The Centre, based in the School of Humanities, maintains a historic research strength of the University, namely in Biblical Studies and Theology. As such it helps to express the foundational purpose of the University to sustain the subject of Theology, in a modern idiom. The aims and work of the Centre are informed by a basic conviction that the Bible, having had an enormous influence on Western culture in the past, continues to have the potential to engage fruitfully in dialogue with it. In furtherance of these aims, the Centre combines the current research activities of the biblical scholars at the University of Gloucestershire and brings together those in other subject areas within the University who share an interest in spirituality.
The conjunction of Bible and spirituality arises because spirituality has become a prominent feature of contemporary culture, arguably replacing religion as that which gives many people their basic orientation to life. Spirituality can be described as a sense of fullness that gives direction to life, whether experienced by those who maintain an immanent framework or by those who hold that human flourishing needs goals beyond itself (Taylor, A Secular Age, 2007). Among the latter, the Christian tradition has always nurtured an emphasis on spirituality rooted in the Bible and its interpretation. Biblical scholars for the most part, however, pursue their work without making connections with either this religious tradition or present-day interest in the broader phenomenon of spirituality. The Centre thus aims to encourage, foster and develop biblical scholarship in relation to spirituality and to facilitate interdisciplinary scholarship in this area. By establishing a critical mass of research in the area, it also aims to be internationally recognised as the leading UK research centre for the dialogue between biblical studies and contemporary issues in spirituality.
In 2011-14 the Centre is pursuing its aims in part through a research project sponsored by Bible Society. The interests of Bible Society and the Centre overlap in their aims to broaden and deepen an understanding of the Bible in the contemporary world, especially in relation to the issues in the wider culture. In a series of interdisciplinary research seminars, invited scholars are bringing to bear their insights on spirituality from their own disciplines. Among these, Prof Ursula King spoke on ‘Spirituality and the Earth Community: Responding to the Spiritual Challenges facing People and Planet’ and Dr Mark Vernon asked: ‘What has Philosophy Got to do with Religion?’ For reports on these and others see the University Theology blog.
The series continues on 17 October with Prof. John Cottingham on ‘Spirituality, Self-Discovery and Moral Change’ (5.30-7.00 at Francis Close Hall). We also look forward to welcoming, Dr. Joanna Collicutt on ‘The Bible and Psychology’ in February 2013, and Paul Northup, Director of Greenbelt, in March. Members of the Centre are also contributing, including Dr. Anna French, Dr. Hilary Weeks and Prof. Melissa Raphael.
In May 2012, the Centre hosted an international Symposium on the Bible and Spirituality, bringing together eminent scholars from the USA, South Africa and the UK, who are doing ground-breaking work in the area. One of these, Prof. Sandra Schneiders of Berkeley, wrote afterwards: ‘You...are really pushing the field forward. I’m delighted’. The papers given there are to be published by Wipf and Stock in 2013, in a volume edited by Andrew Lincoln, Gordon McConville and Lloyd Pietersen. These three have contributed to the Symposium essays on ‘The Spiritual Wisdom of Colossians in the Context of the Spiritualities of Late Antiquity’ (Lincoln), ‘Spiritual Formation in the Psalms’ (McConville), and ‘2 Timothy 3:10-17 and a Spirituality of Persecution’ (Pietersen).
The sponsored project supports a research student, Sheona Beaumont, a professional artist undertaking a PhD in the University on visual representations of biblical imagery. She maintains a website featuring her photography and writing.
The project will culminate in a day-conference on 1 March 2014, hosted by the Centre and the School of Humanities and intended for a wide audience of Christian leaders and lay people. The main speaker will be Dr. Paula Gooder, well-known for her teaching and writing on the Bible, theology and spirituality.
The biblical scholars in the Centre also maintain their own research interests directly or indirectly related to the topic of spirituality. See their pages: