Research Interests

Research Interests

What is it that we are doing when we hope?  How is our conception of self and world shaped within certain understandings of hope and hope-making practices?

These two broad questions have lingered through my doctoral research and beyond, inspired as I have been by encountering the writings of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968).  Exploring the complex theological dynamic of what it means to hope, and particularly what significance hoping has for human identity/agency, will be furthered, in one way or another, over the next few decades through particular engagement with a host of diverse figures:  primarily, but not exclusively, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Boethius, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Shakespeare, Immanuel Kant, G.W.H. Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Donald MacKinnon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Frei, Herbert McCabe, Nicholas Lash, Terry Eagleton, Alasdair MacIntyre, Paul Ricoeur, George Steiner, Grace Jantzen, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Georgio Agamben, Henry Giroux, Zygmunt Bauman, Hannah Arendt, Edith Wyschogrod, Stuart Hall, Frederic Jameson, Rowan Williams, John Milbank, and Gustavo Gutierrez, among others.

Since I arrived in Australia (Dec 2008), I have written papers for conferences and book collections on a variety of themes:  higher education and theological education; Darwin and the creationist-evolutionist disputes; the theological interpretation of the bible as scripture; theology and globalisation; apophatic theology; neighbourliness in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘religionless Christianity’; T.F. Torrance on the filioque; a theology of prayer; myth-studies and the Star Wars saga;  a theology of the neighbour; Karl Barth’s asketic Trinitarianism, account of election, and theology of prayer; and John Calvin’s account of providence, prayer, and neighbourly love.   I have also edited and co-edited several of Donald MacKinnon’s published articles in two collections (Continuum/T&T Clark, 2011; Fortress Press, 2016); and co-edited a collection of papers engaging Karl Barth with the Russian Sobernost tradition (Fortress Press, 2016).

Current Research Projects

Presently I am working on a number of projects, some requiring immediate attention and others emerging more gradually.   They can be grouped into various categories:

(1)  Hope and Eschatology

One of the most immediate projects involves the research for, and writing of, a textbook in the Eerdmans Guides to Theology series with Scott Kirkland – our book will be on Eschatology:  Christian Hope (Eerdmans, 2017).

(2)  Theology, Ethics, and Globalised Time

(3)  Culture and Theology

(4)  Higher Education

(5)  Karl Barth

Among other things, a long term plan is to complete four books on Karl Barth.  The first, tentatively entitled Karl Barth and the Politics of Prayer, engages with his account of prayer, especially in CD III and IV.  The second is Karl Barth and the Politics of Hope.  The third will be Karl Barth, The Beginning and End of Conversation.  The most substantial chapter here will be one on the Barth-Brunner controversy of 1934 – here I will argue that Barth’s rejection of natural theology belongs to a theologically modest account that is deeply aware of its provisionality and therefore its relativity.  The fourth, and for now final, volume will be a collection of my published essays on Barth’s theology over the past two decades.

It is likely that over the next few years I will co-edit two or three collections:  Karl Barth in the Borderlands and also Reading Karl Barth Down Under.  I anticipate that a conference will be held at the University of Divinity around one of these two themes.

(6)  The Virtue of the Theologian as Cultural Worker

I have an interest in, and have begun to publish on, critically reflecting on the nature of power and public responsibility in conversation with a politically significant theology of hospitality developed from Calvin, Bonhoeffer and Barth.

(7)  Theological Askesis and the Apophatic Theological Mood

(8)  Possible Future Projects

A further project may explore the accounts of evil and its relation to the cross in the writings of Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltmann and Donald MacKinnon.  The aim would be to demonstrate that these thinkers who are critical of the ‘project theological of modernity’ require critical reconstructions to their approaches to the cross, but that despite their various tendencies they attempt to refigure the Christian as a hopeful subject resisting evil.

Other thoughts are on a paper which will address issues of the tragic by reading Jesus’ trial by Pilate in the light of Barth’s ‘Judge Judged in Our Place’, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Kafka’s Trial (‘Three Trials:  Theology and the Tragic’); deal with Nietzsche and Barth on responsibility, human formation and suffering (‘Two Gardens:  Theology and the Theodical’).

My research plans flow from various concerns:  concerns to engage fruitfully with the theology of Karl Barth; to substantiate the feeling of the significance of the broadly iconoclastic philosophical and theological work of Donald MacKinnon; to develop ways of engaging high and popular culture (especially the genre of literary and dramatic tragedy); to root theological education in the practice of engagement with non-academic environments; and to ask about the nature and manifestation of the inescapable interaction between church and ‘world’ (hence my book on Star Wars).

Prospective Students

Since I have very broad theological and theo-ethical interests I would welcome applications from anyone wishing to study systematic theology (dogmatics, religious philosophy, theological ethics), and/or theology’s engagement with disciplines such as educational studies, history, and literature.  I supervised 15 doctoral students in my time at Edinburgh and 2 at Newcastle NSW (all who were examined passed first time ‘without major corrections’ being required), covering various theological issues and theological figures.  Of course, I have a particular, but certainly not exclusive, interest in supervising students who would like to work on the theology of Karl Barth and on theo-political issues in eschatology.  PLEASE NOTE THAT RESEARCH STUDENTS CAN BE SUPERVISED IN A DISTANCE MODE.

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