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Jacobs, Naomi Lawson (2019) The Upside-down Kingdom of God : A Disability Studies Perspective on Disabled People’s Experiences in Churches and Theologies of Disability. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis argues that, in many churches, disabled people are conceptualised as objects of care. However, disabled Christians are capable of being active agents in churches, with service, ministry and theologies of their own to offer. In Part A, I explore the discourses that have historically functioned in churches to marginalise disabled Christians. Using a Foucauldian approach, I argue that the Christian pastoral model has a fundamental orientation towards individualism, addressing disability through frameworks of care and charity, rather than through a model of justice. I compare this approach with the liberatory theologies of critical disability theologians, whose socially located perspectives are often marginalised in mainstream theology in favour of universalist theological approaches. In Part B, using data from interviews with 30 Christians, I argue that their subjugated perspectives highlight a precarious normalcy in churches, where environments do not sustain the bodyminds of many disabled worshippers. Using theories of misfitting from disability studies, I argue the study’s participants were often prevented from fitting in churches: in buildings, in worship contexts, in social interactions, and in their attempts to offer their own service and ministry to others. I theorise the concept of discipl(in)ing, where bodyminds are shaped towards norms as they participate in church life. Drawing on the Gospel parable of the banquet, I argue that, through the theological and ecclesial focus on hospitality, disabled people are offered a conditional welcome into churches, resulting in a power imbalance between non-disabled hosts and disabled permanent guests. In Part C I discuss the theological perspectives of participants, whose own theologies call for the churches to be the “Upside-down Kingdom of God.” They explore an alternative: transformation of churches so that all may have access to worship and church culture. I argue that the fields of academic and ecclesial theology have a responsibility to enable disabled people’s own socially contingent theologies and sharing of experience, if access to “all” for churches is to include disabled people as part of the “all.”

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Sian Hawthorne
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2020 08:31

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