The Meaning of Sacrifice

The reason for my being in Oxford is to attend the two week Oxford University Theology Summer School on the topic ‘The Meaning of Sacrifice ‘. Accommodated at Christ Church College, I attend morning and afternoon sessions in tutorial groups of about ten, led by eminent scholars.

We have breakfast and dinner in Hall and a one and a half hour break for lunch or otherwise gather our thoughts before the afternoon session. There is also a two hour break after class and before dinner, largely occupied with evensong in the cathedral (more on this in tomorrow’s post) and exploring the city.

In the morning, I have been looking at ‘Sacrifice and the Death of Christ’ led by the Reverend Professor Frances Young. This is an exploration of what ‘Sacrifice’ has meant anthropological throughout human history and whether the principal theological theories of atonement can encapsulate what happened on the cross. So very interesting.

In the afternoon, I am reading ‘Martyrdom, Praise and Other Sacrifices’ led by Dr Roger Pooley, an exert on John Bunyan. I don’t remember how I chose this topic or whether it was chosen for me. It is a course on Donne, Herbert, Bunyan and other metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. This doesn’t sound like me at all.

However, perseverance is my specialty and I am now intrigued even as I struggle with the language of the day and the literary meaning of some of the expressions used.

This is Day 2. Each evening so far we have had a guest lecture. Last night it was Terry Eagleton, Terry Eagleton, the internationally celebrated literary scholar, critic, cultural theorist and public intellectual. A great defender of Marxist thought. He was Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford (1992-2001) and subsequently in Manchester and Lancaster. He has held visiting appointments at such universities as Cornell, Duke, Iowa, Melbourne, Notre Dame, Trinity College Dublin, and Yale. In his retirement he lives in Ireland and came especially to address us. He was quite the humorous provocateur. I would to read his book –

I just can’t buy any more books at the moment as by suitcase is almost unliftable.

This evening our keynote speaker for this week was Paul Fiddes, a British Baptist theologian and novelist and Professor of Systematic Theology in the University of Oxford and was formerly Principal of Regent’s Park College and Chairman of the Theology Faculty. His topic, ‘Sacrifice, Atonement and the Overcoming of Violence’ gave us much to think about.

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