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Durham University

Centre for Catholic Studies

Charlotte Bray

My name is Charlotte Bray and I am a full-time PhD student here at Durham University and am a recipient of the Louis Lafosse Scholarship. I also completed an undergraduate degree in theology at Durham which is where I first discovered my passion for this fascinating and diverse subject. However, it was after taking a year out from my studies to volunteer with CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, which solidified in me my desire to further study theology at postgraduate level. This led me to complete an MA in Catholic Studies with the CCS last year, before starting a PhD this year. It is thanks to the generous financial support of the CCS and the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle’s Lay Training Fund that I have been enabled to do this.

As part of my year with CAFOD I was placed at Newman University in Birmingham, where I worked as part of the chaplaincy team raising awareness of issues to do with social justice among the staff and students, and how that relates to the Catholic faith. As part of the gap year programme I was also privileged to be able to travel to Cambodia to meet first-hand the communities which CAFOD work with overseas, and witness the projects which these communities are participating in in order to empower themselves and lift their communities out of poverty. I went to Cambodia with the expectation that I would meet some incredible people. I never realised that the encounters I had would have such a transformative effect on my life. This experience of working alongside the amazing people tirelessly working for social justice both in the UK and around the world, and in particular witnessing how the Catholics involved in this enterprise were inspired to do so through their faith and Catholic Social Teaching, instilled in me an appreciation of the importance of studying and constructively developing Catholic Social Teaching and practice. This time that I spent journeying alongside these practitioners of Catholic Social Teaching have inspired and shaped my specific interests in studying theology.

My academic interests lie predominately in systematic theology and the development of Catholic Social Teaching and practice. I am particularly interested in how the theology of liberationist theologians impact, challenge and develop not only systematic theology but also current practical issues in Christian ethics and ecclesiology. I am interested in the implications of these contextual theologies for the constructive development of Catholic Social Teaching and practice.

My PhD research explores the idea of sin in Catholic theological discourse. In recent decades the idea of social or structural sin has entered into the Catholic Church’s vocabulary. This vocabulary represents a shift in the Catholic imagination from thinking about sin in purely individual terms to describing it in terms of the historical and social situation. The notion of sin is therefore extended beyond exclusive focus on individual acts and dispositions. However, within the broad scope of Catholic social thought there remains significant variation over the understanding of social sin. Catholic theologians do not present homogeneous accounts of social sin. There remain differing emphases regarding the nature of structural sin and its causes, its effects on individuals, its capacity to impact moral agency and how best to comprehend personal and collective accountability in the context of social sin. Due to the proliferation of theologies of social sin there remains disagreement regarding the meaning and process of conversion and the appropriate response to the presence of social sin. In my research I seek to trace the development of the theological category of structural sin within the Catholic tradition. I am exploring key figures across diverse schools of Catholic theology who present significant and unique, yet incomplete, accounts of the social and structural dimensions of sin. My research seeks to explore the theological, philosophical and anthropological premises which underlie their accounts of sin, in order to discern why these different schools of thought within Catholic theology present significantly divergent accounts. My research also seeks to discern what is at stake in these differences, as well as identify areas which are in need of further development.

I am incredibly thankful for the support that I’ve received from the Centre for Catholic Studies and for the opportunity to be connected with it. The community of the CCS has been an incredibly nurturing place to develop both as an academic and as a person. Being a member of this diverse community has opened up so many incredible opportunities for me; from being able to attend the seminars and conferences, to being involved in a Receptive Ecumenism project, to working with the Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice. None of this would have possible without the generous support from the CCS community, as well as the personal encouragement I have received from staff and fellow students. It is through the support of the Centre that I have been enabled to work towards my dream of contributing to the constructive development of Catholic Social Teaching and practice, albeit in my own small way, and give back to the Catholic tradition which has given me so much.

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