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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

The long and distinguished tradition of research in theology at Nottingham has been developed substantially since 1996. Through a series of appointments and promotions the Department now has a full time staff of eight, which includes three professors, a reader, a senior lecturer, a lecturer and a post-doctoral fellow, all of whom are research active, six of whom can claim international standing. Though small, the Department has a productive balance between experienced senior scholars and younger staff, which is reflected in an active research culture that supports individual and collaborative projects and attracts postgraduate students from home and abroad.

The Department's specialisms centre upon Biblical Studies (Casey, Bell, Ball), Systematic Theology (Thiselton), Historical Theology (Ford and Hunt) and Religious Studies (Goddard and Goodchild), but much of this research overflows narrow academic boundaries: Mr Ball has a general interest in the theology of the Old Testament, focusing in particular upon prophecy. Dr Bell specialises in the theology of Paul, though, with doctorates in both physics and theology, he is also ideally placed to pursue his research into the relationship between science and theology. Prof. Thiselton works principally on NT Interpretation and biblical and philosophical hermeneutics, but he also has interests in philosophy of religion and the philosophy of language; Prof. Casey seeks to apply his wide-ranging linguistic skills in ancient languages to exploring the relationship of the gospels to Aramaic sources, but also has an interest in the historiography of the life of Jesus, and in the development of new theories to explain why Christianity began and split off from Judaism. Prof. Ford and Dr Hunt research in early-modern religion, the former examining the origins of sectarianism in Ireland, the latter the development of theological conflicts in pre Civil War England: both bridge the divide between theology and history. Dr Goodchild works at the interface between Continental philosophy and the study of religion, seeking to develop the study of Continental philosophy of religion in Britain, and, more specifically, to explore the relations between global free market capitalism, the philosophical tradition, and implicit piety. Dr Goddard works on Christian-Muslim relations, both historically and as a contemporary phenomenon, and also straddles the borders between theology, religious studies, history and politics. He has published extensively on developments in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, and on Jewish-Muslim relations. The combined result of this research activity is evident in the Department's productivity over the assessment period: in addition to those items submitted under RA2, the Department's staff have published over 45 articles or chapters in books, and over 80 reviews, in addition to dictionary articles and other contributions.

The department also maintains an active postgraduate research programme, whose main strengths lie in the fields of Religious Studies (especially Christian-Muslim relations), New Testament, systematic Theology (including Hermeneutics) and Old Testament. Currently, the Department has 8 full-time and 11 part-time M.Phil/Ph.D. students, 1 part-time M.Phil student, and 4 part-time MA students – an encouragingly high proportion of doctoral candidates. Over the assessment period, the Department has been successful in attracting postgraduates from a broad range of countries: Britain and the EU, obviously, but also the Lebanon, Jordan, the USA, Korea, Romania, Taiwan and Singapore.

Mechanisms and practices for promoting research

The Department and University seek to promote research in two main ways: by planning and management; and through the provision of practical support and encouragement.

The formal planning and monitoring system begins with individual research plans, assessed as part of the biennial appraisal process, and discussed by the Department of Theology Research Committee, which reports to the School Research Committee. Applications for research leave are also considered by the Department's Research Committee and the School Research Committee, as are the reports on research completed during the leave period. Subject to approval, research leave is granted for one full semester every four years.

Financial support for research comes from four sources: the Department, the School, the University, and outside bodies. The Department provides all staff members with an annual allowance of £250 for research and conferences, and is prepared to increase this amount when necessary. For larger travel costs, staff obtain support from the School, and the University through University through the Overseas Conference Fund. The University also provides grants through the Quick Response Fund (up to £1K), the Research Strategy Fund, and the New Lecturers Fund. Finally, the University encourages staff to seek outside funding, an area in which the Department has been particularly successful recently, thanks to the support and encouragement of the Research Office and the Research Business Unit. The School has recently implemented a policy which requires staff seeking research leave to apply for matching AHRB funding, in order to extend the leave period to a full year.

Research infrastructure

Staff and research students all have access to efficient and effective library and information resources, with the Library in particular benefiting from the lengthy tradition of Theology in Nottingham. All staff naturally have PCs with relevant specialist software, such as TLG, whilst research students are supplied with a common room with a PC for general use, and study facilities with individual study carrels in the recently refurbished Humanities Graduate Centre, where all students have their own dedicated PC, giving them access to the Library's on-line resources such as ATLA Religion Index.

