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Learning from Langland: theo-poetic resources for the post-Hind landscape
Burn, Helen Mary
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In the last ten years the Church of England has tried, by means of two reports leading to what I term the ‘Hind settlement’, to re-configure its provision of theological education. The tensions generated by the attempt to hold together different discourses and to impose regional re-organisation in the context of complex developments both in higher education and in patterns of lay and ordained ministry form the basis of my critique of Hind. I argue that Hind’s recourse to the image of the ‘body of Christ’ in the service of an instrumentalist model of ministry exposes inadequacies of a theological anthropological, Christological and ecclesiological nature. I identify a medieval text, Piers Plowman, as a conversation partner which offers a different way of negotiating an analogously difficult set of issues around learning, discipleship and power. My hermeneutical approach to the poem sees its primary impetus as arising from the constant interplay between the experiences of daily life and the attempt to work out a personal and social understanding of salvation. By comparing the ways in which Hind and Langland explore learning as measurable progress, and lay and clerical models of learning, I propose that Piers Plowman offers some valuable resources to the next stage of the Hind process. Not only does the poem foreground the chaotic co-existence of multiple voices in a marketplace of competing definitions of learning, and acknowledge the recalcitrance of communities when presented with opportunities to change, but it also, in the figure of Piers, hints at the possibility of going beyond the lay/clerical impasse. The poem’s recognition of sin and the need for repentance, in contrast to Hind language of management and effectiveness, and its requirement of the reader to participate in the making of new meaning, present an ongoing challenge to a culture of ‘learning outcomes’.
PhD in Theology