Café des Théologiennes: Addressing Gender Imbalance in Theology and Religious Studies

It is now well known that women are underrepresented in academia, including in Departments of Theology and Religion. The 2013 study, ‘Gender and Career Progression in Theology and800px-Helena_of_Constantinople_(Cima_da_Conegliano) Religious Studies,’ conducted by members of Durham’s department of Theology and Religion (Mathew Guest, Sonya Sharma and Robert Song), drew particular attention to such issues and has become an important resource for subsequent discussions.

Café des Théologiennes, originally Café des Femmes, was set up a few years ago by research students in our department. The group aimed to provide a space for female Theology students and staff to meet together, share their experiences, and learn more about each other’s work. Staff and student presentations, as well as professional development seminars, based on the experiences of females in the department and in academia more generally, have been central features of the group since its inception. The group has continued to grow and develop over time, responding to changes in the life and makeup of the department. The change in name to Café des Théologiennes was designed to recognise that those participating in the group are not just ‘women,’ but are specifically female theologians. The group has run several Postgraduate Research Days, allowing any of the department’s postgraduates to present some of their work to other members of the community. Moreover, the academic year 2014-2015 saw the introduction of termly ‘Open Seminars,’ where male members of the department were welcomed to staff presentations organised by the group. Such changes represent both the professionalism of the Café and an understanding that gender imbalance cannot be tackled by women alone, but must be a concerted effort made by all.

This year, we have chosen to further evolve the programme of CdT. Café des Théologiennes wishes to support the integration of females within the Department of Theology and Religion and to develop a departmental community where all members feel supported and encouraged. Whilst still allowing space for female postgraduates to present their research to one another, we have been keen to develop a general Postgraduate Seminar alongside these female-only events. The Postgraduate Seminar allows one male and one female presenter to share some of their research with other members of the department. The aim of such a seminar is to bolster the postgraduate community, providing an opportunity for students to meet and learn more about each other’s work. Such a space for research students in the department has not been available prior to this and we believe this to be an important contribution that CdT can make to the department as a whole.

Café des Théologiennes is an extremely important group that has had multiple benefits for those participating in it over the years. The underrepresentation of women in academia continues to be a problem. Although there is now increased awareness of the issue, the imbalance can never be redressed if we do not take action. CdT reminds us as individuals and as a department that we must support female colleagues. The academic and social benefits of CdT for women in the department cannot be denied. The group has given female postgraduates and staff in our department the chance to get to know one another and to share their personal experiences, as well as their work, in a supportive environment. The confidence that this has given those women is significant. However, Café des Théologiennes should not simply be of benefit to women alone. It highlights to us that we must support and encourage every individual within the department, establishing and maintaining a community that promotes equality for all and recognises the value of each person’s contribution. Café des Théologiennes represents one of the ways in which our department and its research students are attempting to address a well-known problem in our discipline. We hope that over time, we will see significant changes in our own department and in academia more widely. Until then, we will continue to work to support one another and to develop a stronger community among postgraduates studying Theology and Religion in Durham.

If you have any questions about Café des Théologiennes, or if you would be interested in presenting for us, please email We also have a Facebook group and a page on the departmental website where information about our forthcoming seminars may be found.

Katie Woolstenhulme and Madison Pierce


Mystery and the Making of a Christian Historical Consciousness

The Department of Theology and Religion isLang book very happy to announce the publication of Dr T.J. Lang’s new book, Mystery and the Making of a Christian Historical Consciousness.

This monograph examines Pauline and early Christian understandings of history, revelation, and identity. Dr Lang addresses these topics by exploring appeals to “mystery” in Paul’s letters and the ensuing discourses of revelation in second-century Christianity. He argues that Paul’s particular historical coordination of hiddenness and revelation enabled figures to ground Christian claims—particularly key ecclesial, hermeneutical, and christological claims—in Israel’s history and the eternal designs of God while at the same time accounting for their revelatory newness. He then explores how this account of revelation expanded into a total Christian historical consciousness, and one that has significant implications for conceptions of Christian identity, particularly vis-à-vis Judaism.

