Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology
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Simeon Zahl

Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Faculty of Arts



I received my first degree from Harvard in History and Literature, and my PhD from Cambridge in Theology and Religious Studies. Following my doctorate I held a post-doc at Cambridge for several years before moving to Oxford, where I was a Junior Research Fellow at St John's College from 2011-16. I arrived at Nottingham in 2016 as Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology. I am Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes and Course Director for our thriving Distance Learning M.A. Programmes.

Expertise Summary

My primary areas of expertise are modern Christian theology and the history of theology from the early modern period to the present.

Within these areas, I have published on a variety of topics including: theologies of the Holy Spirit; religious experience, emotion, and affect; the nature of doctrine; and the theologies of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon.

Teaching Summary

Distance Learning M.A. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology

Much of my teaching is focused on the Distance Learning M.A. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology, where I usually teach the following modules:

  • Systematic and Philosophical Theology for Newcomers
  • Aquinas and Thomisms
  • Research Methods and Resources
  • La Nouvelle Theologie
  • Faith and Reason

I am also developing two new modules for the Distance Learning M.A.:

  • Reformation Theology
  • Theology of the Holy Spirit

Undergraduate Teaching

My main undergraduate module in 2017-18 is:

  • Theology and Ethics in the Modern World

In 2018-19 I will also teach a new upper level module on Christology.

Research Summary

I am likely to be on research leave between August 2019 and January 2020.

My current academic research focuses on the themes of the Holy Spirit, affect and religious experience, and the nature of doctrine in contemporary theology,

My major project is a monograph for Oxford University Press entitled The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience. The book argues for a new way of taking account of the subjectivity of the theologian in theology through attention to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and to the irreducibility of affective factors in theological reasoning. In this it provides a way of navigating between the experientially powerful but uncritical approach of Pentecostal and charismatic theologies and the wariness about 'experience' in much modern theology since Barth. This approach has significant implications for a number of contemporary theological issues, including the relationship between participatory and forensic theologies of salvation; theology's relationship to spirituality, cognitive science, and affect theory; dialogue with Pentecostal theologies; and the plausibility of traditional Christian claims in the context of modernity.

A preliminary account of this approach can be found in my article 'On the affective salience of doctrines'. This article builds on insights from postliberal theology to draw attention to the way that theological arguments are illuminated through paying explicit attention to the affective impact of particular theological positions in the lives of Christians and the practices of the church, both historically and today.

Selected Publications

Research Supervision

I warmly welcome enquiries for postgraduate study in the general areas of modern Christian theology and the historical theology from the Reformation to the present. Within these areas, I have particular interests in a number of topics, including:

  • Theologies of the Holy Spirit
  • Religious experience, emotion, and affect
  • Theology in dialogue with affect theory and with cognitive science
  • Reformation theology, especially Luther and Melanchthon
  • Theological interpretation of Scripture
  • Soteriology and theologies of grace
  • Theology and spirituality
  • Pentecostal theology, past present and future
  • Nineteenth-century theology

Past Research

From the start of my career I have been interested in modern theology's difficulties in articulating a compelling account of the Holy Spirit, and in taking seriously the subjectivity of the theologian without reducing theology to anthropology. My first monograph (Pneumatology and Theology of the Cross in the Preaching of Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt) is a study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the thought of Lutheran Pietist theologian and 'faith healer' Christoph F. Blumhardt (1842-1919), whose theology and ministry represented a powerful modern attempt to bridge the divide between classical protestant approaches to the Spirit and pietist and charismatic ones, through attention to the problem of self-deception in charismatic experience, with significant theological as well as political implications.

At Oxford I turned to the sixteenth century, to Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon's debates about affective spirituality and inner encounter with the Holy Spirit. I focused especially on their ambivalence about the affections and 'the heart' in light of the doctrine of justification, and on the legacy of this ambivalence in later debates about 'enthusiasm'. This work has borne fruit in a book chapter ('The Bondage of the Affections: Willing, Feeling, and Desiring in Luther's Theology, 1513-1525') and a journal article ('Revisiting "the Nature of Protestantism": Justification by Faith Five Hundred Years On'), as well as a forthcoming article on Luther's theological appeal to experience in his critique of virtue ethics (Modern Theology, 2018).

