Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Oliver O'Donovan: from Oxford to Scotland

First John Webster left Oxford for Aberdeen—and now it seems Oliver O’Donovan will be leaving Oxford for Edinburgh. On his excellent new blog, Joshua informs us that O’Donovan (currently Oxford’s Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology) will be taking up the new chair of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Theology and Public Issues. Joshua asks the same question that the Oxford administrators are no doubt asking themselves: What is prompting Oxford’s most gifted and promising theologians to abandon their prestigious named chairs for Scotland? Is it the charming Scottish accent? The quaint country pubs? The grand Edinburgh architecture?

In any event, it’s clear that Scotland is increasingly becoming one of the world’s most dynamic and most exciting centres of constructive dogmatic theology.

Update: See also Douglas Knight's post here.

7 Comments:

Steven Harris said...

As an Englishman, I'm loathe to admit it but Scotland has better universities for Theology and to a lesser extent, Biblical Studies.

In England you couldn't teach anything except Anglican theology up until about 150 years ago but Scotland has a long Free Church history and lots of independent theological thought along with it, while England has lagged behind a little.

kim fabricius said...

As a US ex-pat living in South Wales who has studied theology at Oxford, I have to agree with SH's assessment of the English theological scene - with the exception of Cambridge.

Cambridge has built a deservedly formidable theological reputation on rich ecumenical partnerships, a dynamic Roman Catholic presence (Lash, Duffy, Soskice), a French (Parisian) connexion (de Lubac, Marion, Derrida), and a solid Platonist philosophical tradition with the powerful influence of Wittgenstein adding to the mix.

Cambridge, after all, is the home of Radical Orthodoxy (Milbank, Ward, Pickstock), which, love it or hate it, is certainly the most innovative contemporary theological movement/sensibility anywhere in the British Isles.

Michael F. Bird said...

Ben, there reason for the exodus in my view is:
1. Theologians are getting cheesed off with having to justify having a divintiy faculty at Oxbridge as others would like to run them out of town (e.g. Dawkins).
2. Specialists posts in Scotland offer positions with less admin and more writing time.
3. All the more reason for you to visit Scotland!!!

kim fabricius said...

With your permission, Michael:

4. Laphroaig.

As A. E. Houseman put it in his lovely little couplet (pace Ben!):

And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

Sean said...

Hi Ben

I would point out that Paul Fiddes still remains in Oxford and holds an honorary chair in Systematic Theology as well as being Principal of Regent's Park College. Paul's more recent work has been in the area of Baptist and ecumenical theology, but he recently gave the Bampton lectures and is at work on at least one volume of systematics. Paul's commitment to Baptist life and ecumenical relations in the UK and beyond has clearly meant that his work as a theologian does not have as wide a circulation as it should do (Maurice Wiles belived he was the most promising theologian in Oxford 15 years ago, and that was when Rowan Williams was stilla round).

I am biased though. Paul is a personal friend and I am a Governor of Regent's Park College!

Joshua said...

With Lash retiring, Milbank long gone first to UVA and now to Nottingham, I am not sure how strong even Cambridge's Theological scene is now. If American Universities weren't so arrogant about their PhD programs, I would have stayed in Edinburgh to work with David Fergusson. Alas, oxbridge remains the only names most US school's respect. If only they knew the delights of Edinburgh...

Douglas said...

O'Donovan's departure is an omninous event. I wondered whether John Webster was over-reacting when he decamped north, but it is now clear that he was not. If you want to see what is at issue, compare Webster with the man who was put in to replace him. Webster, is an evangelical theologian, a natural teacher and communicator, who has done some great work interpreting Barth and Jüngel, the outstanding evangelical theologians of the twentieth century, and who is now on a more constructive and creative phase, showing us the relationship between Scripture, Christian doctrine and Christian ethics, actually interpreting Scripture for us to show us what difference it makes. See his Holiness – it is a gem, and the kind of thing we all wish we could write. Compare this with the man who replaced him, whose latest offering takes up ‘the critique of theology found in the work of Heidegger’, and whose lecture courses seem hardly aware of Christian doctrine or its great exponents.
This is one of those moments when the struggle for the Christian faith impacts on lives and careers in the comfortable West. I doubt whether Oxford’s administrators are troubled about losing these two scholars, because it is these administrators in every university in England who are making it so difficult to do any academic theological work. What makes this so unusual is that O'Donovan and Webster were Canons of Christ Church, senior clergymen of the Church of England, employed by the Cathedral to teach Christian doctrine in the university.

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