Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day

Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day
13th June 2016, University of Exeter

Abigail Pearson

On Monday 13th June the department came together for the end of term Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day, hosted at the university’s Catholic Chaplaincy. This event offered the chance for MA and PhD students to share their research in front of students and staff.

In the first session, we heard from Leanna Rierson and Giovanni Hermanin De Reichenfeld. Leanna Rierson spoke about “The Emergence of Humility in Contemporary Leadership Theories and the Potential Application to Biblical Studies.” Her aim is to combine leadership theories, humility studies, and Biblical Studies in order to better understand leadership in both the ancient world and in contemporary culture. The approach she proposed involves using case-studies to investigate Paul’s humility and how this contributed to his effectiveness as a leader. Giovanni Hermanin De Reichenfeld gave a paper titled “The Material of the Gifts from God: is the Spirit a Creature in Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John?” His discussion of whether Origen considered the spirit to be part of creation revealed Origen’s multi-layered understanding of the Holy Trinity and how each of its aspects came into being. I was the chair for the session, and though I was nervous because I had not chaired before, it was made easier by the well-timed speakers and enthusiastic questions from the audience.

After a short break we returned for the keynote lecture, “Origen and Gregory of Nyssa on the Song of Songs,” given by Professor Mark Edwards from the University of Oxford. His research focused on the difficulties of interpreting the Song of Songs, and he examined how Origen and Gregory dealt with this difficulty through allegorical readings of the text. The discussion at the end yielded interesting conversations about personal poetry in ancient cultures and about the history of interpretations of the Song of Songs in both Judaism and Christianity.

In the afternoon we heard from PhD student Marina Hannus and MRes student David Horner. Marina Hannus’s research is in science and theology, and her paper ‘Beyond Original Sin,’ analysed ideas about original sin alongside the science of evolution. Her exploration into the early interpretations of Genesis 3 was very interesting, revealing that early exegesis interpreted the eating of the fruit to be something positive rather than a ‘fall’. David Horner gave a paper titled ‘Richard Swinburne’s Zombies: how far will the conceivability argument take us?’ He discussed Swinburne’s argument that humans consist of two substances – the material and the non-material. This involved a thought experiment conceiving of human beings with no consciousness, and David Horner was able to explain this thoroughly before offering his own objections to Swinburne’s ideas. Both papers generated a lively discussion afterwards.

The final paper was given by a special guest, Revd Dr. Eliza Getman from South Africa. In her lecture, “Transformative Iconography: Exploring the Embodied Presence of Clergywomen at the Altar,” Dr. Getman shared the experiences of seven female priests she had interviewed. These experiences shed light on the ways female priests have to work against stereotypes of what the ‘proper’ priests is, particularly when they are pregnant or nursing. Dr. Getman expressed hope that this will change gradually with the increased presence of female priests, and she argued that a wider acceptance of clergywomen will broaden our understandings of God and of ourselves.

As Esther Reed noted at the end of the day, the event bought together speakers from a very diverse range of subjects within theology – from biblical studies, through patristic studies, philosophy, and pastoral work – reflecting the array of interests that can be pursued in the department here in Exeter. I felt that the variety of topics covered made for a particularly enjoyable and thought-provoking day, and I look forward to seeing how the research taking place in the department progresses throughout my next year here. Hopefully at the next Postgraduate Study Day I will be able to join the presenters with something of my own!

Many thanks to Esther Reed for organising the event, and to local restaurant Mashawi for providing a delicious lunch.