Skip to main content

Staff profiles

Photo of Professor Susannah Cornwall

Professor Susannah Cornwall

Associate Professor in Constructive Theologies

5567

01392 725567

My research focuses on Christian constructive theologies. Much of my work has been in contextual theologies, particularly those relating to sex, gender and sexuality. I also have interests in critical disability studies, homelessness, contextual Bible study, postcolonial and decolonial theologies, queer theologies, and theologies of art.

I have taught undergraduate-level courses including Religion in the Modern World, Introducing Christian Theologies, Body and Society, Postcolonial Theology, Queer Theologies and Theories, Theological Studies in Philosophy and Ethics, Theological Ethics and Genital Surgery, and Theology, Sexuality and Gender, and MA courses including Religion, Politics and the Media, and Contemporary Issues in Theology, Religion and Gender, as well as methods/skills modules.

My last monograph, Un/familiar Theology: Reconceiving Sex, Reproduction and Generativity, was published by Bloomsbury T&T Clark in June 2017. A special panel to discuss the book took place at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver, Colorado in November 2018.

My current monograph project, under contract with Cambridge University Press, is provisionally entitled Constructive Theology and Gender Variance: Transformative Creatures.

My first book, Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ (Routledge, 2010), examined the Christian constructive theological and ethical implications of the existence and treatment of intersex. I returned to this in the project I led at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester, between 2011 and 2013. This project was entitled Intersex, Identity and Disability: Issues for Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church. It included empirical work with intersex Christians in Britain, learning about the overlaps between their intersex and faith identities, and their experiences of talking about intersex with other Christians. As part of this project I edited  Intersex, Theology and the Bible: Troubling Bodies in Church, Text and Society, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. A special panel was convened to discuss the book and its implications at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta, Georgia in 2015.

My second book, Controversies in Queer Theology (SCM Press, 2011), examined ongoing debates in the area of queer theology, including: What is queer? Is queer theology synonymous with gay theology? Is queer theology inherently white or western? Is the Bible queer? Is the Christian theological tradition queer? Given the historical and contemporary treatment of LGBT by the Church, should queer people remain Christians?

As well as undergraduate and postgraduate-level teaching, I am committed to engagement and knowledge exchange with people in a range of contexts. I have been a support tutor and associate lecturer for the South West Ministry Training Course, working with trainee clergy, readers and members of the public on the Encountering Theology course. My third book, Theology and Sexuality (SCM Press, 2013), is part of the SCM Core Texts series, and is designed for use as an individual or class text for upper-level BA and MA students studying theology and sexuality, gender, sex and embodiment. It includes chapters on sexuality in the Christian tradition, sex and marriage, sex outside marriage, celibacy and virginity, transgender and intersex, and same-sex relationships. I also contributed to Sexuality: The Inclusive Church Resource (2014), part of a series designed to enable church communities to explore inclusion. I am a member of the Theology Working Group for the Church of England's Living in Love and Faith project.

 

Research interests

Christian constructive theologies; Theological and ethical implications of intersex characteristics / variations in sex characteristics; Theological and ethical responses to trans identity, gender variance, and same-sex relationships; Sexual ethics; Christologies; Critical disability studies; Theology and the body; Queer theologies; Feminist theologies; Relational theologies; Postcolonial and decolonial theologies; Contextual Bible Study; Theology and art; Spirituality and healthcare.

Research projects

2017-19 Modelling Transgender Spiritual Care: Pilot Framework for People Undergoing Gender Transition in NHS England Gender Clinics (in partnership with West of England NHS Specialist Gender Identity Clinic).

This project, funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, explored the development of spiritual and pastoral care for people undergoing gender transition, including those who have no religious beliefs. Spirituality and religious involvement correlate positively with improved wellbeing and mental health, and the NHS Contract of Care 2014-15 and the Health and Social Care Act 2008 require medical teams to provide for service users’ religious and spiritual needs.

Outputs from the project include:

  • "Healthcare Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care for Trans People: Envisaging the Future", Health and Social Care Chaplaincy 7.1 (2019), 8-27

 

2015-   Mind the Gap? Perceptions and Realities of Sexualities and Diversities Education for Church of England Ordinands (with David Nixon, South West Ministry Training Course)

The project involves empirical work with ordinands and staff at three theological education institutions (TEIs) using the new Common Awards curricula to learn how and where education on sexualities and diversity is delivered.

