My name is Lucinda Murphy and I’ve just completed my PhD in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University.
I have always been fascinated by how particular things, relations, and experiences become meaningful or significant to people – in other words, how people make sense of the world and the people around them. At the heart of this exploration, as I see it, is the question of how people emotionally relate to a sense of the Other, and in doing so, how they come to relate to themselves, their desires, and a sense of their own place and purpose in the world.
A sense of ‘the Other’ can, of course, be perceived in all number of ways. At base level, it may simply be understood to describe our engagement with the external physical world which we find our selves relating to, in and, perhaps most crucially, with. For many, a sense of the Other will be most discernible in the moments of time we share with our fellow human beings. The Other may come to be experienced in our dreams, our memories and our longings, as well as our physical conversations, experiences, and interactions. For some further still, the Other may be sensed in those experiences which seem to somehow relate to that which points beyond. This is often described as that sense that there is something greater than ourselves out there, some sense of destiny, order, force, meaning or momentousness, some sense of eternity perhaps – something which these particular objects, experiences or moments may point to.
Thus, almost paradoxically: these moments often connect that which feels most personal, most familiar and most intimate with that which seems most tangibly and tantalisingly mysterious, transcendent, and far away. Some call this ‘the beautiful’, some ‘the magical’, some ‘the spiritual’, and others even ‘the divine’. Such an experience is often found at the heart of both traditional and emerging religious and spiritual frameworks. And it is this that draws me to the study of ‘religion’.
After exploring these questions in a number of different disciplines throughout my (refreshingly interdisciplinary!) Theology and Religion degree at Durham University (St. Chad’s College), I completed a Masters in the Psychology of Religion at Heythrop College, London. In October 2016, I returned to Durham to embark on my PhD, supervised by Professor Douglas Davies and Professor Gerard Loughlin.
My MA research focused on psychological theories of memory, identity and emotion in relation to mental health and spirituality. I took a particular interest in ‘nostalgia’, considering the ways in which this emotion might interact with the self. This culminated in a final thesis based around a series of qualitative interviews which considered how some of these issues might play out in experiences of traditional Christmas Carol Service worship. Expanding on this work, my doctoral research explores the dynamics of emotion, identity, memory and meaning in British celebrations of Christmas on a broader scale.
My studies have led me to believe that real ‘theology’ is done in community, with community, not just in an erudite library. In a world precariously balancing increasing secularisation on one side of the fence and reactive conservative fundamentalisms on the other, creative thinking on how issues of spirituality and faith might be navigated is, I think, more crucial than ever and something I feel passionately about.
The role of emotion in ritual
Rites of passage / life transition
Identity and community
Memory and meaning
Religion and spirituality