Our friend and colleague, John Moles, passed away suddenly on Sunday 4th October, while working in the library. He was a Professor of Latin at Newcastle University, but he lived in Durham and participated regularly in our New Testament Research Seminar, where he could always be relied upon to be provocative, challenging, insightful, witty, warm and self-deprecating.
If John was in the audience, we could look forward to his “pagan” comments (as he called them), prodding us to reconsider familiar things in unfamiliar ways. Two themes that he never tired of were puns and Dionysus. No one who had been to a few seminars with him could forget that “Jesus” in Greek is punned with the verb of healing (Iesous/iaomai), and “Christ” with “grace” as well as “anointing” (Christos/charis/chrisma). Dionysus and his cult were often spotted by John in the motifs and language of the New Testament. He would draw attention to Richard Seaford’s article from 1984 on Dionysiac echoes in Paul’s imagery of seeing Christ “through a glass darkly”, and might add, modestly, that he too had written a piece on Dionysus in Acts. While it is not uncommon for scholars to try to cross the lines between Classics and New Testament Studies, it is a rare pearl to find one who combines the depth and breadth of Classical learning that John had, with such professional commitment to New Testament study. Perhaps there were times when some of us thought he pushed the Classical connections too far, but we could only be grateful for being made think in ways we couldn’t or didn’t without our “pagan” friend. And indeed, the prominence in the church fathers of both punning on Iesous and Christos, and of connections between Dionysiac and Christian imagery, lend strong support to some of John’s instincts in reading the New Testament texts. Continue reading
On Thursday March 12th 2015 Prof. Douglas Davies was invited to speak at a debate hosted at the House of Commons on behalf of the Memorial Awareness Board and National Association of Memorial Masons. The motion was, ‘This House believes that Local Authorities should not compete commercially against their council tax and rate payers’. This topic relates to the Localism Act of 2011 which allows Local Authorities, if they so wished, to engage in the provision of, amongst other things, gravestone memorials. This new option is of obvious interest to Memorial Masons and Funeral Directors who are the usual sources of memorial provision. A very lively debate ensued amongst the sixty or so funeral and memorial professionals present, as well as a small representation of Local Authorities. Prof. Davies had been asked to oppose this motion and was thanked by many for taking on that position which allowed the debate to air many deeply held views. It is very likely that these issues will be taken up with new Members of Parliament after the 2015 General Election.
The Reverend Professor Charles E. B. Cranfield, who died on 27th February, 2015, six months short of what would have been his hundredth birthday, was one of the leading British New Testament scholars of the second half of the twentieth century. He taught in Durham for thirty years, as Lecturer (1950-62), Senior Lecturer (1962-66), Reader (1966-78) and finally in a ‘personal chair’ (1978-80). During the same period he was colleague with Professor C. K. Barrett, two years younger, and together they made Durham pre-eminent in the world of New Testament scholarship.
On the 16th of February I sat down excitedly in front of my TV screen. It is rare that I watch live TV, I find the idea of my time schedule being dictated by television executives irritating and so as a matter of principle almost always avoid it. But the 16th was a special night; it was the launch of channel 4s much hyped ‘Indian Summers’.
‘Indian Summers’ with its promise to take us to Simla, the summer capital of British India, sent a wave of electric anticipation through me. I have spent a good deal of time living and working in modern Shimla, as well as thinking about how colonial Simla is reflected in the modern city and because place works upon us at the same time as it is working on it, to see Shimla on the big screen is to joyfully connect (through the screen) with part of myself. My anticipation was deluded however, for I was to be bitterly disappointed.
The last time that I was in India I spent a while on the plains, before travelling to Shimla. As I wound up the mountain road and caught my first glance of Shimla my heart warmed and I felt my body relax. The very sight of Shimla was curative and the aliments that I had been carrying on the plains vanished, but it was that moment of recognition, of greeting again a part of the self that gave me such joy. A similar scene occurs in Indian Summers, episode 1, when Alice Wheelan is traveling up to Simla and joyfully exclaims “It is just like I remember it”. Except it isn’t; it isn’t anything like I remember it. The architecture, the landscape, the climate, are all completely different. Instead of familiarity and recognition, it was like looking in a mirror and seeing an unfamiliar face staring back.
