Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology
Denys Turner is the Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology at Yale Divinity School and professor of religion in the Department of Religious Studies. Before coming to Yale in 2005, Turner was the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, which he joined in 1999 following a career of teaching at several other universities in the United Kingdom. He has taught on a wide range of subjects, including contemporary philosophy of religion, metaphysics, ethics, political and social theory, medieval philosophy and theology, and the history of medieval mysticism.
For Turner, theology is a subject that can only be taken seriously if it acknowledged that it "engages with people in a way in which other subjects don't," that is, theology "only lives because there are people committed to believing."
In Turner, YDS has a theologian who is deeply committed to the teaching enterprise and who considers it critical to his own learning because of the interaction with students: "There are some people who think before they talk; there are others like me who need to talk in order to know that they think. It's the act of communication which actually stimulates thought...
"You can't just throw a text at people and say these are marvelous and all this stuff. They need work and they need a lot of introduction and context setting. So they don't work like magic. You've got to teach...
"The trouble with a lot of teaching, particularly with ancient medieval premodern theology and philosophy, is... it takes a lot of work as it were to crack open Plato's head and to get our little minds to swim around in the bigger world rather than to get Plato's head crammed into our rather smaller world."
Turner's current area of concentration is the study of the traditions of Western Christian mysticism, with special emphasis on doctrines of religious language and of selfhood and on the links between the classical traditions of spirituality and mysticism and the social and political commitments of Christianity. Earlier in his career, Turner focused his research on the relations between Christianity and political and social theory, particularly between Marxism and Christianity.
In Faith, Reason and the Existence of God ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) Turner argues for an account of human reason and Christian faith that entails the possibility of a purely rational proof of God's existence. He is currently working on a short monograph on Julian of Norwich and sin and on a larger study of the theology of the late medieval Carthusian Denys van Rykel.
Among Turner's other books are Faith Seeking (SCM, 2002), The Darkness of God (Cambridge University Press, 1995), Eros and Allegory (Cistercian Publications, 1995), Marxism and Christianity (Blackwell, 1983), and On the Philosophy of Karl Marx (Sceptre, 1968).
At some stage Turner hopes to be able to draw together the two main theological preoccupations of his academic career-the social-political and the mystical-spiritual-believing that neither profits in isolation from the other.
He has served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Catholic Institute for International Relations, the Committee for the World of Work of the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops of England and Wales, the Laity Commission of the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops of England and Wales, and the Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for England.
Turner earned his doctorate at the University of Oxford, and his B.A. and M.A. at University College, Dublin.