Scholars

Scholarships were awarded by the Foundation of St Matthias for the first time for the academic year starting in September/October 2016.

Please see below more information about the successful applicants:

SIAN BROOKES

PhD in the Divinity Faculty at Aberdeen University

£5,000 for up to 6 years starting in September 2021.

As the world’s population ages, the very make up of our society is changing. The challenges and opportunities this shift brings are well documented in our media and generate research across academic disciplines, governments, and international bodies. Issues related to the ageing population are crucial to the success or failure of our societies: pressure on the public purse, endemic loneliness, familial burden and breakdown, generational conflict, and an exhausted care system. And yet, whilst many churches engage regularly both from a discipleship and missional perspective with older people, there has been very little emphasis in either Church or university on ‘old age’ as a subject for systematic theological discourse. I believe that as a Church we need to engage in activity that does not simply meet a need but does so through understanding what it truly means to flourish as humans. I am therefore hoping to use my PhD to paint a picture of how, in Christ, we can flourish in older age.

In our current culture, and even within church contexts, it is considered advisable to avoid dependence, vulnerability, physical degradation and weakness at all costs. My Masters dissertation demonstrated how, when studied through a Christological lens, this perspective can be radically transformed. Building on my MA, in my PhD I plan to develop a holistic theological anthropology which understands how humanity can find purpose and meaning even as the ability to ‘contribute’ to, ‘produce’ for, and ‘participate’ in society apparently fades away (specifically, I intend to use Ephesians 2:1-10 and a comparison of Patristic and Reformation soteriology to do this). Studying the interface between doctrinal theology, gerontology and the practice of ministry amongst older people, I therefore want to educate and empower local churches to interact with older people in a way that best represents God’s purposes for human life. Ultimately, I hope that we will grow to see older people as an asset of those who hold the keys for an understanding of what it truly means to be human not in spite of the losses of older age, but because of them.

I am hugely grateful to the St Matthias Trust for their support of my PhD, both financially and through the opportunity to engage with the trustees in regular updates and meetings. I care deeply about robust theological thinking being applied within real Church contexts and I hope that this research will be useful within the Church, academic theology and those engaging with issues of ageing in the rest of our society.

ABRAHAM MURAD

PhD at Oxford University

£10,000 for up to 3 years starting in September 2021.

My doctoral project investigates transformations in the nature of Christian identity, politics, and community in the Punjab region of north India during the upheavals of the twentieth century, asking how challenges of caste, economic crises, the violence of partition, the evolution of the modern nation-state, and war, have been negotiated by missionaries, religious thinkers, and everyday practitioners of Christian communities. It will evaluate this development as an interaction of Indian ‘untouchable’ and ‘high caste’ groups with missionary institutions within colonial and postcolonial structures. It will therefore be a study of the development of their particular subjectivity, and politics of community, consensus, and self-representation. In doing so this project injects a new perspective into a historiography characterised by lack of vernacular sources and dominance by western scholars. Punjab is an especially provocative terrain on which to explore these issues because as a site which saw the development of the world’s largest irrigation system, unprecedented economic transformation, mass religious conversion and revival movements, and a decided influence on India and Pakistan’s early trajectories, it offers us an opportunity to enrich our understanding of not only the immediate region but also dynamics which influenced both the institutional and cultural histories of the two sub-continental nation-states.

SZILVI WATSON

DPhil in Education at the University of Oxford.

£10,000 for up to 3 years starting in September 2020.

The undergraduate university experience of Christian students in the UK is a small, yet emerging field. Although postgraduate students make up 25% of the higher education student population, very little is known about their experiences. Christian postgraduates are a group who are virtually un-researched. It is this gap in the academic literature I would like to start to fill, enabled by the generosity of the St Matthias Trust.

In a project I conducted with postgraduate Christian students at the University of Oxford for my MSc, I found that this group of students is at a different stage of life. With more experience, many having had jobs before, having a family or going back to studying later in life, their needs are different. Unlike undergraduates fresh out of their home environment,  postgraduates no longer seek to test their faith – it has been established. They seek intimacy rather than identity. Intimacy in their relationship with God and with people, and intimacy in their studies, aiming to integrate their faith into their academic work.

Seeking intimacy (friendship, mentoring) is more difficult on postgraduate courses, as most students will not live in college accommodation; taught courses are much shorter than undergraduate courses; and research courses by nature are often a lonely experience.

