The Centre for the Study of Theology (renamed the Centre for Theology and Society in 1999) at the University of Essex was inaugurated in 1988 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Robert Runcie, as an independent ecumenical centre within the University of Essex. During the 90’s the work of the Centre was appraised favourably by a review panel consisting of Professor David Williams (President of Wolfson College, Cambridge and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University), Miss Ruth Etchells (former Principal of St. John’s College, Durham) and Rowan Williams (then Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford).
The aims of the Centre were research, teaching and publication. The interdisciplinary nature of the Centre’s remit also enabled good links to be forged with several academic departments within the University, including Sociology, Government, Philosophy and Law as well as the Human Rights Centre. In particular it sought to foster relevant dialogue between major world faith communities, especially in the areas of ethics and social responsibility, and provided the initial context and sponsorship of the Dictionary of Ethics, Theology and Society (Routledge, 1996).
Under the ‘banner’ of ‘Community and Personhood’, the Centre was committed to research in the areas of:
Globalisation of Information through Digital Technologies and Networking
Crime, Justice and Punishment (Penal Policy)
Believing and Belonging (Implicit and Popular Religion)
While at the University of Essex, I gave a series of public lectures that explored key epistemological and ontological themes in twentieth century philosophy as well as several graduate seminars on privacy and public access in an ‘information culture’.
As Director of Studies, I was, ex officio, a Fellow of the Centre, series editor of the Essex Papers in Theology and Society, Course Director of the MA in Theology and Society directly answerable in this capacity to the scheme’s Management Committee within the University’s Graduate School and managed two Annual Lectures (the Sacks Lecture on Judaism and Inter-Faith Understanding and the Derek Allen Lecture on Sacramental Theology) as well as a weekly Open Seminar on Theology and Society.
During the period 1993-99 the Centre’s Open Seminars included:
Year Zero on the Internet -- The Problem of Technological Fundamentalism (Bryan Appleyard, Columnist for The Independent and author of Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man)
A World of Chaos (Professor Peter Cochrane, Head of Research, BT Laboratories, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk)
nature@millennium_apocalypse now? (Dr Peter Scott, School of Theology and Religious Studies, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education. Author of The Technological Factor: Redemption, Nature and the Image of God)
Theology and Information Technology – Friend or Foe? (Dr Jacqui Stewart, Lecturer in Science and Theology, University of Leeds)
The Public’s Right to Know or the Government’s Right to Silence (Maurice Frankel, Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information)
Justice, Law and Society: Relationships and Management in Modern Britain (David Faulkner, Fellow of St. John’s College, Oxford and Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Criminological Research)
Drawing Limits – Contemporary Views of Biotechnology (Dr Mairi Levitt, Centre for Professional Ethics, University of Central Lancashire)
Third World Poverty Technology vs Morality (Dr Terry Thomas, Director, Development Technology Unit, University of Warwick)
Ethical Issues in Health Care Rationing (Professor Tom Sorell, Department of Philosophy, University of Essex)
Morals and Meaning: Individual Choice and Social Structures (Dr Rosalie Osmond, Lecturer in Extra Mural Studies, University of London)
In 1997 I was elected onto the Committee of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics. Fellow committee members included Oliver O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, and Alastair V. Campbell, Professor of Ethics in Medicine at the University of Bristol. The Committee was charged with appointing the speakers at the Society’s Annual Conference in Oxford, liaising with the Editor of the Journal for the Study of Christian Ethics and generally having oversight over the constitution of the Society.