The book is ready for purchase here, an excellent stocking stuffer.

T.J. Lang is Lecturer in New Testament in the Department of Theology and Religion.

AAR/SBL: A Report



Along with assorted others from Durham’s Department of Theology and
Religion, I recently attended the 2015 American Academy of
Religion/Society for Biblical Literature conference in Atlanta. The
conference is notoriously enormous – 10,000 delegates was the number I
heard bandied around, and while I didn’t do a head count it does at least
seem plausible. The conference took place in several hotels in downtown
Atlanta, though in some ways it would be more accurate to describe it as
multiple conferences happening in roughly the same area. Never mind the
Society for Biblical Literature: you could spend most of the length of the
conference just reading through the book of AAR abstracts.

My strategy was to go to the panels my friends were presenting on, and to
spend less time in panels than I did taking the opportunity to catch up
with old friends from around the world and finally meet people I’d only
met online. It worked pretty well, for me at least. Social media really
came into its own for me here: in the middle of such a vast and anonymous event it was weird but nice to turn round in the first panel session I went to and realise that half the room was made up of people I’d met, but only on twitter.

I went to a great panel about debt, which dealt with the historical
connection between Christian theology and ideas of indebtedness, a
critique of the demand for Jubilee as a solution to indebtedness, and a
discussion of the role of Christian charity in the questionable pursuit of
microfinance as a solution to global poverty. I presented on a panel about
‘Thinking Critically about the Future(s) of the human’: I gave a paper
about angels, cyborgs and theological accounts of work, while my
co-panelists (including Durham alumnus Thomas Lynch) spoke about religion, hope and nihilism, and messianism and nature through the lens of Ismaili Islam. I finished the conference at a panel on ‘Micrologics of the
Postsecular’ which dealt brilliantly with a huge range of topics, from
creolization to black theology to death, with a discussion of Pussy Riot
thrown in for good measure.

I didn’t enjoy the jet lag, which had me awake from 4am every morning
right through the conference, but it’s good to get out of Durham
occasionally, especially for a city as expansive as Atlanta. The
intellectual stimulation and academic meeting of minds was all very well
but I’d do the whole trip again just for the vegan wings I had in a smoky
bar the night before I came home.

Dr Marika Rose is a former research postgraduate in the Department of Theology and Religion, and is currently Research Fellow in Digital Discipleship and Curator of the Discipleship, part of the CODEC Research Centre in Durham.

Join us: AAR/SBL Drinks Reception

image001Many of us will be attending the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, which will be held in Atlanta GA this year November 20-24th.  Now, as a former resident of Atlanta, I can only say that while downtown Atlanta has very little to recommend it, anybody going should think about visiting the Martin Luther King Historic Site.

Anyone getting hungry should get a cab out to one of the following: The Flying Biscuit, Murphy’s or to my favorite mexican restuarant (whose whereabouts I am not betraying).

Any former Durham students or staff, and anybody interested in exploring the possibility of studying at Durham is very welcome at Durham’s own reception, which will be held on Sunday, November 22 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM in the Chastain Room I at the Westin Peachtree Plaza.

Lewis Ayres is Head of Department and Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion.

The Tablet 175th Anniversay Conference

The Church as the Path to SalvationIn 1840, American Whig politician William Henry Harrison was battling Martin Van Buren for the American Presidency, Charles Darwin had just published The Voyage of the Beagle, the Queen Victoria Pub‘s namesake was overseeing the expansion of the British Empire, and Pope Gregory XVI was finalizing his decision to name Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti a cardinal, decades before the future Pius IX would lead the First Vatican Council toward the solemn definition of papal infallibility.  The year also marked the first edition of the international British Catholic journal The Tablet.

Widely seen as a preeminent standard of Catholic journalism in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the weekly periodical is currently celebrating 175 years of insight into the church’s inner workings and relationship to the wider world.  One of the highlight events marking the anniversary was a conference held from November 2-4 at Durham University titled “The Spirit of Catholic Renewal: Signs, Sources, and Calling.”

