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Impact Case Studies

Same-Sex Relationships and the Churches

The question of same-sex relationships and equal marriage has been heavily disputed in Christian churches worldwide, with rancorous debates highly polarised between conservatives and liberals, leading to potential or actual formal divisions in churches. Research at Durham University has improved the quality of the conversation between different parties on the question of same-sex relationships and equal marriage and has enabled these debates to move forward more constructively participating at length in policy-making processes. The impact includes the role of Professor Robert Song's Covenant and Calling in contributing to the Church of Scotland's formal change of position on same-sex marriage, as well as to policy changes in other churches, together with the contribution of several members of staff to the Church of England's Living in Love and Faith process.

Spirituality and Psychiatric Care - International Policy

Psychiatry in the UK no longer relies on a purely bio-medical model. In addition to social and psychological factors, spirituality and religion are increasingly seen as important. A growing evidence base shows that spirituality/religion can influence treatment outcomes and are important for ‘whole person’ care. However, in the pluralistic and secular context of modern healthcare, ‘spirituality’ is a controversial topic. Durham University has one of the few centres in the world to have engaged in critical theological contribution to these debates. Professor Christopher Cook’s research on spirituality and religion in psychiatry has emphasised that psychiatry should undertake a constructive and nuanced engagement with spirituality, defined broadly, and that this should be reflected in good clinical practice. This has had impact on debate and policy on 4 continents: Africa, Australasia, Europe, and North America and 5 national psychiatric associations have introduced or are revising their policies, following the lead of the 2011 Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) policy which was initiated and drafted by Cook.

Receptive Ecumenism

Receptive Ecumenism (RE) is a new method for conducting ecumenical dialogue, originating in Paul Murray's research, asking Christian traditions to consider not what other traditions can learn from them, but what they can learn from others to help achieve unity. The most recent research has resulted in direct material impact in three main areas:

  • International Ecumenical Bodies
  • National and Local Church Practice in the UK
  • National and Local Church Practice outside of the UK

RE has been incorporated into papal teaching by Pope Francis, and welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as "one of the most important of recent ecumenical developments". It has become part of formal church teachings and led to an international bilateral statement between Christian traditions. At the level of national and local church communities, its practical value has been implemented across many geographies, languages, and cultures.

The Jesuit Refugee Service and the Public Contexts of Political Theology

The Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS) is a member of the global Jesuit Refugee Service family, serving approximately 670,000 refugees across 50 countries. JRS wanted to learn more about the impact of asylum measures on the dignity and well-being of refugees and be able to communicate findings to policymakers, faith leaders and a wider public.

Durham University research By Dr Rowlands has shown how an Augustinian understanding of evil as deprivation and distortion of the good can be applied to migrants' experience of indefinite periods of detention while their cases are under review and have sought to demonstrate that resources drawn from the Christian theological tradition can shed unexpected light on a controversial area of current political practice and discourse.

Rowlands worked with JRS to apply this research, developing and expanding her original theoretical insights. This further research had a significant impact on staff and refugees at JRS, leading to increased awareness of the importance of refugees' own agency and to corresponding changes of practice at national and international level. In response, JRS has:

  • recognised the importance of refugee faith experience, incorporating this into new staff training
  • reinforced its commitment to fostering refugee volunteering, countering skills diminution among long-term asylum seekers
  • developed materials for national and international advocacy/public education
  • reinforced its international commitment to small-scale relational and participatory models of refugee engagement