in Wallis Room
(St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham).

Mrs Mahshid Turner, PhD candidate, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University; First female Muslim chaplain at UK university

Born at the beginning of the ninth century in Basra, Abῡ Yῡsuf Ya’qῡb b. Isḥāq al-Kindī (800-870 A.D.) – was a scion of the respected Arab tribe of Kinda, a direct descendant of Ash’ath b. Qays, a companion of the Prophet. On account of his contribution to the scientific, philosophical and literary disciplines he was given the honorary title of ‘philosopher of the Arabs’. A list of his works in the bibliographical compendium of Ibn Nadim (d. 995) stretches to 239 treatises on subjects as diverse as metaphysics, ethics, astronomy, mathematics and ‘the study of the soul’. Unfortunately most of these are no longer in existence; what remains of his work has been collected into a single volume. In 1932, some of his original Arabic epistles were discovered in Ayasofia library in Istanbul, including his treatise entitled ‘On the Device for Dispelling Sorrows’. It is a study of this treatise which will inform part of this presentation.

Abῡ Zayd Ahmad ibn Sahl al-Balkī (850-934 A.D.) was born around fifty years after al-Kindī in the Persian province of Balkh. Like al-Kindī, Balkhi was recognised as an expert in a whole range of disciplines, including medicine and philosophy. One of the few works of his which survives is his manuscript Maṣālīḥ al-Abdān wa al-Anfus (‘Sustenance for Bodies and Souls’) also located in Ayasofya library in Istanbul. The first part of this book is devoted to the physical aspects of health for sustenance of the body and the second part to the sustenance of the soul. It is the second part of his treatise that I will be discussing here, in particular the seventh section, where al-Balkhī talks about how one should deal with sadness and depression.

Although the discourse on the mind and how we think, and on the impact the mind has on the physical and mental state of individuals, can be traced back to the philosophy of the Stoics, early Muslim thinkers such as al-Kindī and al-Balkhī developed these ideas further by showing how both the mind and the body can be trained to recognise faulty and delusionary thinking and how to replace it with healthy thoughts. According to Malik Badri,[1] the translator of Sustenance of the Soul, Balkhī’s psychotherapy “could be termed today as “rational cognitive therapy”’.[2]

Both al-Kindi and al-Balkhi made a clear distinction between sorrow that was due to environmental factors and sorrow that has no apparent reason. Their differentiation between these two categories bears a remarkable resemblance to modern definitions of reactive depression and endogenous depression. These medieval Muslim thinkers attributed the former to the loss of loved ones or valued possessions and believed that the actual events in people’s lives were not the real cause of reactive depression, but rather that the problem was down to how they interpreted their particular experiences. The strategies and methods which these two thinkers devised for obviation of reactive depression will be discussed in detail in this presentation.

[1] Malik Badri, Abῡ Zayd al-Balkhī’s Sustenance of the Soul: The Cognitive Behavior Therapy of a Ninth Century Physician (London and Washington: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2013), 18.

[2] Ibid.


My name is Mahshid Turner and I am about to finish my PhD which is on the subject of ‘Sorrow (‘ḥuzn’) in the Muslim Tradition: with Special Reference to Said Nursi’. I am also a non-contractual Muslim Chaplain for Durham University – recognised as the first female Muslim chaplain in higher education to be appointed in United Kingdom. My publications include ‘Can the Effects of Religion and Spirituality on Both Physical and Mental Health be Scientifically Measured? An Overview of the Key Sources, with Particular Reference to the Teachings of Said Nursi’, published in the Journal of Religion and Health, as well as conference talks and book reviews.