Seeking intimacy with God leads these students to church groups (at universities where postgraduate groups exist). And there they may find intimacy (deep friendship and care) with fellow Christians and grow in their intimacy with God. Christians, who are at a similar stage of life and with whom they share the most important of values provide a strong support base. Students find pastoral care, fellowship and even enrich their studies through meaningful relationships with Christian academics (mentoring) and fellow students of different fields. These factors boost student satisfaction and are a major help with mental health.

The shield these communities provide are much needed – many Christian students feel marginalised due to their faith. Some find it harder to fit in and many experience bullying or ridicule – both in the classroom and among peers. They form a large, yet unrecognised minority whose needs are not being promoted the way many other groups’, in an era of identity politics.

The above findings show a mixed, alarming, yet encouraging picture. The scholarship offered by the St Matthias Trust made it possible for me to undertake a mixed methods research study at several universities in England, in order to establish a more nuanced picture of how their Christian identity effects the experience of postgraduate students.

My hope is that by further researching and exposing the tremendous benefits of faith and the level of marginalisation at the same time, this student population will start to get recognition, both from higher education institutions, and from churches to minister to them the best possible way. Gaining a DPhil in such research should allow me to pursue a carrier through which this very important topic may enter the public discourse and potentially result in better pastoral care and integration of Christian students at UK universities.

OLIVER PEEL

PhD at King’s College London.

£10,000 for up to 3 years starting in September 2020.

In 1633, in a small parish just outside Salisbury, a vicar called George Herbert died. He was faithful in much, but lived largely in obscurity. On his deathbed, he sent a book of poems to his friend with these instructions:

‘If he can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul, let it be made public; if not, let him burn it; for I and it are less than the least of God’s mercies.’

Thankfully, Herbert’s friend decided that the poems were worth publishing. Today, The Temple is considered one of the foremost works of metaphysical poetry and Herbert, perhaps the greatest devotional poet in the English language.

The reason I think George Herbert is particularly interesting is that his work constitutes not just poetry but also (and equally) theology; when reading Herbert, we can’t have one without the other and this presents a unique challenge to two intellectual disciplines that (although they have the same root) often stand apart.

Herbert has been studied extensively as a poet and, though his theology is often drawn upon, he is seldom viewed as a theologian proper. My research will examine The Temple as poetic theology. I believe this seventeenth-century text presents a vital challenge to modern theology, both in academia and in the local church. Through his art, Herbert invites his reader to negotiate the difficult, liminal spaces in Christian faith — both the places where God calls us in language and the spaces where words fail us.

One of my greatest passions is to see theology and the arts flourish in the body of Christ. My hope is that this research will equip and inspire artists to engage further with academic theology and theologians (that is, everyone who wants to speak of God) to explore artistic expressions. To put it another way, I want to promote unity in the local church and in our walk as believers: for our natural creative temperaments to be unified with our understanding of and speech about God. I believe that within Herbert’s work lies many a theological treasure that will encourage the Church to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. I am so thankful to the Foundation of St Matthias for their support for and partnership in this work.

CHRISTIE GILFEATHER

PhD in the Divinity Faculty at Cambridge:   “The Widows of the Hebrew Bible”.

£2,000 for the 2019/2020 academic year; and £10,000 for the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 academic years.

Widows appear in every genre of biblical text and yet there has been little research into their particular purposes. Not only does the widow occupy an awkward space within kinship and family structures, but also in economic structures and gender expectations. The spectre of the bereavement she has suffered conditions the way in which she is able to live, and the strength of this association with death compounds the other ways in which she is a difficult figure. My research will address the gap in scholarship pertaining to the widow by investigating the different manifestations of the figure throughout biblical texts.

My interest in the figure of the widow stemmed from the work I have undertaken as part of my MA in Theology, Mission and Ministry. I have undertaken work concerned with interpretation of biblical law, Ancient Near Eastern legal tradition and inner-biblical hermeneutics. As a result of these investigations I have observed the way in which the figure of the widow has been largely neglected in both academic and popular theology. The widow is often found on the fringe of a narrative and her treatment is referred to as a means by which to assess the moral health of a society in poetic and prophetic texts. Here, the widow also functions as a metaphor for the relationship of the people of Israel to YHWH. Widows are mentioned in passing in legal texts as being at risk of destitution, and in this context they are usually referred to alongside the orphan and the alien. The assumption that the three groups are equally vulnerable is, however, false. As a woman the widow is faced with a set of social and economic challenges that are specific to her gender which I will investigate during the course of this project.

