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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy


In 1996 the Department comprised 14 FT and 1 PT members of academic staff. In 2001 the academic staff has doubled to 29 FT and 1 PT members. This has been due primarily to the merger in 1999 between the Department and the Centres for Missiology and World Christianity and for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Selly Oak Colleges. However, as a result of successes in attracting postgraduate students and in obtaining external funding, it has been possible both to replace those members of staff who have left and to make new appointments. Thus Turner and Jones, who moved to posts elsewhere, have been replaced by Vinzent and Kilby; Ambler, who has retired, has been replaced by Parratt; and Young's appointment as Pro-Vice Chancellor has enabled Goodacre's appointment to be made permanent. New appointments have been made in Pastoral Studies (Lynch), in Asian Christianity (Cheetham and Tang), and Black Theology (Beckford). Hempel and Williams completed their terms as Research Fellows and moved to new posts, and Draper, Elliott, Kaul-Seidman, Lange, Schmid and Yemelianova have joined us as Research Fellows or Assistants.

To appreciate the overall profile of the Department it might be convenient to divide the members into three groups. The first ‘senior’ group consisting of those who have held academic posts for many years and have already published extensively, comprises Anderson, Kirk, Lartey, McLeod, Nielsen, Norton, Parker, Parratt, Sugirtharajah, Surty, Ustorf, Vinzent, and Young. The second ‘middle’ group consisting of those who have been in academic posts for less than ten years, but have already published at least one book, comprises Beckford, Buaben, Elliott, Goodacre, Kilby, Schmid, Stringer, D.Taylor, M.Taylor, Thomas and Wollaston. The third group, consisting of those who have been appointed within the last three years and have not yet published their first book, comprises Cheetham, Draper, Kaul-Seidman, Lange, Lynch, Tang and Yemelianova. We would like to make two points about this profile. First there is a good balance between scholars of different ages and kinds of experience. Second, the members of each group are fully performing up to the level that might be hoped for in terms of the various stages of their academic careers. All of those in the first group, and several of those in the middle group, are internationally recognised scholars within their various fields. All of those in the middle group already have a substantial body of published work and an established reputation. Among the third group, Cheetham, Kaul-Seidman and Lynch have books in the process of publication and Tang has two book manuscripts ready for publication, while Lange, Tang and Yemelianova have published in major journals or dictionaries.
Research Structure and Environment

The Department of Theology is part of the School of Historical Studies, and overall responsibility for the promotion of research lies with the Head of School, assisted by the School committee, together with the Head of Departments, assisted by Departmental committees. Out of the six units of assessment in the School, one was rated as 5* in the 1996 RAE and three others as 5, so this is a School in which research is a very high priority. Members of the Department have close links with other Departments in the School, including most especially Medieval and Modern History, Ancient History and Archaeology, Art History, Byzantine Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies and West African Studies.

Within the Department the main responsibility for promoting and supporting research lies with the newly-created Graduate Institute for Research in Theology and Religions (GITAR), directed by Parratt, who also chairs the departmental Postgraduate Committee. As well as all members of departmental academic staff, the Institute includes Honorary Lecturers, such as Dandelion based at Queen's College, Crowther Hall, the United College of the Ascension, Oscott, Woodbrooke and the Leo Baeck Institute, who contribute to postgraduate supervision. When account is also taken of retired members of staff still active in research and regularly participating in seminars, such as Goulder, Hick and von Sicard, or, like Hollenweger, conducting research in collaboration with colleagues at Birmingham, it is evident that an exceptionally large and varied community of scholars working in the field of Theology and Religions finds its central focus in our Department, and that this has very positive implications for the Department’s research culture. As well as overseeing all aspects of postgraduate research in the Department, the Institute maintains a comprehensive programme of research seminars. Seminars meet at least monthly (and sometimes fortnightly or weekly) on Biblical Studies, Black Theology, History of Christianity, Islam, Missiology, Textual Studies, Pastoral and Practical Theology, Patristics, Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies and Worship in Birmingham, while the departmental staff seminar includes papers on all aspects of Theology and Religion. The generous endowment of the annual Cadbury Lectures allows the Department to invite an internationally-known scholar to deliver a series of lectures and seminars, which are open to the public, often attract large audiences, and are subsequently published. The most recent lecturers have been Bernard McGinn, Ed Sanders and Don Browning.

