Meekly Kneeling Before Wisdom: Labouring for revelation in an Anglo-Catholic chaplaincy

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Dreyer, Carolyn 

This dissertation is a study of the effort required to know God as it takes shape in Anglo-Catholic theological practice. It presents divine revelation as a processual relationship between humans and God, which is developed through the individual’s engagement with social forms and practices maintained by the Church as a mediating presence. These theoretical concerns are situated in the ethnographic context of Bouverie House, an Anglo-Catholic chaplaincy in Oxford, England, that ministers to the surrounding university and city. Anglo-Catholics are members of the Church of England who desire to restore Catholic teaching and practice to their reformed, Protestant Church. This branch of Anglicanism began with the mid 19th century Oxford Movement, a controversial attempt to revive liturgical ritual and anti-rationalist theology in the British ecclesiastical and scholastic landscape. Its early leaders were priest-professors of the University of Oxford, and Bouverie House sustains this union of worship and scholarship by instructing members in techniques of spiritual formation through which practitioners grow in knowledge of God. This dissertation presents the Anglo-Catholic pursuit of revelation as a process of ‘recollection’, a kind of memory work that evokes Plato’s anamnesis, Augustine’s philosophy of the mind as a site for divine encounter, and Christ’s commandment to ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Recollection is a term employed by Anglo-Catholics in reference to their spiritual disciplines which prepare bodies and minds to receive knowledge of God. Recollective practices specifically addressed in this dissertation include the study of history, liturgical ritual, fasting and prayer regimes, confession, Scriptural hermeneutics, prophetic performance, and veneration of real divine presence in the Eucharist (communion). It is a chief contention of this thesis that the revelatory knowledge of God sought by Anglo-Catholics at Bouverie House is fundamentally non-rationalist and contingent on attachment of the knower to the object of knowledge. Here, religious knowledge is a relational process rather than an object. This dissertation purposes to reconsider anthropology’s engagement with theology in its analyses of Christian subjects. Adopting Furani’s (2019) heuristic and polemical dichotomy between a Cartesian epistemology based on detachment and difference, and an Augustinian epistemology based on relational attachment, this dissertation presents Anglo-Catholic recollection — an epistemology grounded in relationality — as antithetical to the differential analytical framework that grounds a secular anthropology. Because of this epistemological mismatch, anthropology struggles to comprehend religious knowledge on its own terms. As remedy, this dissertation suggests the adoption of emic theological epistemology (not any particular theological claim) in ethnographic accounts of Christians, and demonstrates one such epistemological shift by employing the concept of ‘recollection’ as both ethnographic object and analytical method for understanding how Anglo-Catholics learn about God. Used as such, recollection purposes to ask new questions about religious subjects, viewing theology as a process with transformative potential, and valuing God as both an ethnographic actor and analytical agent. This dissertation engages with recollection to consider how religious knowledge is transmitted across time, requires certain dispositions of knowledge-seekers, and is contingent on relationship between the knower and object of knowledge.

Robbins, Joel
Anthropology, Religion, Christianity, Anglicanism, Theology, Secularism
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
External Graduate Studentship, Trinity College