XKCD cartoon

Last week I had the privilege of several coffee breaks with Christian friends doing PhDs in different areas.  Each time I came away excited by a fresh glimpse of how big God’s world is.  One friend is doing a PhD on a certain grammatical obstacle for Kurdish speakers learning English, and also preaches at a local Arabic-speaking fellowship.  Another is looking at how to embed an ethic of caring for the earth into church teaching in east Africa.  Another is trying to find the best way of freeze-drying blackcurrant juice without losing anthocyanins – and praises God for the nuances of physical chemistry.  Totally different topics – but let me tell you: the delight of engaging with someone else’s research, just for half an hour, is like nothing else!

You probably have friends researching all kinds of wonderful topics.  When did you last experience this joy? Go on – try it this week! You may even help your friend solve a problem at the same time. Or at least you can do better than the cartoon at the top of the page, from XKCD.

Now, among our Christian friends, some may have a clear idea of why the Lord Jesus would be interested in their work, and some won’t.  If it’s connected to mission, healthcare or social justice, it may seem much easier.  But our Scriptures leave no doubt that Jesus Christ is into everything.  In him all things were created… through him and for him (Colossians 1); God shares with Job His delight in all kinds of creatures that serve no human purpose; and in Revelation 5 we see every creature in heaven and on earth praising and worshipping the Lamb.

Sometimes we might spot a link to the Kingdom of God in someone’s research, which they, being in the thick of it, haven’t thought of.  Sometimes the effort of explaining our work to a Christian friend or meeting helps us see it in the new light of the Kingdom.  And this is surely an even more exhilarating breakthrough than just engaging with the quirks of someone’s work.

Is this hard work?  To help someone find genuine Christian insight into their research topic will, I think, generally take a lot of patience, plus faith-filled imagination and lateral thinking.  But help is at hand…

Coming up in less than two weeks, this year’s FiSch leaders’ conference brings Profs. Tom McLeish and Andrew Basden to help a group of us think about Christian perspectives that cross disciplinary boundaries.  I mention this now for two reasons:

  1. It’s not too late to book, if you are interested in Christian postgrads’ groups and can make it to Leeds on 13-14 Feb;
  2. Following the conference, this blog will feature some brief reports of some of the talks and discussions we’ll be having.  Check out last year’s while you’re waiting!

Meanwhile, if you have ideas about finding Christian perspectives on arcane PhD subjects, do leave a comment here – or check out the other ways to connect with us, like the Facebook page

Richard Gunton
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Richard Gunton

Richard is the Director of Faith-in-Scholarship at Thinking Faith Network. He also teaches statistics at the University of Winchester. His current passions include Reformational philosophy, history of sciences, ordination (the statistical sort), and wildlife gardening. He worships, and occasionally preaches, at St Mary's Church in Portchester. [Views expressed here are his own.]