In considering the research culture of the Department mention should also be made of the number of journals and series based in the Department and the frequency with which members of the Department have taken the lead in the organisation of major conferences. As examples of journals, Quaker Studies, edited by Dandelion; Black Theology in Britain is edited by Lartey, Reviews in Religion and Theology by Wollaston, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations by Thomas (jointly with Georgetown University, Prof. John Esposito), the British Muslim Monthly Survey by Nielsen, China Study Journal by Tang, and Goodacre is manager of Synoptic-L and director of The New Testament Gateway. Book-series edited by members of the department include ‘Texts and Studies in the History of Islam’ (Buaben/Nielsen), ‘Christianity and Society in the Modern World’ (McLeod), ‘Islam und Christentum im Dialog’ (Nielsen), ‘The Bible and Postcolonialism’ (Sugirtharajah), ‘Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity’ and ‘Missionsgeschichtliches Archiv’ (Ustorf), ‘Texts and Studies’ (Parker and D.Taylor), ‘Texts and Studies in the History of Humanities’ (Vinzent), and ‘Texts and Studies in the History of Theology’ (Vinzent). A number of conferences established by members of the Department and held in Birmingham have become regular events, including the annual Pastoral Studies and Worship in Birmingham conferences, organised by Lartey and Stringer respectively, the biennial Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Parker and D.Taylor), and the Woodbrooke-Mingana Symposium on Arab Christianity and Islam (Thomas). Members of the Department have also taken the initiative in organising one-off international conferences on specific issues, such as those on 'Pentecostals after a Century' (Anderson), 'Lesslie Newbigin and the Future of Missiology' (Kirk and Ustorf), 'Arabs and the West: Mutual Images', Jordan 1998 (Nielsen, published by University of Jordan and jointly edited by Nielsen and S. Khasawneh), 'Sufism in Bulgaria: theory and field work', Sofia 2000 (Nielsen), 'The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe' (McLeod and Ustorf), 'Codex Bezae' (Parker), 'Islamic Medicine' (Surty), 'Religion and Morality in China and Europe To-day'(Tang), a conference notable for the large participation of scholars from the People's Republic of China, ‘Christians and non-Christians in late Antiquity and To-day’ and 'Theologians in Exile', Mainz 1998 (Vinzent; jointly with the Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Mainz). And they have been entrusted by international scholarly organisations with a major part in the organisation of their conferences, as with the British-Scandinavian and British-Dutch conferences of Church Historians in 1995 and 1998 (McLeod), the International Association for Mission Studies 1996 and 2000 (Kirk), the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas 1997 (Goodacre, Goulder, Parker), the International Congress in Pastoral Care and Counselling 1999 (Lartey), annual conference of the British Society of Middle East Studies, 1998 (Nielsen et al. in the CSIC), and 'Remembering the Future 2000' (Wollaston).

As all this indicates, members of the Department play a full part in the national and international communities of scholars in their various areas of research. As a result, special links have been established with specific universities or groups of universities. Split doctoral programmes have been established in conjunction with the universities of Ghana, Malawi and Cape Town, and we have an agreement with the University of Freiburg i. Br. for exchanges of doctoral students. In 1998, Nielsen, D.Taylor, Thomas and Turner travelled to Tehran to take part in a conference with Muslim scholars on Christian and Muslim approaches to the interpretation of their scriptures. In 1996 and 1997 a series of seminars were held first in Chicago and then in Birmingham between members of our department and members of departments of Theology and Religion in the Chicago area. This has led to a collective volume jointly edited by Wollaston and by Kay Read of De Paul University entitled Suffer the Little Children? Reflections on the Cross, Urban Violence and Sacred Space.
Collaborative Work

Collaborative work within the Department takes a number of forms. First, there are the two long-established Centres for Missiology and World Christianity (directed by Kirk, and also comprising Anderson, Sugirtharajah, Tang, Ustorf) and for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (directed by Nielsen, and also comprising Buaben, Surty, Thomas). These have a well-defined identity, developed especially through close collaboration in the running of postgraduate programmes. Second, there are the recently-established Centres for Pastoral Studies and Practical Theology (directed by Lartey) and for Editing Religious Texts (directed by Parker). These Centres have a more fluid membership, and are particularly important as a means of bringing together scholars working in different areas of the Department, in different Departments, or in different institutions, who have related research interests, but might otherwise have little contact. Third, there exist Research Units, the oldest established by Harold Turner in the 1970’s (Centre for New Religious Movements) and recently re-named as Research Unit for New Religions and Churches, and then two newly established for East Asian Studies, and for Asian Religions and Christianity, these being directed by Anderson, Tang, and Cheetham respectively. Fourth, there are specific research projects. These include the ESRC-funded project on Transnational Sufism (Nielsen, Stringer with other colleagues), the Black Faith in Britain project (led by Lartey), the Worship in Birmingham project (led by Stringer), Towards a Trialogue in Curricula (Vinzent) and Theologians in Exile (Vinzent).

