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University of Divinity

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Paul Daniels

I am continually finding that I run up against the most important existential questions of our time.

The amazing privilege of studying in the humanities is to live in the richness that such broad and abstract categories allow for everyday life. In my own Doctorate, focusing on a theological reading of Nietzsche, I am continually finding that I run up against some of the most important existential questions of our time: what does it mean to say, like Nietzsche does, that "God is dead"? Is it possible to imagine an ethical existence without reference to an Absolute? How might the confusion of human life be confronted if we understand that the tragic qualities to existence might point to the possibilities of divine love? The ability to delve into these broader questions through 20th century theology bypasses the caricatures which both atheism and theism can promote if unchecked, and my hope is that this research might eventually inform public debate about ethical issues without lapsing into the polarity of God or Godlessness.

In following these topics, I've found my research to be somewhat of an adventure: I've chased Nietzsche's writings backwards into the history of philosophy and and then forwards into generation following him and among thinkers, theologians and poets. I've seized opportunities to up-skill my German language proficiency to be able to translate original materials in 20th Century theology which have fed directly into my research. This has been one of the most rewarding parts to the degree - being supported by my supervisors while I tread ground that only a handful of English-speaking scholars have.

Ultimately I am hoping to enter into further research in academia and publish the results of my PhD dissertation. There has been increasingly cross-disciplinary dialogue between philosophy and theology in recent decades, but in amongst this the theological literature on Nietzsche has not been strong, which is to the detriment of both fields. My hope is to foster growth in this area, as this ultimately enriches both fields (and as John Stuart Mill remarked, "he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that").

For this research to be put into practice beyond the academy, though, I am interested in pursuing indirect applications of the work into areas such as chaplaincy and spiritual guidance to communities on the margins (the homeless, refugees, etc.). In these social spaces, those toughest of questions about life arise more frequently and forcefully. This is an avenue that I am currently pursuing alongside my PhD research and which may help in offering something to alleviating the spiritual burdens which can come with homelessness, poverty, and so on through direct chaplaincy work. And if I am honest, this kind of applicability of the abstract to the real is the entire point of the humanities, and a way in which research - however abstract when undertaken - bears fruit into areas of social importance.

- Paul Daniels, finalist for 2019 PostgradAustralia Scholarship #PGAScholarship