Practical Theology and Qualitative Research, 2d ed.

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John Swinton, Harriet Mowat
  • Norwich, UK: 
    Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd
    , October
     2016.
     320 pages.
     £25.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780334049883.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Explore the relationship between qualitative methods and Practical Theology by reading John Swinton and Harriet Mowat’s text, Practical Theology and Qualitative Research: Second Edition. While illuminating the role of research and its relationship with theological circumstances, they successfully move reflective research in new directions. This is important considering “practical theology continues to offer a significant contribution to the wider field of theology and the practices of the Church and the world”(xi).

The text is divided into two parts. First, Swinton and Mowat reflect not only on the relationship between practical theology and qualitative research, but also on the characteristics of each. Methods, then, are highlighted—paying tribute to theological giants such as Paul Tillich and David Tracy (74-77). The second part of the text is “designed to show different dimensions of the way in which those researching within the discipline of practical theology can use qualitative research”(xv). The conclusion explores practical theology as action research and the weaving of both practical theology and qualitative research. The conclusive chapter—as well as the entire text—encourages “new and transformative modes of action” that foster the relationship between practical theology and qualitative research (261). This, in return, “provides a wonderful context for the development of fresh insights, challenging dialogue and revised and more faithful modes of practice”(260).

The goal of the text is twofold: first, the objective of the authors is to “enable practical theology to work effectively and faithfully with qualitative research methods”(xv); and second, creating a theoretical and practical examination that elevates the discipline of practical theology (11).

Early on in the text, the authors state, “it has been the case that the way in which it [practical theology] has utilized other sources of knowledge, such as the social sciences, has tended to push its primary theological task into the background (7). If this is a critique of practical theology, then it would be inappropriate, in this case, for the authors of the text to have “theological reflections” at the end of some of the chapters.

Nevertheless, the text embraces practical theology not only because of its reflection on “the practices of the Church as they interact with the practices of the world” (7), but also, and perhaps more importantly, because it fuses human experience, dialogue, and disciplines with diverse interpretations and understandings. This then, paves a path for new methods, goals, and experiences to explore—a task of many, if not all, theologians.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jane M. Curry is a doctoral student of Pratical Theology [ABD] at St. Thomas University and a theology teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

Date of Review: 
February 20, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John Swinton is Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies at the School of Divinity, History, and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen. He has a background in nursing and healthcare chaplaincy and has researched and published extensively within the areas of practical theology, mental health, spirituality and human well-being and the theology of disability.

Harriet Mowat is an internationally recognised expert in qualitative research methodologies. Dr. Mowat is an honorary senior lecturer in the Centre and has been a long-time collaborator with Professor Swinton. Her core discipline is sociology, although she has studied some theology. Her research interests include spirituality and "successful" ageing, use of qualitative research methods and practical theology and action research as an implementation strategy.

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