It is the cross section of challenges faced by the widow which makes her a fascinating figure worthy of being the subject of extended research. Issues in relation to her gender raise wider questions about the role of women in Biblical texts, which has implications for women in contemporary society and the church. Alongside this, study of the widow raises questions about the nature of family, of different responses to death and the way in which the marginalised can be included in mainstream society. The current sparseness of work on the topic will ensure that the conclusions of the research will be original, and will make a contribution to a field which is not over-populated with scholarship. I hope that my work will be valuable not only in an academic context, but more broadly for the church given that I am to be ordained as an Anglican priest. Before I began theological college I was a support worker for a homelessness charity. Homelessness exposes people to some of the most profound failures of our society, leaving them marginalized and ignored. The widow in the Hebrew bible has a similar experience, and for both groups re-entry into society is deeply complex. My work background and current training for ordained ministry means that I will bring a unique perspective to the proposed research. I aspire to make a scholarly contribution to the field which is accessible for a range of people wishing to engage with Hebrew Bible studies.

NIAMH COLBROOK

PhD in Theology at the University of Cambridge.

£10,000 for the last 2 years (2019/2020 and 2020/2021) of her PhD.

Eating disorders, and mental health problems more broadly, are increasingly becoming a point of focus within the church. We are continually faced with the question of how best to care for those who are suffering, and with the recognition that our current pastoral approaches may not measure up to the task. For those affected by eating disorders, the need is not simply for formalised pastoral care, but also for theological sense-making. My work is motivated by the struggles that many individuals and families face in attempting to reconcile the experience of an eating disorder with the vocabularies, doctrines and practices that characterise the Christian life.

Despite the importance of these questions, there is remarkably little theological work dedicated to reflection on eating disorders. This is a problem not only for the church, but also for academic theology. Eating disorders raise particularly acute questions concerning the nature of human suffering and its meaningfulness, stretching and challenging our existing theological frameworks of will, agency and autonomy in discussions of health and illness. For the one suffering, eating disorders can be at once deeply painful afflictions and deeply meaningful forms of structuring, experiencing and making sense of one’s life. I seek to develop nuanced theological language that might witness to and carefully explore this complexity, in the hope of both contributing to existing theological work on the question of human suffering, and of equipping the church with more robust frameworks within which to respond to eating disorders. I do so through engaging with the work of Augustine of Hippo, a foundational figure in the history of Christian theology. I draw these primary texts into dialogue with contemporary theological accounts of food, embodiment, and suffering, as well as with contemporary research into eating disorders from within psychology, anthropology, and philosophy.

My doctoral research develops the work I completed during my BA and MPhil degrees in Theology, both undertaken at the University of Cambridge. I am very grateful to the Foundation of St Matthias for their support of this project, and hope that this work will make a valuable contribution both to the development of academic theology and to the work of the church. Moreover, I hope that this research might have something to offer to those outside of Christianity who work with individuals and families affected by eating disorders.

JOHN MOON 

PhD in New Testament at Durham University.

£5,000 for the last 2 years (2018/2019 and 2019/2020) of his PhD.

“Throughout the history of the church, few texts have been more hotly debated than Romans 9—by Origen and the Valentinians, Augustine and Pelagius, Calvinists and Arminians, and even among interpreters today. Romans 9 is about whether or not God has broken his promise to bless Israel, and Paul’s answer to this is to define who exactly God’s chosen people are who would receive this blessing. But his answer has been controversial for many reasons. What does it say about predestination, the status of Israel as God’s chosen people (especially in a post-Holocaust age), and the very character of God? The weight of these issues and the density of Paul’s language have made the interpretation of Romans 9 particularly difficult.

My own approach to Romans 9 will involve three steps. First, a history of interpretation that seeks to explain both how and why interpreters have read the chapter the way they have. Second, a comparative analysis of Paul’s use of the patriarchs (Romans 9:6-9, Romans 4, Galatians 3, Galatians 4:21-31) as a way to clarify the crucial beginning of Paul’s argument in Romans 9, which, I will argue, influences the way the rest of the chapter is read. And third, a reading of Romans 9-11 in light of my reading of Romans 9:6-9.

As the influence of neo-Calvinism grows, my research hopes to provide teachers in the Church of England with a resource to think historically, exegetically, and theologically about one of the movement’s key texts, a text that has exerted a tremendous influence on the way many Christians have viewed God. Moreover, my research hopes to help those interested in Jewish-Christian dialogue to better understand how a first-century Jewish Christian was able to use the Jewish Scriptures to simultaneously define Christian identity and lay the foundations of hope for the Jewish nation.

