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Dr Cherryl Hunt

Honorary Senior Research Fellow

I am a former molecular biologist who metamorphosed into a theologian! After obtaining a PhD and many years’ experience in research and teaching Biological Sciences at Exeter, I did a Masters in Theology here, focusing on biblical studies. I then completed three years as a postdoctoral researcher on the 'Uses of the Bible in Environmental Ethics' project in the Theology department  (http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/theology/research/projects/uses/).

In 2010, I embarked on a part-time PhD in Theology, based on field-work, which examined strategies by which 'ordinary' Christians (those with little or no academic theological education) might be enabled to engage with the ancient texts comprising the Bible. I successfully completed my PhD in 2016 and my findings have been published as a series of four articles.

I have taught various undergraduate modules in theological and biblical topics, both in the department here and for the Durham University-validated South West Ministry Training Course. I also teach elsewhere from time to time, such as the Exeter Medical School and the Faraday institute (http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/index.php), on areas where ethics, theology and the biosciences interact, such as environmental care, the status of the early embryo and stem cell research.

I am currently an honorary research fellow in Theology at Exrter; I work for South West Ministry Training Course as Academic Registrar and associate tutor.

Research interests

My PhD research project involved analysis of, and theological reflection upon, responses to a pilot programme designed to promote biblical engagement by ordinary Christians in churches. This programme, called ‘Pathfinder’ was devised and run by Bible Society in response to research findings that suggested that Bible reading and engagement is in decline within British churches. My fieldwork involved the use of questionnaires and focus groups of those following the programme in seven churches of different denominations, supplemented with one-to-one semi-structured interviews of individual participants.

A number of general observations emerged from the fieldwork, including the importance of accessibility of language and concepts and the necessity of organising any such programme holistically, rather than merely assembling a collection of individual resources. However, I chose to reflect upon three specific issues which were found in my data:

  1. the importance of audio-visual resources: the ways in which they articulated the texts and the contexts  in which they might be fruitfully deployed within a larger programme.
  2. the generation of a multiplicity of different readings when a group of Christians encountered their scriptures together, and the value of different articulations of the biblical texts
  3. the tensions expressed by the programme participants between what they perceived as ‘intellectual’ or ‘head’-oriented resources and those seen as sponsoring a ‘spiritual’ or ‘heart’-directed approach to the texts.

Consideration of theological resources and sources relevant to these three issues led me to propose some principles for the design of a programme aimed to promote biblical engagement by ordinary Christians i.e. those not trained in academic theology or biblical scholarship.

These are set out in the four papers I wrote from the thesis.

Sine then I conducted research funded by a seedcorn grant by Durham University's Common Awards Research Network This project examined the impact of embarking on academic study of the Bible upon individuals' devotional practices, particularly their approaches towards their sacred texts. A summary is here and it also features in my 2020 paper in The Expository Times