Collaborative research projects with members of other institutions include the EC-funded Survey of Islam in Europe (Nielsen with F.Dassetto of Louvain), the British Academy-funded International Greek New Testament Project (Parker with a group of leading scholars drawn from several countries, including Germany and U.S.A.), the World Council of Churches study programme on ‘Christianity, Poverty and Wealth in the 21st Century’, of which M.Taylor is director, and the project on ‘Epistemology and Mission’, co-ordinated by Kirk, which resulted in the book To Stake a Claim: Mission and the Western Crisis of Knowledge (Orbis 2000). Parker and Schmid are collaborating within the Centre for Editing Religious texts with the Centre for Computing in the Arts, De Montfort. Thomas is working with R.Ebied (Sydney), supported by an Australian National Award, on an edition and annotated translation of the Response to the Letter from Cyprus, and D.Taylor with S.Brock (Oxford) on three volumes plus three documentary films on the Aramaic inheritance of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Norton is a member of the Editorial Committee and editor of the Hebrew Psalter for the Biblia Hebraica Quinta, a project funded by the United Bible Societies and the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. He is also on the Steering Committee of the Hexapla Working Group, and a member of the group sponsoring the new and substantially endowed Centre for Biblical Research and training at the University of Limerick.
Research Infrastructure

The combined resources of the University Library and of the Orchard Learning Resources Centre at Selly Oak provide not only excellent collections of books and journals in the Department's areas of research, but also some outstanding collections of manuscripts, pamphlets, newspaper cuttings, etc. Among the latter are the world-famous Mingana Collection of Syriac and Christian-Arabic manuscripts, the Harold Turner Collection of material on new religious movements, the papers of Lesslie Newbigin and the Paton papers, special collections of materials relating to Muslims in Britain and to Christians in China, and the archives of the Church Missionary Society, the Student Christian Movement and the YMCA. All members of the Department are provided with a PC with access to the internet. Postgraduate research students are provided with grants to assist with research costs and to enable them to attend one conference during their period of registration. Hitherto, students have shared the use of computers with members of other Departments in the Schools of Humanities and Historical Studies. In addition to the shared facilities, the Department has now established the Graduate Institute on the Selly Oak campus as a centre specifically for its own research students, with a research room and eighteen networked workstations, together with seminar rooms and a student common room. The Centre for Editing Religious Texts provides Ms.-facilities, including Ms.-readers, computers, printers.
Staffing Policy

The School Research Committee makes grants to assist with research costs and participation in overseas conferences; the Postgraduate Committee has overall responsibility for recruitment, training, supervision and examination of postgraduate students. It is the policy of the School to grant all research-active members of staff one sabbatical term for every nine teaching terms. Staff are strongly encouraged to apply for research awards, and as a result, D.Taylor was a British Academy Senior Research Fellow in 1999-2000 and McLeod and Parker have had periods of extended study leave funded by the AHRB. All probationary staff have a Mentor and all staff are subject to an annual Staff Review. In both of these systems research is a top priority, as it is in the consideration of applications for promotion. School funding is also available to provide teaching relief for members of staff who are completing major projects or preparing large research funding bids. The various research seminars, already mentioned, provide an ideal forum for new members of staff to present their research and to obtain advice, encouragement and criticism from colleagues working in related areas. The unusual range of such seminars within the Department, and in related departments, ensures that almost everyone is able to enjoy this kind of support.

Following the replacement of Turner and Ambler by Vinzent and Parratt, and even more as a result of the expansion of the Department mentioned in the Introduction, the focus of the Department’s research has shifted in a more international direction. At the same time, some of the research interests of those who have left have been carried on by their successors. For instance, Ambler’s concern with post-modernity is carried on by Vinzent. Jones was replaced by Kilby, whose areas of research are fairly similar to his.
Additional Observations

The Department continues to be very successful in attracting postgraduate research students, including many from overseas. In 1996 there were 54 FT and 48 PT registered for research degrees. The figures now are 76 full-time and 108 part-time.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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