CAROLINE LESEMANN-ELLIOTT

Master’s in Musicology at Royal Holloway

£5,000 for one academic year (2018-2019)

Caroline is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, she received the majority of her musical education in viola and violin through the youth programmes at the University of Michigan, as well as through the Huron High School Performing Arts program.  She first became interested in conducting through an elective course at the Indiana University Summer Music Clinic.  After deciding to do an academic degree at the University of Edinburgh, rather than  conservatoire, she recognised her true passion for understanding music as a social discipline, partly through experiences as a musical director.

Over her time as a Bachelor’s student, Caroline has studied conducting with Greg Batsleer and Russell Cowieson. She is currently the conducting intern with the Scottish Chamber Choir, under Iain McLarty. Caroline has conducted the Information Services Group Choir, New College Choir at the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Dick Veterinary School Orchestra, and served as Musical Director for Le Petit Verre Opera Production’s premiere production, Hansel and Gretel. She has also assisted as conductor with the Dalkeith Singers, the Edinburgh Practice Choir, the choir of Greyfriars Kirk, and the Edinburgh University Singers while they were on tour in Poland (alongside Dr. John Kitchen, MBE). In 2016, Caroline started a mixed voice choir called Voces Inauditae, an ensemble dedicated to the integration of lesser known composers into the world of choral music, with an emphasis on gender equality. At least half of each programme contain music by female composers. They also work to include composers from traditionally marginalised social groups, as well as giving up-and-coming composers the chance to premiere their work. The choir has had an extremely successful two years, and will be continuing on upon Caroline’s departure.

Come September, Caroline will be attending Royal Holloway for a Master’s in Musicology, thanks to financial support from both Royal Holloway and the St Matthias trust. She is specialising in feminist musicological approaches and sacred music by 16th and 17th century English women, both in Catholic and Protestant worship. This summer, she is undertaking fieldwork searching for sacred choral music by 16th and 17th century English nuns across England, Belgium, and Northern France, courtesy of the Friends of St. Cecilia’s Trust. She hopes to use the music she finds to challenge the narrative that English women did not write sacred music, and to add to the increasing amounts of sacred music by women across Europe being published in editions and anthologies for Anglican worship. Her goal is to oversee the establishment of equal representation of female composers on church music lists, both through the embrace of research into convent music-making in the 16th and 17th centuries and the embrace of active inclusion of female composers into every day services and concerts.

“Representation matters. Conscious programming sends a message. We don’t have to live in a society that refuses to acknowledge women’s accomplishments or include them in our histories. But it requires a change in mindset, and that’s something that takes time (and money) to do. I’m thrilled that the Church’s representatives are willing to allocate their time and money to that cause, and honoured to be a part of that journey.”

BEN THOMPSON 

Ben photo with kids

PhD in Old Testament Theology exploring the themes of pride and humility in the Old Testament, Queens University, Belfast.

£10,000 per year for up to 3 years from September 2016.

I am an ordained priest in the Church of England and was identified as a Potential Theological Educator during selection and training.  This provided funding for an MTh focussing on Old Testament Theology. I have come to the point where I believe that my ministerial vocation within the Church of England should involve a role as a Theological Educator with a particular focus on Old Testament studies, or more widely Biblical Studies and Biblical Theology. I have been persuaded that my academic and teaching gifts combined with my pastoral experience and gifts place a calling upon me to serve the Church through theological education.

I have chosen a topic for doctoral research which I believe will develop a breadth of skills and expertise suited to the role of a theological educator. The research will strengthen competencies in exegesis, in the original languages and in biblical theology, which are essential to helping the next generation correctly exegete the Scriptures. It will also likely lead to a deep reflection on the themes of pride and humility and their intersection with the issue of leadership which will have a significant impact on pastoral and ministerial theology.

I strongly believe that theological education is best done by those with ministerial experience and giftings, to ensure that the education is grounded in the reality of the contemporary world, and is delivered in a holistic, formative way.  My hope is therefore that I will be able to study part time alongside a continuing pioneer minister role,

Conversations with a range of people involved in pastoral ministry and theological education have highlighted that there is currently a real lack of pastoral training biblical scholars. There is a danger that at a time of growing biblical illiteracy and a societal rejection of Christendom, the Church may fail to have sufficient theological educators who can take on the responsibility of teaching and training church in the Scriptures to ensure that the increasingly complex pastoral and missional challenges we face are addressed with the theological resources given to us in Scripture. This qualification will immediately enable me to step into such a role.

Update Sept 2018:  In light of the studies that I have been able to undertake I have been asked to teach a course in Hebrew narrative to a class this year, including a number of Anglican Ordinands. I have also been asked to lead a study day for church ministers on the book of Jeremiah and its relevance to ministry in the contemporary world. It is encouraging to see how my hopes for the study are beginning to be fulfilled.

