Online Course Details
Space for Thought provides a space for serious theological reflection in a prayerful mode. Participants will approach a central theological theme in a range of ways—close reading, creative response, silence, group discussion—whilst being attentively open to others as they do the same. Tutors will give two mini-lectures to provide some intellectual stimulation, and to facilitate discussion and reflection on the theme. A carefully-selected range of readings from The Heythrop Library will be made available to participants in advance, as well as suggestions about other ways in which to prepare, and to engage with the theme on the day. Tutors will curate and direct the day, whilst leaving space for participants to find their own route through it.
Space for Thought is an invitation to practice theology with patient humility and attention; a “waiting on truth”.
In this Space for Thought in Lent, we think about death. Humans are sometimes described as ‘mortals’, as if the fact of death defines us (though we could equally be said to be ‘natals’). But what does it mean that we all die, and how should we understand death? Perhaps more importantly, what kind of attitude should we have towards death?
Philosophers, theologians and poets have all had their say on this question. Socrates and Marcus Aurelius both thought that death should be welcomed as the liberation of the rational soul from the body. In contrast, Epicurus—who thought that the soul could not survive the death of the body—taught that death should be as nothing to us, since as long as we exist, we are not dead, and once we are dead, we exist no longer. But it is still possible to deeply fear non-existence, as Philip Larkin showed in his 20th century response to Epicurus: ‘this is what we fear—no sight, no sound/No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with/Nothing to love or link with/The anaesthetic from which none come round.’ Whilst Larkinlay in bed paralysed with fear of nothingness, others have suggested that death should be faced in solitary authenticity (Martin Heidegger) or raged against in heroic desperation (Dylan Thomas), or accepted in all its bitterness (Simone Weil).
Is there a Christian attitude towards death? There are only the faintest traces of belief in life after death in the Hebrew Bible, and death is often taken to be the natural horizon of human existence. And yet the first chapters of Genesis seem to teach that death is a consequence of sin, and so somehow unnatural for humans. In the New Testament, St Paul proclaimed that, in and through the resurrection of Jesus, death had been swallowed up victory. But what does this actually mean? How should Christians think about, and face, death? In this Space for Thought we consider these and other questions, with the help of philosophers, theologians, artists and poets from across the centuries.
Stuart graduated with a degree in Literature and Theology from the University of Hull in 2000. From 2003-9 he studied Philosophical Theology part-time at the University of Nottingham, whilst continuing to work in the third sector with vulnerably-housed or homeless people, and young asylum seekers (as well as pulling pints in a pub). He was Lecturer at York St John University for almost a decade, before moving to London Jesuit Centre in 2021. He now lives in South East London, and spends as much time as he can in the woods.