Wednesday, 27th April 2016SEMINAR PROGRAMME
Easter Term 2016

SEMINAR PROGRAMME – Easter Term 2016

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 5 May 2016 (4.30-6pm)
Medieval Muslim ‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapists’ al-Kindi and al-Balkhi
Wallis RoomSt John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham
by Mrs Mahshid Turner,
PhD candidate, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University;
First female Muslim chaplain at UK university


Thursday 12 May 2016 (4.30-6pm)
Mindfulness, Christianity and Pastoral Care
Wallis RoomSt John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham
by Dr Peter Tyler,
Professor of Pastoral Theology and Spirituality, St Mary’s University, Twickenham;
Founding Director of the Centre for Initiatives in Spirituality and Reconciliation (InSpiRe)


Thursday 19 May 2016 (4.30-6pm)
Resilience, faith and health
Wallis RoomSt John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham
by Revd Dr Alison Gray,
FRCPsych; Consultant in Mental Health Liaison Team, 2-gether NHS Foundation Trust;
Honorary Research Fellow in the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, Birmingham University; Associate Priest, Great Malvern Priory



Durham University logo (transparent)


Thursday, 21st April 2016Our MA/MSc programme in Spirituality, Theology & Health as a possible intercalated degree for undergraduate medical students

We would like to draw to your attention our MA/MSc programme in Spirituality, Theology & Health as a possible intercalated degree for undergraduate medical students. This programme is unique in its provision of inter-disciplinary engagement between theology and health sciences and related inter-professional contact. The programme has been running for 4 years now for graduate students and we accepted our first intercalated student last year. She recently graduated with a distinction.


If you are interested, please click HERE for further information on the programme and the application process.


We would be grateful if you could circulate details of this programme to anyone who may be interested. If they would like to consider this programme further, they should get in touch with Professor Chris Cook (c.c.h.cook@durham.ac.uk), as programme director, or Susan Tait, our postgraduate admissions secretary (theo.pgadmissions@durham.ac.uk), who will be able to provide further information.

We look forward to seeing you soon!


Thursday, 21st April 2016Spirituality and Narrative in Psychiatric Practice
by C.Cook, A.Powell & A.Sims

For mental health service users, spirituality and faith are closely connected with questions of relationship, transcendence, and finding meaning and purpose in life – questions best approached by way of narrative (or story).

In clinical practice, narrative can provide a means of exploring the ethical and professional dilemmas that are encountered when spiritual and/or religious concerns are in evidence. Narrative has been recognised as important in both medicine and theology, and now it can be employed as a framework for addressing spirituality and religion in clinical psychiatric practice, encompassing addictions, liaison and forensic psychiatry, and spanning all ages and cultures.

  • Breaks new ground in using a narrative to explore the importance and challenge of spirituality in clinical psychiatric practice.
  • Includes narrative excerpts and case illustrations to show how spiritual concerns can be included in a range of psychiatric treatment options.
  • Provides a tool for exploring the ethical and professional dilemmas spirituality still raises in mental healthcare.
  • Presents contributions from patients, chaplains, and leading psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.


Click on the links below to:



All psychiatrists and mental health professionals. Plus of interest to anyone interested in the effect of religion/spirituality upon mental health, e.g. hospital chaplains.



Prof. Christopher C.H. Cook – Professor of Spirituality, Theology & Health, Durham University; Honorary Minor Canon at Durham Cathedral; and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Andrew Powell – Formerly: Consultant Psychotherapist and Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry, St. George’s Hospital and University of London and Consultant Psychotherapist and Honorary Senior Lecturer, the Warneford Hospital and University of Oxford.

Prof. Andrew Sims – Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Leeds and former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (1990-93).





  1. Narrative in psychiatry, theology and spirituality
  2. Spirituality and transcultural narratives
  3. Psychopathology and the clinical story
  4. Helping patients tell their story: narratives of body, mind and soul
  5. Gods lost and found: spiritual coping in clinical practice
  6. Stories of joy and sorrow: spirituality and affective disorder
  7. Stories of fear: spirituality and anxiety disorders
  8. Stories of transgression: narrative therapy with offenders
  9. Narratives of transformation in psychosis
  10. My story: a spiritual narrative
  11. God’s story revealed in the human story
  12. Meaning without ‘believing’: attachment theory, mentalisation and the spiritual dimension of analytical psychotherapy
  13. Stories of living with loss: spirituality and ageing
  14. Beginnings and endings


Spirituality & Narrative in Psychiatric Practice (Cover)


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.