ENYA DOYLE

Enya Photo

PhD – Music and Theology, St John’s College, Durham University.

£10,000 per year for up to 3 years from September 2016.

This Is My Song: A Transdisciplinary Study of Gender (In)Equality in English Cathedral Music

Enya is a final-year doctoral student working with Bennett Zon in Music and Frances Clemson in Theology at Durham University. Her academic interests include links between music and theology, education, social justice, and gender, sex and sexuality. Reflecting this, Enya’s PhD triangulates gender theory, musicology and theology supported by information gathered from her own case studies (completed in 2017/2018) to probe gender inequality in English cathedral music. By exploring how the introduction of women has been seen to challenge the boundaries of official and valid worship, and by questioning patterns of theology that have been used to justify past male dominance and female subordination in Anglican cathedrals, Enya’s thesis acknowledges that religion is a vehicle through which tradition can be overthrown, and will attempt to refocus and illuminate the place of musical women and gender diverse individuals in the Cathedral setting presently and in the future. Some key themes, including leadership, space, and embodiment, will help to ascertain which dichotomies exist between practice and theory, the potential/actual impact on boys’ choirs and male musicians and the overall impact (real and imagined) on the English choral tradition and most importantly produce some suggestions of what can be done to diminish the divide between those who believe that gender parity in English cathedral music should be the norm (the majority) and those who hold that gender parity has an adverse impact on the tradition.

Beyond her thesis, Enya has also taught on a variety of undergraduate modules in the Music Department and is hoping to become an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy by the end of 2018. She was Chair of Conference Committee for Church Music & Worship which took place in Durham in April 2018 and the York Conference on Church Music (Feb 2017). Enya has spoken at conferences in the UK and across the world including the First International Conference on Women’s Work in Music (Wales, Sept 2017), the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music Annual Conference (North Carolina, USA, Feb 2018) and the Gender Diversity in Music Making Conference (Melbourne, Australia, July 2018).  The rest of her time is divided between being Head of the Durham University Music Department Mentorship Scheme, a Resident Tutor at St John’s College, and Senior Pastoral Care for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.

Link to the National Youth Choir

DANIEL DENNIS

PhD in Education, The University of Cambridge

£5,000 per year for up to 3 years from September 2016.

Teachers of Religious Education deal with a myriad of sacred texts. As a result they are responsible for the difficult task of developing an understanding of what makes a valid hermeneutic position from which textual information can be engaged with and, within the students, become knowledge and understanding. There is, however, little existing research into the process of thinking which leads teachers to decide either on an appropriate hermeneutical stance (in relation to the text itself) or an appropriate mode for students to engage with it. As a result, students from both faith and non-faith schools often emerge from their studies with disorganised ideas about what religions actually teach.

To my mind, such a problem is rooted in the lack of clarity associated with the epistemic status of RE: the confusion of teachers in both faith and non-faith schools as to the nature of RE specific knowledge inhibits their ability to address questions of pedagogy with authority. The aim of my research, then, is to examine ways in which the religious “other” to promote the turning of RE-information into knowledge and understanding of religious beliefs and practices, both those pertinent to the students’ own faith and the faith of the religious “other”.

TIM MIDDLETON

Tim Photo

Postgraduate Diploma in Theology, University of Oxford (Harris Manchester College).

£10,000 for one academic year (from October 2016).

I initially read natural sciences at university and I have spent the last few years researching earthquakes in northern China. However, whilst studying science, I found that many of the metaphysical and existential questions I increasingly want to ask about the world—questions about truth, beauty, value, purpose, and the divine—are best explored not by scientists but by theologians.

Over recent years I have also been considering my vocation, including discussions with the clergy at my church and my college chaplain, and I have felt increasingly called to teaching – especially in higher education. In particular, I hope that in the future I might be able to lecture and tutor theology at a university or theological college.

In the long term my goal is to pursue an academic career at the interface between science and theology. In a world where utilitarian reasoning often dominates, a Christian theological outlook could provide an alternative purposive context for scientific endeavour: research on combating climate change, fighting disease, or developing artificial intelligence is arguably best thought about within the framework of a Christian vision of society.

The Postgraduate Diploma is an intensive taught course for people from other disciplines who want to pursue graduate study in theology. I intend to take papers in patristics, as well as modern theology and doctrine. The course also allows students to submit an extended essay in lieu of one of their papers. For this essay I would like to work on how various twentieth century theologians have viewed the role and purpose of science.