There has been little serious reaction – so far – to the Archbishop of York’s recent contribution to the political debate, once the immediate knee-jerk flurry after its launch had died away. The Morning Star provided a thoughtful review (9th February 2015), while noting that the book is ‘couched in religious terms on occasion’ – oops!
John Sentamu’s first and last book-end chapters are a clarion call for a return to the vision of solidarity shared both by Sentamu’s predecessor William Temple and by the British post-war consensus around the two Beveridge Reports that led to the creation of the NHS and a State commitment to full employment. My copy of the 1976 edition of Temple’s book ‘Christianity and Social Order’ provides quiet testimony, in the form of a foreword by Edward Heath, that this consensus was not a matter of party politics. It is poignant that Heath wrote just as the consensus was dissolving.
Temple agonised over whether and how the Church hierarchy should intervene in political debate. His answer was: through a systematic statement of principles that enables individual Christians to exercise their moral and civil rights; and through a denunciation of customs or institutions in contemporary life and practice which offend against those principles. It is not for the Church to supply technical remedies, yet as Sentamu puts it, quoting Immanuel Kant, ‘religion without politics is empty, politics without religion is blind’. Continue reading
Prof. Hans Mol
Sacred Selves, Sacred Settings (Ashgate 2015)- is an edited collection, subtitled ‘Reflecting Hans Mol’, exploring his important work on identity and the sacred. Having survived Nazi imprisonment Mol spent a lifetime engaging in sociology and pastoral forms of ministry as an active Presbyterian. His notion of the sacralization of identity is probably more germane in today’s world of competing ‘sacred selves’ that easily offend or are offended than when he first saw the import of human survival through religiously intensified identities decades ago. There is much here on religion in Canada and Australia and New Zealand that takes issues of ‘secularization’ and many other social factors beyond their usual contexts of western-Europe and the USA.
So, at long last, the REF (Research Excellence Framework) results are out, and members of the Department have suspended their scepticism about the value of the process and the meaningfulness of the results just long enough to celebrate the outcome.
One of the areas in which we did well was ‘Research Impact’ – which, for REF purposes, is defined as ‘an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’ generated by some piece of research.
The definition and measurement of ‘impact’ is, however, controversial. Earlier this year, I finished a project that I had been working on with colleagues from other departments around the country, in which we set out to examine the whole idea of ‘impact’ more closely. We talked to a range of academics who work in the area of Christian doctrine, and we talked to a range of people from outside Higher Education who have sometimes collaborated with doctrine specialists, or drawn on their work. We asked each of them to tell us, What does real impact look like?
We published our findings in a report – Christian Doctrine and the Impact Agenda – which you can download from our webpage. It tells you a bit more about the kinds of impact that researchers in this area have, but it also contains a few questions about the way that processes like the REF try to measure it.
The subject of church growth continues to bedevil ecclesiastical discourse. Is it a matter of mere numbers or should some account be taken of active commitment? Is baptism still the best metric of Christian identity or should the researcher also look for evidence of spiritual transformation? Is it better for a denomination to generate many small congregations or a few larger ones with satellite congregations?
In the Anglican Communion a more stark debate has been under way over the last twenty years concerning which provinces are thriving and which are in retreat. In the past year, I have been assembling data on The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States of America for a volume to be published by Ashgate in 2015 that examines changing patterns of provincial membership. Underpinning this research are two significant questions: is TEC – taken as a whole – in decline and, if so, does that decline reflect something peculiar to the Anglican experience or is it part and parcel of a general retreat within mainline American Protestantism?
Please come to the launch of Robert Song’s new book on same-sex relationships 5.30 p.m., 17 November, St Chad’s College.
An Introduction to the Book by Dr. Song:
Two years ago I was asked to be a theological adviser to the Church of England House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality (the Pilling Group). Our report came out this time last year, and as a result the Church of England has entered on a time of ‘shared conversations’, when dioceses around the country are discussing same-sex relationships and equal marriage. The Church of England is not alone in this: many other churches, both in Britain and around the world, are going through similar times of discernment.
Sexual ethics is not a matter to which until this time I had given much thought. While I have taught Christian ethics in Durham for over twenty years, first at Cranmer Hall and more recently in the Department, there have always been other colleagues who have had a particular interest in teaching and supervising in sexuality and gender. But as a result of my involvement in the Pilling Group, I was forced to think through for the first time what I did think in some depth, and the results have just been published by SCM Press as Covenant and Calling: Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships (available through all good bookshops as well as some dubious ones).