Outputs from the project include:

  • with Nixon, David, "Mind the Gap? Perceptions and Realities of Sexualities Education for Ordinands", Practical Theology 10.2 (2017), 147-159
  • with Nixon, David, “‘Anglicanism in a Bottle’? Theological Implications of Sexualities Education for Anglican Ordinands”, Practical Theology 10.4 (2017), 383-395

 

2011-2013: Intersex, Identity, Disability: Issues for Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church.

Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester.

The project had several components:

1. Empirical interviews and questionnaires with intersex Christians in Britain, focusing on the interactions between intersex identity and faith identity, and experiences in church contexts.

2. Work with healthcare chaplains and pastoral carers.

3. Academic work on intersex and theology, including an international conference in Manchester in March 2013 (see http://lincolntheologicalinstitute/iid-conference); an edited volume on intersex, theology and the Bible; and a lecture tour of US seminaries.

Outputs from the project include:

Journal articles:

  • "British Intersex Christians' Accounts of Intersex Identity, Christian Identity and Church Experience", Practical Theology 6.2 (2013), 220-236
  • “Telling Stories About Intersex and Christianity: Saying Too Much or Not Saying Enough?”, Theology 117.1 (2014), 24-33.
  • “Intersex and the Rhetorics of Disability and Disorder: Multiple and Provisional Significance in Sexed, Gender and Disabled Bodies”, Journal of Disability and Religion 19.2 (2015), 106-118, DOI: 10.1080/23312521.2015.1010681
  • “Identity and Formation in Theological Education: The Occasion of Intersex”, Journal of Adult Theological Education 12.1 (2015), 4-15.

Edited volume on intersex, theology and the Bible:

  • Cornwall, Susannah (ed.) (2015), Intersex, Theology and the Bible: Troubling Bodies in Church, Text and Society, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

Briefing papers on intersex, theology, policy and pastoral care:

  • “Intersex, Identity, Disability Project Briefing Paper 1: Intersex Conditions/DSDs: A Guide for Christians”, Manchester: Lincoln Theological Institute (open access online publication) (2012).
  • “Intersex, Identity, Disability Project Briefing Paper 2: Intersex Conditions/DSDs and Pastoral Care: A Guide for Healthcare Chaplains, Ministers, and Pastoral Carers”, Manchester: Lincoln Theological Institute (open access online publication) (2012).
  • Intersex, Identity, Disability Project Briefing Paper 3: Intersex Conditions/DSDs: Some Implications for Church Policy”, Manchester: Lincoln Theological Institute (open access online publication) (2013).
  • “Intersex, Identity, Disability Project Briefing Paper 4: Intersex Conditions/DSDs: Some Christian Theological Implications”, Manchester: Lincoln Theological Institute (open access online publication) (2012).

Resources for healthcare chaplains.

 

2010: Readings from the Road, British Academy-funded small research project

Outputs from the project include:

Journal articles:

  • Cornwall, Susannah (2012), “Contextual Bible Study: Characteristics and Challenges”, Modern Believing 53.1, 14-22.
  • Cornwall, Susannah and David Nixon (2011), “Readings from the Road: Contextual Bible Study with a Group of Homeless and Vulnerably-Housed People”, Expository Times 123.1, 12-19

Research collaborations

2017-19 Modelling Transgender Spiritual Care: Pilot Framework for People Undergoing Gender Transition in NHS England Gender Clinics (in partnership with West of England NHS Specialist Gender Identity Clinic).

This project, funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, explores the development of spiritual and pastoral care for people undergoing gender transition, including those who have no religious beliefs. Spirituality and religious involvement correlate positively with improved wellbeing and mental health, and the NHS Contract of Care 2014-15 and the Health and Social Care Act 2008 require medical teams to provide for service users’ religious and spiritual needs. However, there are no specific guidelines or frameworks in use by NHS England to ensure trans people’s spiritual care.

 

2015-   Mind the Gap? Perceptions and Realities of Sexualities and Diversities Education for Church of England Ordinands (with David Nixon, South West Ministry Training Course)

The project involves empirical work with ordinands and staff at three theological education institutions (TEIs) using the Common Awards curricula to learn how and where education on sexualities and diversity is delivered.