In addition to this, in recent years I have written two Oxford Handbook articles, one on the doctrine of the atonement in modern European thought and one on 'experience' in nineteenth century Christian theology, as well as two further book chapters on theological interpretation of Scripture. I also have an ongoing interest in Scriptural Reasoning, an inter-faith dialogue practice involving Muslims, Jews, and Christians, and served as Chair of the Scriptural Reasoning Group at the American Academy of Religion from 2012-17.

Future Research

Following the completion of The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience, my research will move in two main directions.

First is a monograph that will draw on early modern theological resources to reflect on the role of spirituality and embodiment in theological knowledge-production, in order to illuminate debates about the roles of reason, metaphysics, and subjectivity in contemporary theology and ethics.

Second will be a collaboration with Donovan Schaefer at the University of Pennsylvania which will draw on affect theory as well as recent cognitive science of emotion to demonstrate the value of attention to affect for reconfiguring the relationship between theology and religious studies.

In addition to these larger projects, I have several shorter studies in preparation: one on affect theory and the Book of Common Prayer; one on 'experience of grace' in the context of recent work in New Testament studies; and one on the theological significance of bioenhancement technologies in light of traditional connections between sanctification and desire.

  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2018. 'Tradition and its "Use": The Ethics of Theological Retrieval' Scottish Journal of Theology. (In Press.)
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2017. 'Experience'. In: RASMUSSEN, JOEL, WOLFE, JUDITH and ZACHHUBER, JOHANNES, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth Century Christian Thought Oxford University Press. 177-95
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2016. 'The Bondage of the Affections: Willing, Feeling, and Desiring in Luther's Theology, 1513-1525'. In: COULTER, DALE and YONG, AMOS, eds., The Spirit, the Affections, and the Christian Tradition University of Notre Dame Press. 181-205
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2015. 'On the Affective Salience of Doctrines' Modern Theology. 31(3), 428-44
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2014. 'The Drama of Agency: Affective Augustinianism and Galatians'. In: ELLIOTT, MARK, HAFEMANN, SCOTT, WRIGHT, N.T. and FREDERICK, JOHN, eds., Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul's Letter Baker Academic. 335-52
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2013. 'Atonement'. In: ADAMS, NICHOLAS, PATTISON, GEORGE and WARD, GRAHAM, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Theology and Modern European Thought Oxford University Press. 611-32
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2013. 'What has the "Lutheran" Paul to do with John? Passive Righteousness and Abiding in the Vine'. In: ZAHL, SIMEON, GREGGS, TOM and MUERS, RACHEL, eds., The Vocation of Theology Today: A Festschrift for David Ford Cascade. 61-74
  • GREGGS, TOM, MUERS, RACHEL and ZAHL, SIMEON, eds., 2013. The Vocation of Theology Today: A Festschrift for David Ford Cascade.
  • GREGGS, TOM, MUERS, RACHEL and ZAHL, SIMEON, 2013. 'Introduction'. In: GREGGS, TOM, MUERS, RACHEL and ZAHL, SIMEON, eds., The Vocation of Theology Today: A Festschrift for David Ford Cascade.
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2013. 'Truth and Love: the Many Instruments of the Spirit'. In: BREWER, TODD and KOCH, JOHN D., eds., Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl Cascade. 133-46
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2011. 'The Spirit and the Cross: Engaging a Key Critique of Charismatic Pneumatology'. In: WILLIAMS, JANE, ed., The Holy Spirit in the World Today SPTC Books. 133-46
  • FORD, DAVID, HIGTON, MIKE and ZAHL, SIMEON, eds., 2011. The Modern Theologians Reader Wiley-Blackwell.
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2010. Pneumatology and Theology of the Cross in the Preaching of Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt: the Holy Spirit between Wittenberg and Azusa Street T&T Clark/Continuum.
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2010. 'Rethinking 'Enthusiasm': Christoph Blumhardt on the Discernment of the Spirit' International Journal of Systematic Theology. 12(3), 341-63
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2010. 'Religion, Identity, and Society: The Impact of Scriptures' Forum Bosnae. 51, 162-67
  • ZAHL, SIMEON, 2010. 'Reformation Pietism or Pietist Personalism? The Problem of the Holy Spirit in Evangelical Theology'. In: GREGGS, TOM, ed., New Perspectives for Evangelical Theology: Engaging with God, Scripture, and the World Routledge. 78-92

Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5854