Support for Postgraduate Research

Support, both financial and other, is especially strong for PG students in a large university such as Nottingham. The Graduate School provides a Research Training Programme which has expanded dramatically in recent years, and caters for over 1,900 students, offering 120 courses ranging from research methods, to information technology, to teaching and learning. The International Office, Centre for English Language Education, and the Language Centre offer further training, advice and resources. Financial support for PG students comes from a range of sources, both internal and external. The University, Humanities School and Arts Faculty provide a range of support, from annual bursaries, to fee waivers to full research scholarships, all of which the department has benefited from in the past six years. Students also of course receive support from the British Academy and other outside bodies: thus two current PGs hold British Academy Awards, three current PGs hold (or held) ORS Awards, and two received support from the Langham Charitable Trust.

The Department seeks also to provide PGs with opportunities for career development through attending conferences, giving papers and gaining teaching experience. Specific funding is available for PGs to travel and attend seminars/conferences: Briggs and Morley were supported by funding for conferences relevant to their research: Morley participated in "Macquarrie on Macquarrie" in Ireland; Briggs participated in "Hermeneutics and Speech-Act Theory" at Cheltenham – both now hold academic posts; Karner presented a paper to the Study of Religion Group at the British Sociological Association (2000), and lectures to and leads seminars for third year students. The Department has an annual travelling scholarship which is available to PG students, and was awarded in 2001 to Karner to support his research in India.

Conferences and visiting speakers

An essential element of the research culture of the Department for both staff and PG students, and an indication of its wider theological standing, is the continual stimulation provided by conferences and talks by distinguished visiting scholars. The Department has or will have hosted major conferences in a range of disciplines: thus the Society for Old Testament Study, the British New Testament Society, The European Mormon Conference and the conference of the Society for the Study of Theology will all have taken place at Nottingham by the end of April 2001. The Department ensures that it provides a regular occasion for staff and PGs to discuss theological issues through the Departmental Seminar, which meets regularly on Wednesday afternoons. Amongst those who have addressed this seminar during the current RAE period: Prof. Vincent Brümmer (Utrecht); Prof. John Webster (Oxford); Prof. Nicholas Wolterstorff (Yale); Dr Marcel Sarot (Utrecht); Prof. C Brown (Fuller, USA); Dr M Poutrova (Polotsk, Belarus); Dr E Dekker (Uppsala); Dr G Van den Brink (Utrecht); Prof. J Moltmann (second visit, Tübingen); and also locally from other disciplines Prof. Robert Markus FBA (History) in Patristics; Prof. Malcolm Jones (specialist on Dostoevsky); and Prof. R Geary (History) on German society and religion. As well as hosting theologians from outside the University, the Department ensures that its PG students, at an appropriate stage in their research, are encouraged to offer a paper to the Departmental Seminar. Dr Goddard has also taken the initiative in organising biennial PG Study Days in Nottingham designed to bring together PGs from across the country who are working in the field of Inter-Faith Issues.

In addition to these conferences, talks and seminars the Department is fortunate to benefit from a generously endowed Firth Memorial Lecture fund, which provides for a biennial series of lectures by a visiting scholar of major international stature who resides at Nottingham during the Lectures. Within the present RAE period these have included Prof. Jürgen Moltmann, Prof. Sir Anthony Kenny, Prof. John Polkinghorne and Prof. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Most recently, the Department has also used the Firth funding to hold a public debate on Celtic Christianity: Myth or Reality? between Professors Donald Meek of Aberdeen and Donald Allchin of the University of Wales, Bangor.

Part-time/honorary staff and research culture
The Department is fortunate to be able to call on a range of expertise amongst its associated staff, including one Special Professor, Prof. James Atkinson MLitt, DTheol, Hon DD, who is willing to serve as consultant for supervision of research on the Reformation, a Special Lecturer, Dr Mary Cunningham who is a specialist in the Byzantine period. With Pauline Allen she is Joint Editor of Preacher and Audience: Studies in Early Christian and Byzantine Homiletics (Leiden: Brill, 1998, 370pp, ISBN 9004 106 812); and author of "Andrew of Crete's Homilies on Lazarus and Palm Sunday" Studia Patristica 31, 1997, 32-41; "Polemic and Exegesis: Anti-Judaic Invective in Byzantine Homiletics", Sobernost 21, 1999, 46-48 (ISSN 0144-8722); also Editor of Mt Athos and Byzantine Monasticism (Aldershot: Variorum, 1996, ISBN 08607 85513). She has led Departmental Seminars and acted as a consultant for PG research projects. Canon Vernon White is also Special Lecturer in Theology and Ethics. He has been joint PhD supervisor with Thiselton, and also participates in Departmental Seminars. He is author of Paying Attention to People: An Essay in Individualism and Christian Belief (SPCK, 1996) and earlier works on Incarnation and Atonement (CUP, 1991) and divine providence. Dr Christina Baxter is Principal of St John's College Nottingham, an Affiliated College of the University, and also serves as Special Lecturer in systematic theology, again for some joint supervision of research degrees. (Special Lecturers are paid an annual honorarium together with pro rata fees.)

