I began my academic career at Harvard University, where I received an A.B. degree in the History and Literature of Modern Germany. I moved to the UK in 2004 for a Ph.D. in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Cambridge (Peterhouse), which I completed under the supervision of David Ford and Ben Quash.
After completing my doctorate, I held a post-doc at the University of Cambridge from 2008-11. At Cambridge I lectured and supervised for a wide range of papers in systematic and historical theology and continued my research into the theology of the Holy Spirit.
From 2011-16 I was Junior Research Fellow in Theology and Religion at St John's College at the University of Oxford. At Oxford I lectured and examined across the modern theology curriculum. In recognition of my teaching, I was recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Oxford Humanities Division in 2015. During this period I also co-directed a British Academy-funded project at Oxford on the Holy Spirit in protestant theology and history.
I arrived at the University of Nottingham in 2016 as Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology. I currently serve as Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes and Director of our thriving Distance Learning M.A. Programmes.
My primary areas of expertise are modern Christian theology and the history of theology from the early modern period to the present.
Within these areas, I have published on a variety of topics including: theologies of the Holy Spirit; religious experience, emotion, and affect; the nature of doctrine; and the theologies of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon.
Distance Learning M.A. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology
Much of my teaching is focused on the Distance Learning M.A. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology, where I usually teach the following modules:
- Systematic and Philosophical Theology for Newcomers
- Aquinas and Thomisms
- Research Methods and Resources
- La Nouvelle Theologie
- Faith and Reason
I am also currently developing two new modules for the Distance Learning M.A., which will become available over the next 12-18 months:
- Reformation Theology
- Theology of the Holy Spirit
My undergraduate modules in 2017-18 are:
- Theology and Ethics in the Modern World
- Great Religious Debates
In 2018-19 I will also teach a new upper level module on Christology.
I am likely to be on research leave between August 2019 and January 2020.
My current academic research focuses on the themes of the Holy Spirit, affect and religious experience, and the nature of doctrine in contemporary theology,
My major project is a monograph for Oxford University Press entitled The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience. The book argues for a new way of taking account of the subjectivity of the theologian in theology through attention to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and to the irreducibility of affective factors in theological reasoning. In this it provides a way of navigating between the experientially powerful but uncritical approach of Pentecostal and charismatic theologies and the wariness about 'experience' in much modern theology since Barth. This approach has significant implications for a number of contemporary theological issues, including the relationship between participatory and forensic theologies of salvation; theology's relationship to spirituality, to cognitive science, and to affect theory; dialogue with Pentecostal theologies; and the plausibility of traditional Christian claims in the context of modernity.
A preliminary account of this approach can be found in my article 'On the affective salience of doctrines'. This article builds on insights from postliberal theology to draw attention to the way that theological arguments are illuminated through paying explicit attention to the affective impact of particular theological positions in the lives of Christians and the practices of the church, both historically and today.
ZAHL, SIMEON, 2015. On the Affective Salience of Doctrines Modern Theology. 31(3), 428-44
ZAHL, SIMEON, 2016. The Bondage of the Affections: Willing, Feeling, and Desiring in Luther's Theology, 1513-1525. In: COULTER, DALE and YONG, AMOS, eds., The Spirit, the Affections, and the Christian Tradition University of Notre Dame Press. 181-205
ZAHL, SIMEON, 2017. Experience. In: RASMUSSEN, JOEL, WOLFE, JUDITH and ZACHHUBER, JOHANNES, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth Century Christian Thought Oxford University Press. 177-95
From the start of my career I have been interested in modern theology's difficulties in articulating a compelling account of the Holy Spirit, and in taking seriously the subjectivity of the theologian without reducing theology to anthropology. My first monograph (Pneumatology and Theology of the Cross in the Preaching of Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt) is a study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the thought of Lutheran Pietist theologian and 'faith healer' Christoph F. Blumhardt (1842-1919), whose theology and ministry represented a powerful modern attempt to bridge the divide between classical protestant approaches to the Spirit and pietist and charismatic ones, through attention to the problem of self-deception in charismatic experience, with significant theological as well as political implications.
At Oxford I turned to the sixteenth century, to Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon's debates about affective spirituality and inner encounter with the Holy Spirit. I focused especially on their ambivalence about the affections and 'the heart' in light of the doctrine of justification, and on the legacy of this ambivalence in later debates about 'enthusiasm'. This work has borne fruit in a book chapter ('The Bondage of the Affections: Willing, Feeling, and Desiring in Luther's Theology, 1513-1525'), a forthcoming article on justification and 'the nature of Protestantism' in New Blackfriars, and an article under review on Luther's appeal to theological experience in his critique of virtue ethics.
In addition to this, in recent years I have written two Oxford Handbook articles, one on the doctrine of the atonement in modern European thought and one on 'experience' in nineteenth century Christian theology, as well as two further book chapters on theological interpretation of Scripture. I also have an ongoing interest in Scriptural Reasoning, an inter-faith dialogue practice involving Muslims, Jews, and Christians, and served as chair of the Scriptural Reasoning Group at the American Academy of Religion from 2012-17.
Following the completion of The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience, my research will move in two main directions.
First is a monograph on Luther and Modern Theology, which will draw on Luther's understanding of the role of experience in theological knowledge-production to illuminate debates about the roles of reason, metaphysics, and subjectivity in contemporary theology and ethics.
Second will be a collaboration with Donovan Schaefer at the University of Pennsylvania which will draw on affect theory as well as recent psychological science on emotion and embodiment to demonstrate the value of attention to affect for reconfiguring the relationship between theology and religious studies.
In addition to these larger projects, I have several shorter studies in preparation: one on affect theory and the Book of Common Prayer; one on 'experience of grace' in the context of recent work in New Testament studies; and one on the theological significance of bioenhancement technologies in light of traditional connections between sanctification and desire.