Professor Christopher Southgate
Professor of Christian Theodicy
Professor Christopher Southgate trained originally as a research biochemist. He has taught for the Dept on the science-religion debate (and related areas such as environmental ethics) since 1993. His research interests include the problem of suffering in evolution, the concept of glory in the natural world and in religious poetry, tragic events affecting church congregations, and the science of the origin of life.
Chris teaches the undergraduate modules 'Evolution, God and Gaia' and 'Big Questions in Science and Religion’. He has ten research students at present, and welcomes enquiries from others interested in his areas of expertise.
Chris's book 'The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil' was published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2008, and has become a seminal work on suffering in creation. He is also the editor of 'God, Humanity and the Cosmos' (Continuum, 3rd edition 2011), a standard text in the science-religion field. His most recent book is 'Theology in a Suffering World: Glory and Longing' (Cambridge University Press, 2018).
Chris is also the author of eight collections of poetry, the most recent being 'Rain Falling by the River (Canterbury, 2017) and 'Chasing the Raven' (Shoestring, 2016). For more information see Chris's website www.christophersouthgate.org.uk.
The interaction of evolutionary theory with Christian theology. See his podcast in the 'Homebrewed Christianity' series.
The origin of life as a problem in science, theology and philosophy.
Environmental ethics in relation to Christian theology, with particular reference to the climate emergency.
The poetry of T.S. Eliot, G.M.Hopkins and R.S.Thomas.
The concept of 'glory' in the Bible and tradition.
Ministerial responses to tragedies in congregations (see tragedyandcongregations.org.uk for a project funded by the Templeton World Charities Foundation Inc. from 2017-21)
Chris has a long-time collaboration with Dr Andrew Robinson, Honorary University Fellow in the Dept. Robinson and Southgate were one of only two teams in the world to gain all three rounds of funding in the Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series (www.ctnsstars.org).
Chris also worked with the Revd Canon Dr Carla Grosch-Miller, Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Dept, and the Revd Hilary Ison, on a project on tragedies in congregations, funded by the Templeton World Charities Foundation.
Chris serves on the committee of the T.S. Eliot Society and is active in exploring new conversations about the life and work of the poet.
I am currently first supervisor for
one full-time student working on the Book of Job in relation to trauma theory
one full-time student working on ecotheological justice in relation to climate aid
one full-time student exploring the theology of permaculture
one part-time student exploring the relation of God to non-human animals
one part-time student researching the origins of human sin
one part-time student working on ecospirituality
one part-time student exploring the links between poetry and natural theology
one part-time student exploring new directions in the theodicy of natural evil
I am also second supervisor for a range of other projects.
I am open to receiving research proposals in the areas of the sciences' dialogue with Christian theology, environmental ethics, practical theology for ministry, and the interface of poetry with theology.
Recently graduated students:
Dr Bethany Sollereder (now at Oxford) on evolutionary theodicy
Mr Derek White (MbyRes) also on evolutionary theodicy
Ms Ellen Lesser (MbyRes) on science-theology relationships
The Revd Prebendary Dr Tony Kyriakides-Yeldham on healthcare chaplaincy
Dr Joel Parkyn on extra-terrestrial life
The Revd Dr Stephen Goundrey-Smith on transhumanism
Dr Sally Long on poetry and the Ignatian Exercises
Mr Gareth Richards (MbyRes) on the theological ethics of de-extinction
External impact and engagement
- Chris has run many events with churches and other related groups, exploring his research with lay audiences. This has included:
- a seminar with Rowan Williams at Truro Cathedral at the time of the G7 meeting in Cornwall
- a three-day Lee Abbey residential for scientists, clergy, teachers and other laypeople
- a two-day retreat on the life and poetry of T.S.Eliot
- a seminar for the science and religion society in Copenhagen
- an evening with Taunton Humanists Society
- a lecture in the series at St Michael's Mount Dinham
- a lecture in Newcastle in connection with the British Science Festival
- lectures in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for New Zealand Christians in Science
He also explores the theological import of his own poetry and those of others, including:
a lecture on Eliot at St Stephen's Church, Exeter
a 'Dean's evening' at Virginia Theological Seminary
a reading in International Week at New York University
a readng in the pottery studio at St John's University, Minnesota
masterclasses at Columbia University on science and poetry, and the status of the sestina
three lectures for 'Theology Quest and Questions Tiverton'
the 2016 Gowland Lecture on science and poetry
the 2014 Sarum Lectures on glory.
Contribution to discipline
- "Cooperation and interpretation in the emergence of life" $630,192 from the John templeton Foundation
- "How can congregations be helped in times of tragedy?", £182,054 from the Templeton World Charities Foundation
- "Information and the Origins of Life', with Andrew Robinson. £196,562, Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series, made possible by the Templeton Foundation, 2007-2011.
- "Ministry Training as Formation", with Mike Higton. £93,000, St Luke’s College Foundation, 2007-2010.
- "Texts of Land, Sea and Hope", with Mike Higton and David Horrell. £67,656, SWMTC, 2006-2009.
- Colloquium on evolutionary theodicy, Oxford, April 2022
- Symposium on semiotics and theology, Berkeley, CA, Nov 2008 and Cambridge, UK, April 2011
- Workshops for early career researchers, Berkeley, CA, 2010, Buckfast Abbey, 2019
- AAR panel, 2009
- Editor of Reviews in Science and Religion (2007-2012)
- Editor-designate of the Journal of the T.S. Society
Academic society positions
- Committee member for the Science and Religion Forum (scirelforum.org)
- Advisory Board - Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
- Advisory Group - AAR section on Science, Technology and Religion (to 2020)
- Committee member of the T.S. Eliot Society
- Chris has given presentations to groups concerned with the dialogue between religion and science, the interface between science and environmental ethics, and the interaction of poetry and science.
- Interview on Rema Radio, New Zealand
- Series of nine TV interviews for Closer to Truth, American PBS
- Interview for Radio Newcastle in connection with the British Science Festival
- Performed and was interviewed for radio at the 2016 Greenbelt Festival
- Podcast in the 'Homebrewed Christianity' series.
My teaching style emphasises high levels of student interaction. Student-led seminars (including debates, etc) are a particular feature, with the aim to teach students not just how to think but how to talk and to listen as academic theologians.
I won Templeton Foundation Science and Religion Teaching Awards in 1996 and 2000 and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. I gave a presentation (with a former student) of good pedagogy in science and religion at the American Academy of Religion in 2016, and contribute regularly to the University's teaching and learning training.
Two of my former students reflect on my teaching in articles in the journal 'Zygon', for September 2018.
My Level 1 module 'Big Questions in Science and Religion' (alternate years from 2021) uses group-working to explore areas of cutting-edge interest, including coronavirus and climate change. 'Evolution, God and Gaia' (Levels 2-3) runs in alternate years from 2022.