Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Firth Lectures

High profile biennial public lecture series exploring aspects of Christian faith in relation to contemporary problems.

2023 lectures

25-26 April 2023
Dr. Andrea C. White; Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

Scandal of Flesh: Black Flesh, Imaging God and the Politics of Hope

Headshot of Andrea White

Dr. Andrea C. White is Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. 

Her research fashions a nexus between womanist theology, black feminist critical theory and phenomenology.  Her current book project, Scandal of Flesh, is under review with the Religion and Critical Thought book series with Cambridge University Press.  She serves as Chair of Columbia University’s Senate Commission on Diversity, and has served as Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and Chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Black Theology Unit.  She holds a PhD in theology from The University of Chicago, Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College.  She has lectured across the United States and her international lectureships have taken her to Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, India, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland.  She is an ordained American Baptist minister.



Phenomenal Flesh

Tuesday 25 April 5pm-6.30pm, A21 Trent Building and Online

The human person inhabits an interstice etched between the lines of Psalm 8 and Job 38—made lower than angels but put in its proper place by divine inquisition.  Exalted or humiliated, or worse, annihilated, the figure of the human vacillates between hypermodern cyborg on one hand and planetary catastrophe on the other.  The project of the human is a salvation-history campaign, a mode of economic “futureproofing” wherein blackness names the space of an opacity outside God’s providential grace, ejected from the fold of redemption and reified for extraction.  In the wake of this historical project, what redemption is promised by the declaration of black flesh made in the image of God?  Invoked in the name of human dignity, theology’s imago Dei is simultaneously overdetermined and underdetermined; overdetermined in its androcentric idolatries, underdetermined in its claims of distinction and singularity.  A phenomenology of flesh pursued in this lecture reopens the question of imago Dei by centering divine affirmation of black flesh.

Sign up is required, please do so here. The link to attend online via MS Teams will be sent to the email address you use to register.


Fissures of Hope 

Wednesday 26 April 5pm-6.30pm, A03 Humanities Building and Online

This lecture thinks through necropolitics and Afropessimism toward a theology of hope, here considered according to its political refusals.  Black nihilism renounces hope as ideological counterfeit and instrument of fantasy.  Meanwhile, climate catastrophe controverts facile recourse to optimism about the modern world.  A theological account must therefore attend to hope’s decidedly precarious history in the Christian West.  Foregrounding the cuts or fissures that mark and interrupt its hegemonic deployment, hope is detached from wishful thinking and instead traced as a force of indictment, a radical denunciation of the status quo and its constitutive violence.  The site of the cut opens the absurd logic of divine promise and yearning, a resurrection-hope that affirms flesh while placing beyond reach the ascended body of Christ.  Dispossession operates as critique of idolatrous “hopes” and their devastating afterlives.  In this account of flesh and its dispossession, hope remains aporetic not for any lack of meaning but by virtue of its excess.  

Sign up is required, please do so hereThe link to attend online via MS Teams will be sent to the email address you use to register.


Previous lectures

Firth Lectures 2021: Prof. Celia Deane-Drummond (Oxford) - 'Humans and Animals: Boundary Questions and Why They are Significant for Theology and Ethics'

Prof. Celia Deane-Drummond is currently Senior Research Fellow and Director of Laudato Si' Research Institute at Campion Hall, University of Oxford. 

Her first academic position in theology was at Chester University in 1994 where she subsequently founded and was director of the Centre for Religion and the Biosciences. From 2011-2018 she was Chair of the European Forum for the Study of Religion and the Environment (EFSRE) which she helped found in 2006. In 2011 she joined the Faculty of Theology at the University of Notre Dame as full Professor in Theology and in 2015 became inaugural director of the Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing. She became Visiting Professor in Theology and Science at Durham University in 2012. Her research specialism includes work at the interface of theology and ethics with the biological and social sciences, including more recently projects with evolutionary anthropologists. 

Theology and the Evolution of Violence: Are we Wired for War or Peace?

Humans are Animals but Are Animals Persons? Implications for Theological Ethics. 

Firth Lectures 2016: The Most Reverend Rowan Williams - 'Imagining Faith: perceptions of religious belief in modern writing'

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams gave the Firth Lectures 2016. In these lectures he considers three pieces of contemporary fiction to explore how they describe the religious person and how there is a portrayal of holiness within these stories.

Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury on 23 July 2002, and confirmed as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury on 2 December 2002 in St Paul's Cathedral, London. He stepped down, moving to his new role as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge at the end of 2012.

Dr Williams is internationally renowned as a theological writer, teacher, and scholar. He has written across numerous topics that include theology, philosophy, morals and ethics, spirituality, and cultural and interfaith issues.

Imagining Faith: perceptions of religious belief in modern writing - part 1

Imagining Faith: perceptions of religious belief in modern writing - part 2


Firth Lectures 2014: Professor Charles Taylor - 'Philosophical and Theological Anthropology in the 21st Century'

Professor Charles Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at McGill University in Canada and formerly Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College gave the Firth Lectures 2014. His lectures attempted to assess where the philosophical and theological view of human beings stand today in relation to western secular civilisation.

Charles Taylor was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2007. This Prize, established in 1972, was the world’s largest annual award given to an individual at that time and is intended to recognise exemplary achievement in work related to life's spiritual dimension. This distinction was followed in November 2008 by becoming the first Canadian to win Japan's Kyoto Prize for arts and philosophy.

Prof Taylor is also a member of the Order of Canada and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was made honorary Doctor of Letters in the University of Oxford in 2012.

Philosophical and Theological Anthropology - part 1

Philosophical and Theological Anthropology - part 2




Firth Lectures 2012: Professor Terry Eagleton - 'Culture and the Death of God'

Professor Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University gave the Firth Memorial Lectures 2012, as a guest of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. The lectures explored the interaction between critical theory and religion in modern society, subjects on which Professor Eagleton has written and lectured extensively over the past 40 years.

According to The Independent, Professor Eagleton is ‘the man who succeeded F.R. Leavis as Britain’s most influential academic critic’. He has written around 50 books and was previously Professor of English Literature at the Universities of Manchester and Oxford.

His books include Literary Theory (1983) which remains to this day an academic best-seller, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990), The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996), a best-selling memoir, The Gatekeeper (2001) and more recent works such as Holy Terror (2005) and Trouble with Strangers (2008).

He has been a leading figure in literary studies since the 1970s and is a Fellow of both the British Academy and the English Association. He has held visiting appointments at such universities as Cornell, Duke, Iowa, Melbourne, Notre Dame, Trinity College Dublin, and Yale.

Culture and the Death of God - Part 1

Professor Eagleton speaking, against a blue backdrop.


Culture and the Death of God - Part 2

Professor Eagleton speaking, against a blue backdrop, close up.



About the Firth Lectures

The Firth Memorial Lectureship was founded by the Reverend John d’ewe Evelyn Firth in memory of his father, John Benjamin Firth, Historian of Nottingham and his mother Helena Gertrude Firth. The lecturer is appointed biennially by the Council of the University on the recommendation of the Senate of the University, and under the terms of the Trust the lecturer delivers a public lecture or lectures on some aspect of the Christian Faith in relation to contemporary problems.

The first person to hold the Lectureship was the renowned theologian Paul Tillich and there has been a series of eminent theologians and philosophers who have included among others Baroness Warnock and Professor Jϋrgen Moltmann.

Black and white portrait of Rev John d'ewe Evelyn Firth
Reverend John d’ewe Evelyn Firth



Department of Theology and Religious Studies

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