What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology?
My journey to the vast and verdant tracts of theological thought finds its root in some rather mundane patterns of my childhood: listening to devotional songs on long car journeys, learning sacred Arabic formulas before learning to speak English, never eating a meal before first expressing gratitude to God. Growing up, then, religion was always something that subtly and visibly shaped the contours of my family life. Whether it was the hope of exam success, the wish for restored health, the anxieties of moving home, there was a specific prayer (which was often deeply poetic) for every conceivable eventuality: and it is this language of collective prayer, of song, of poetry, that constituted the religious fibers of my childhood. Over time, my interest in how religious thought shapes our relation to self, others, and the environment, deepened – and I have been fortunate, over the course of my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, to have encountered new ways of understanding and ‘inhabiting’ religious identity as a mode of both enriching personal devotional practice and sustaining (even deepening) outward, social action. More recently, I have returned to a few of the songs and prayers that formed some of my initial encounters with religious thought, in an effort to better understand how longings for the ‘transcendent’ become encoded in poetic verse and informed by cultural vernaculars.
What do you hope to do with your degree?
I hope to continue on to doctorate study and in a professional capacity, to seek new, creative ways of bringing the wisdom and insights of theological texts to our most pressing social and environmental issues today.
Where do you see connections between your personal faith, your intellectual work and the other aspects of your life?
My academic studies have constantly introduced me to new ways of conceptualizing, imagining, envisioning and indwelling the world - sometimes calling me to a renewed appreciation of my own personal and social relations, at other times eliciting a more attentive regard for the earth and its diverse creatures, and often compelling me to pause and ask, 'but how is God-talk possible from within our conditions of human finitude?’ I have been persistently drawn to mystical literature as presenting a mode of living with these questions, not always needing to resolve or dissolve them abstractly or conceptually at a single stroke, but bodying forth a devotional sensibility which recognizes that these questions can never admit of a final ‘closure’ (at least not in this life). Reading the utterances – at times broken, fragmented, and cryptic - of saints alongside the treatises – occasionally systematic, formulaic, and doctrinal - of theologians has imbued my own study with a kind of accepting uncertainty which patiently waits upon God; a recognition that however much we are called upon to consciously employ our God-given faculties of reason, often the most profound witness to God comes by way of a silent, faithful attentiveness to that which forever eludes our cognitive-experiential grasp.
How would you summarize your paper for someone without a theological background?
This paper is situated at the intersection of medical ethics and theology – more specifically, it sets forth a theological reading of certain practices in the realm of palliative care (care for the terminally ill and the dying). Cicely Saunders, who founded the first modern hospice, articulated her vision of good care for the dying as a profound mode of attentive presence, a being with the other even when he/she cannot be cured in the medical sense. I argue that the embodied practices of ‘silence’ i.e. sitting with a dying person in silence and ‘touch’ i.e. a gentle stroke of the hand, both constitute and make visible one’s love for the particular person, a love which is upheld by the sustaining foundation of God’s own love. Essentially, such concrete ways of being present to another tangibly affirm that we do not ‘drop’ or abandon others when they are no longer materially or economically productive: in this regard, the hospice ethos aligns with the Christian ethic of human personhood as determined ultimately, not by the person’s functional/material abilities, but to his/her abiding in the everlasting love of God. I thus draw on theological texts outlining the doctrine of creation and relationality, and bring these into dialogue with recent medical literature in the field of palliative care, to suggest that our embodied modes of lovingly attesting and bearing witness to the reality of an other, become finite reflections of and participations in the very ground of God’s love.
How might this award make a difference in your life?
The subject of this paper is one very close to my heart, and I am deeply humbled by this recognition - which suggests, for me, that some of its insights might be deemed practicable in contexts of care and in broader theological reflection on faith-based practice. The relational ethics that, I think, a Christian metaphysics makes possible, re-situates our personal and communal relations in the light of the infinite self-giving of God - and in doing so, endows those relations with a profound spiritual potency. Reflecting on how this dynamic bears on the specific context of palliative care has been thoroughly stimulating, and I am encouraged by this prize to continue thinking about these theological notions as well as striving to align my actions with them.
How do you spend your time when you are not studying?
In my free time, I enjoy both listening to music and (attempting to) play some songs on piano, playing board games, watching Bollywood films, exercising, and cooking. I am also a keen traveller.
Any other comments?
A huge thank you to the Theological Horizons team! And a huge thank you to my supervisors who have shown me just how scholarly rigor can co-exist with a generosity of heart and spirit. The inspiration for this essay came from my father, whose silent and humble faith continues to guide me in all my academic and personal endeavors today.