Interdisciplinary and collaborative research

Within the University, the Humanities Research Centre co-ordinates the interchange of information between departments and facilitates the development of interdisciplinary research. It has proved particularly useful in fostering links for Prof. Ford and Dr Hunt with the History Department. Internationally, the Department places a strong emphasis upon collaborative and interdisciplinary work. Prof. Ford is currently collaborating with an American and an English scholar on a book on the links between Ireland, America and England (further details under RA6). He received a grant of US$750 to attend an interdisciplinary conference on the 450th anniversary of the death of Winthrop (Sept 1999, Lancaster, Pennsylvania). Prof. Thiselton was funded by Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan for further collaborative research with two American literary theorists (R Lundin and C Walhout), involving exchange travel and accommodation in Grand Rapids and in Nottingham for reciprocal visits and research resources (resulting in a new work, The Promise of Hermeneutics). Prof. Thiselton regularly collaborates with North American scholars across the disciplines (e.g. "Hermeneutics and Philosophy of Language", Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, August 2000, Keynote Paper, completed, accepted for publication in Oct 2001). Dr Bell is especially well-placed to take part in interdisciplinary research and has given papers at the Conferences of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (Krakow, 1996 and Durham, 1998), leading to publications in Studies in Science and Theology. Research Fellows from overseas in residence at Nottingham have included Dr Maria Poutrova (Head of Department of University of Novo Polotsk, Belarus) for work on hermeneutics and Belarus Bible translation. Socrates facilitates three-way links with Utrecht, Uppsala and, from 2000, Rostock. Three members of staff (Thiselton, Goddard and Bell) have taken part in exchanges, while six scholars from these three universities have visited the department. Nottingham University is a member of Universitas 21, an international consortium of research universities, established to encourage academic collaboration and student exchanges. In August 2000, Prof. Thiselton visited Toronto for discussions with the University Vice-Provost, Prof. Paul Gooch, which have led to establishment of a formal link between the Theology/Religious Studies departments in Nottingham and Toronto.

Outside Research Users

The Department provides regular study days for the Dioceses of Southwell, Derby, Leicester and Lincoln, the most recent of which, in November 2000, on Celtic Spirituality, was attended by 150 clergy. The Department also offers research-related advice and monitoring for the supervision of validated research degrees by staff at St John's College as an Affiliated Institution of the University. Amongst the individual members of the Department, Prof. Thiselton has provided research resources to (a) the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (esp. pre-implantation diagnosis and cloning); (b) the Church of England Doctrine Commission; (c) the C of E General Synod; and (d) the House of Bishops. Dr Goddard serves as the Advisor on Inter-Faith Issues to the Bishop of Southwell. Mr Ball provides theological expertise for the Methodist Church as a member of the Faith and Order Committee. Prof. Ford has advised the BBC on religious affairs broadcasting. Dr Hunt serves as a Consultant on early printed books to Maggs Brothers Ltd.

Staffing strategy

The University's staffing policy makes it clear that academic promotion is based upon merit and that the primary consideration is the quality of research, without taking into account the financial position of the department. Consequently, even though the Department is a relatively small one, it currently has three professors, a Reader and a Senior Lecturer, three of whom have been promoted, and one of whom has been appointed, during the current RAE period.
With a significant proportion of promoted senior members, the Department is, however, acutely aware of the need to recruit and encourage the development of younger staff. The Department will be appointing two new lecturers in September 2001, one permanent replacement for Prof. Thiselton, and a three-year temporary replacement for Prof. Casey, who takes up his Leverhulme Fellowship. Our two most recent appointments have also been of younger staff. Dr Goodchild took up an established post in January 2000 with a very impressive record of substantial and distinctive published research beyond expectation in relation to his age. Younger or newly-appointed staff are assigned a mentor, given full support for their research, and are included in the research-leave cycle as soon as possible: thus Dr Goodchild's first research leave was in his second semester in Nottingham. Further evidence of the Department's commitment to recruiting and encouraging high-quality researchers, and providing positions for younger scholars, is the arrival of Dr Arnold Hunt as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in October 2001 (one of 5 fellows appointed across the Arts and Social Sciences from a field of 400 applicants). His role within the Department will be to pursue his research into early-modern English religion and society, publish his recently completed doctoral dissertation, and to take special responsibility, with Prof. Ford, for organising a major international conference on 'The Invention of Anglicanism'. As Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, he has no administrative duties and will teach no more than one module per semester; during his first year he will have no teaching duties. Among Temporary Lecturers appointed to cover for research leave, Dr Douglas Hedley, who replaced Prof. Thiselton, succeeded Don Cupitt as Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge, whilst Dr Karen Kilby, who also replaced Prof. Thiselton for a semester, was subsequently appointed as a Lecturer in Birmingham University.

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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