 

 

Research supervision

I am open to discussing research proposals on any relevant subject given my research expertise. I am especially happy to consider working with candidates with interests in the following areas:

Intersex characteristics / VSC

Trans and gender variance

Queer theologies

Theology and sexuality

Variant sex and gender, religion and spirituality

Healthcare ethics

Postcolonial and decolonial theologies

Spirituality in sex and relationships education

Spirituality and wellbeing

 

Research students

I currently supervise these PhD researchers:

Penelope Cowell Doe, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter: PhD, "Queering the Pilling Report" (with Louise Lawrence)

Sian Taylder, Department of Geography, University of Exeter: PhD, "There’s God in Them There Hills: Encounters with Spiritual Landscape" (with Paul Cloke)

Mehrdad Alipour Kalaei, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter: PhD, "Negotiating Same-Sex Desires and Acts in Islam: A Legal-Hermeneutical Analysis of Shīʿa Islamic Sources" (with Robert Gleave)

Jack Slater, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter: MPhil/PhD, "Notes Towards a Posthuman Queer Christology: Relationality, Autonomy and Futurity Through the Body of Christ" (with Louise Lawrence)

Philippa Meek-Smith, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter: PhD, "A Heart Full of Love? Public Perceptions, Media Misconceptions, and the Realities of Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy" (with Esther Reed)

Charlotte Trombin, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter: MPhil/PhD, "God's 'Toxic Masculinity': Masculine Identities, the Bible and Violence"

I supervised these completed researchers in their PhD projects:

Charles Pemberton, Department of Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, "Charity, Homelessness, and the Doctrine of Creation" (PhD, 2016) (with Peter Manley Scott)

Rohan Gideon, Department of Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, "Dalit Theologies of the Child" (PhD, 2015) (with Peter Manley Scott)

Scott Midson, Department of Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, "A Cyborg Theology? Venturing Between and Beyond Humans, Technology and God" (PhD, 2015) (with Peter Manley Scott)

External impact and engagement

I regularly talk to people in a wide range of contexts beyond the University who are also interested in questions about religion, sex, and justice. These have included church groups in London, Manchester, and across south-west England; arts festivals in Sheffield and Cheltenham; youth and student groups in Dewsbury and Manchester; at conferences for groups such as OneBodyOneFaith, the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality, the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, and the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists; and in schools across the region.

I've led professional training for groups including clergy, school teachers, healthcare chaplains, gender medicine specialists, sex education professionals, counsellors and pastoral carers.

I've been fortunate to have given public lectures in many wonderful places including Tübingen (Germany), Tartu (Estonia), Glasgow (Scotland),  Berkeley (California), Santa Clara (California), Boston (Massachusetts), Rome (Italy) and Leuven (Belgium).

Contribution to discipline

Grants awarded include

  • British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award (BARSEA) 2018-19 (for facilitation of public engagement activity and training for early career researchers on working with activists, advocates and practitioners in the area of sex, gender and religion)
  • Modelling Transgender Spiritual Care: Pilot Framework for People Undergoing Gender Transition in NHS England Gender Clinics (with West of England NHS Specialist Gender Identity Clinic), Sir Halley Stewart Trust, 2017-19
  • "Readings from the Road", British Academy Small Research Grant 2010 (for contextual Bible study project with homeless and vulnerably-housed people in South-West England)

Academic society positions

  • Executive committee member, Society for the Study of Theology, 2013-16
  • Executive committee member, TRS-UK, 2017-

Editorial work

  • Editorial board member, Modern Believing
  • Editorial board member, African Journal of Gender and Religion
  • Editorial board member, Bloomsbury Studies in Religion, Gender and Sexuality
  • Series editor, Rethinking Theologies: Constructing Alternatives in History and Doctrine (Bloomsbury T&T Clark)

Biography

I joined the Department of Theology and Religion in 2013 as Advanced Research Fellow in Theology and Religion under the HASS research strategy, as part of the Identities and Beliefs strand. In 2014 I became the new Director of EXCEPT (Exeter Centre for Ethics and Practical Theology). In 2016 I became Lecturer, in 2018 Senior Lecturer, and in 2020 Associate Professor in Theology and Religion.

From 2011 to 2013 I was Postdoctoral Research Associate at Lincoln Theological Institute at the University of Manchester, where I led the Intersex, Identity and Disability: Issues for Public Policy, Healthcare and the Church project.