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Durham University

Centre for Catholic Studies

Michael Fenn

My name is Michael Fenn and I am an MA student on the Catholic Studies stream here at Durham University.

After completing my A Levels in Somerset, I worked with the Sion Catholic Community for Evangelism where I was involved with outreach work with mostly secondary-school aged young people. Subsequent to this, I continued to be involved in youth discipleship work through theASCENT process based in Brentwood, Essex. It was during my involvement with theASCENT that I decided to read theology at the University of Edinburgh (2014-2018).

One of the major advantages of the Scottish undergraduate degree programme is that it offers two pre-honours years of study which (at Edinburgh at least) do not count towards one’s final degree classification; the upshot of this is that I was free to explore modules which challenge my natural gifts such as philosophy and biblical languages without worrying about the impact on my result. In so doing, I failed to gain much appreciation for philosophy (although, I persist and am currently undertaking a module with Dr Van-Nieuwenhove on Thomas Aquinas), but – despite continued difficulties with pronunciation - I did make enough headway in Greek and Hebrew to be able to deepen my engagement with biblical studies. I enjoy the breadth of skills employed in biblical studies (and indeed theology as a whole) where one is involved with literary criticism, linguistic debates, archaeological records, political considerations, reception history, and systematic theology. For me, there is willingness to gain insights from every discipline and different approaches do get a fair hearing (it is, incidentally, a particularly Catholic approach to acknowledge truth regardless of its provenance so I rejoice that this mindset somewhat endures in modern theology). My love of the Bible leads me to constantly ask questions about its role in the churches and particularly how the academic work of biblical scholars is relevant to the life of the Church. I explored these questions in my undergraduate dissertation which explored how Pope John Paul II used the Bible and biblical scholarship in his influential series of audiences known as the Theology of the Body. The Durham MA gives me the opportunity to cultivate further my interest in Catholic theology through modules in Catholic Social Thought and Thomas Aquinas. My MA dissertation will explore the theology of Deuteronomy 32 (the Song of Moses), with a view to exploring the pedagogical function of such recapitulatory songs in the Old Testament.

I chose to pursue post-graduate studies at Durham University in large part because of the presence of the Centre for Catholic Studies. It was exciting to discover that this centre existed to promote the study of Catholic theology within such a mainstream and prestigious institution. One of the aims of the Centre is precisely to stand at the intersection of the Academy and the Church and facilitate meaningful dialogue between these camps and to actively reach out to the wider community; these tie closely to some of the motives behind my research interests. The support of fellow students and staff is an invaluable asset when embarking on postgraduate study which carries a risk of isolation as formal contact hours decrease and focused (read: niche) research begins. I have personally found the staff involved in the CCS to be very open to speaking about both academic and more pastoral matters involved in postgraduate life. Practically speaking, I am very grateful for the material support I have received through the CCS scholarships and bursaries which made this postgraduate study accessible. I am in receipt of a Louis Lafosse bursary (funded by the Institute of Christian Education) as well as a Catherine McAuley Bursary (funded by the Sisters of Mercy)- it is heartening to be connected with these two organisations which have done so much good work within schools and wider society. I was involved with a homelessness project in Edinburgh in which we would pray for the beatification of Catherine McAuley and occasionally hear a little of her wisdom, so I am honoured to be a beneficiary of these bursaries. I hope this Masters programme will open up further opportunities for me to serve the Church effectively in the coming years.

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