Some of the church’s most influential voices gathered in the Northeastern English countryside to discuss the shifting theological and political currents of our times.  Stanley Hauerwaus, Eamon Duffy, Paul Lakeland, Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, Anna Rowlands, Tina Beattie, Alana Harris, Timothy Radcliffe, Karen Kilby, Ormond Rush and Myriam Wijlens headed what was a remarkable intellectual marquee to completely sold-out crowds.  Though both Elizabeth Johnson and Cardinal Walter Kasper were unable to attend due to last minute personal issues, their important contributions continued to shape the three days of conversation.  Kasper’s paper was presented by Duffy and Rev. Anthony Currer of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.  Cambridge theologian Janet Soskice offered a stimulating response.

The days were incredibly full, with lectures and meetings running from early morning to well into the evening (and usually followed by informal conversation over pints and whiskey until even later).  Various Catholic and Anglican bishops participated in both the liturgies and the sessions, a wonderful sign of collaboration and articulation of the fact that those recognized by Catholics as the authentic teachers of the faith are also excited to learn from others in the church and society. A quick walk through the book stalls attested to the popular and scholarly contributions the attendees and speakers have made to the life of the church in the English-speaking world.

As is commonplace with The Tablet, the participants did not shy away from analyzing the challenges facing the church in these complicated times, both in terms of divisive societal issues and the internal debates unfolding in the wake of the recent synod.  Of course, Pope Francis’s vision of the church’s mission and future loomed large in nearly every session, though the attention to his office and personality was counterbalanced by some interesting points about the “macrocephalic” attitudes toward the papacy in recent centuries when compared to the long history of Christianity. Duffy, Kasper, and event host Paul D. Murray have long emphasized the importance of the local church in ecclesiology, while of course remaining respectful of the papacy’s unique role in Catholicism. According to thinkers in this camp, the Modernist crisis, ongoing ultramontane attitudes, and a pattern of centralizing authority in Rome in the years immediately before and since The Tablet’s founding have given the church an abnormally large “head.” To employ a different metaphor brought to light by Alana Harris, the current pope seems to be inverting the pyramid, especially in terms of his recognition of the role of lay popular piety, the preferential option for the poor, and the sensus fidelium.  As is well known, one of the ancient descriptions of the papacy is the servus servorum Dei, the Servant of the Servants of God.  Many in the church, even among the hierarchy, seem excited about these developments.  While certainly not all agree that Francis’ decisions have been unqualifiedly positive or helpful, most of the participants in this conference agreed that synodal and collegial ecclesiastical structures serve to address pathologies and keep the Body of Christ healthy and relevant to all people of good will, whether believers or not.  In so doing, they further evangelization efforts and the church’s raison d’etre.

It was a wonderful few days, and information about it and relevant resources can be found on the website of the Department of Theology and Religion’s Centre for Catholic Studies, fast becoming the ever-growing hub of academic and spiritual Catholic life in Britain, and one with international ties.

Michael M. Canaris is a former postdoctoral researcher in the Centre for Catholic Studies. He is now Assistant Professor of Ecclesiology and Systematic Theology and Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies.

Snow on Remembrance

Madonna of the Poppy (Paolo Veneziano, c.1325)

Madonna of the Poppy (Paolo Veneziano, c.1325)

Twelve months ago, in the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, and in order to lend some intellectual cut-and-thrust to the annual season of remembrance, ‘TV historian’ Dan Snow took up the cudgels against the current form of the annual Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph.

Although these categories are not necessarily distinct, it is true to say that, as a breed, ‘TV historians’ have a mixed reputation among their more cloistered, academic colleagues. Among the former, the tendency towards the dumbing-down – and even the simple distortion – of complex material and issues can prove too great to resist. And here is a telling case in point. Something of a poster boy for the National Secular Society, and even nominated as ‘Secularist of the Year 2014’ for ‘promoting a secular vision for the national ceremony of remembrance and challenging the Church of England’s dominant role at the Cenotaph’, Snow’s argument that ‘Remembrance Sunday should not be dominated by religion’, and that secularists need to be represented at the Cenotaph, is beset by dubious reasoning and factual inaccuracies. Indeed, one might even ask whether Snow himself is a convincing champion of his own cause. After all, his qualms about organised religion, the established Church, and religious privilege were not especially prominent when he was married to a daughter of the Duke of Westminster by the Bishop of Liverpool.

Whatever the pros and cons of Snow’s case against the Church of England’s leading role at the Cenotaph, and the need to accommodate the sensitivities of non-believers such as himself (in case, as he rather oddly claims, this generates further conflicts), there is little doubt about the misleading nature of some of his factual claims. To begin with, there is his breezy assertion that ‘about half’ of all Britons claim to have no religion. Do they? According to the 2011 Census, the proportion of the population who reported ‘no religion’ amounted to a quarter of the population of England and Wales. Even if the entire populations of Scotland and Northern Ireland were to be equally fervent ‘nones’, the proportion of Britain’s non-believers would be much, much less than Snow alleges. Furthermore, and despite the accelerating decline of British Christianity in the past fifty years or so, it seems pertinent to note just how many professed atheists there were in the British armed forces of the two World Wars – conflicts that produced the vast and overwhelming majority of those remembered at the Cenotaph each year.

Although official figures are not available for 1914-1918, a named headstone bearing no religious symbol is a telling rarity in the cemeteries of the First World War (and, judging by many of the accompanying inscriptions, a good proportion of these omissions can be ascribed to extreme Protestant misgivings over religious symbols of any kind). During the Second World War, and according to War Office figures, less than 1 per cent of soldiers in the British army claimed to be atheists. Given this situation, it seems entirely legitimate that the Christian identity of these generations should be reflected in the dominant – that is to say, religious – idiom of national remembrance. If we carry Snow’s argument to its logical conclusion, and wish to make our whole cult of remembrance religiously neutral in order to fit with a new (non) religious sensibility, then we also need to have a thoroughgoing purge of our Commonwealth war cemeteries – and do away with the iconic Cross of Sacrifice, the Stone of Remembrance, and even their horticultural style, reflecting as they do Christian understandings of sacrifice and the biblical story of Christ’s resurrection.

Be that as it may, all this is as nothing compared to Snow’s insistence that state ceremonial at the Cenotaph was originally ‘secular’. He gets off to a bad start by getting his dates wrong. King George V was nowhere near the (temporary) Cenotaph at 11 o’clock on 11 November 1919, and still less was there any unveiling on that first anniversary of the Armistice. In fact, when its permanent successor was actually unveiled, on 11 November 1920, this was part of the elaborate ceremonial surrounding the interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. And, despite debate about the design of the Cenotaph and the form of ceremony to be followed (a sign of the range and vigour of religious belief across the British Empire, not its absence), the ensuing proceedings were in no way ‘secular’. Immediately prior to the unveiling at the stroke of 11, the assembled crowds sang ‘O God, our Help in Ages Past’, and the Archbishop of Canterbury led them in saying the Lord’s Prayer – which, according to The Times, ‘the King and all his subjects repeated with uncovered heads’. All this can be quickly established by consulting a small amount of contemporary evidence, a fundamental task of any historian, one might suppose. But not, it would seem, if you’re Dan Snow, and your self-appointed mission at the centenary of the First World War is to rid a national act of remembrance – held for generations on the Christian Sabbath, moreover – of what you wrongly perceive and proclaim to be alien religious accretions.

Professor Michael Snape is the Michael Ramsey Professor of Anglican Studies and Director of the Centre for Anglican Studies.

Durham, Newcastle, John Moles, In Memoriam, Classics

Professor John Moles: In Memoriam by Jane Heath

John Moles, In Memoriam, Durham University, Classics

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