Researcher of the Month – October 2020, Colin Brewster

Colin Brewster is a doctoral researcher in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, as well as a member of the Leeds Centre for Religion and Public Life.

Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now?

I must admit, prior to the research journey I am currently on, I used to work as a graphic designer, so I was doing something entirely different to theology and religious studies. However, the direction of my life changed when I became a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Eventually, as my faith in God grew deeper, I felt the call to learn more about my relationship to God and what it means to be involved in Christian service. I did this by pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate studies in theology and missiology at an Adventist educational institution in the UK. While doing my studies, I continued to do some work as a graphic designer, in addition to teaching ESOL to foreign students on campus. After graduating, I spent a number of years teaching English and Religious studies abroad, and during this time I gained an interest in Christian ethics. Eventually, I decided to further my theological studies by engaging in a second masters in theological Ethics at the University of Edinburgh. Following this I got an opportunity to teach at an Adventist University in South Korea for a number of years before applying to study in the TRS at the University of Leeds.    

Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area? 

As I think about my own faith experience, I have come to believe that faith and action are integral to the Christian life. For example, in my early years of theological study, I was able to explore the subject of faith and action by writing comparatively on the theological ethics of Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. In my later theo-ethical work, I was able to pursue this concern by studying about the life and teaching of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. However, the more I reflected on Christian ethics in general, and my own theological training in the UK, I felt like something was amiss. Gradually, I began to realise that throughout my academic journey in higher education, I had received little exposure to the contribution of black and brown scholars to the field of theology and ethics. In addition to this, in my theological training, I had encountered very few role models that looked like me. I came to the conclusion that I needed to begin a process of re-educating myself in order to include the perspectives of black and brown people in my own theological ethics. Furthermore, as I looked critically at the lack of black and brown representation in the stories and images proliferated towards me at home and abroad, especially in the media; it only helped to reinforce the theological viewpoint I already held. 

What are you currently, or about to start, working on?

At the moment, I have just begun my third year of PhD study. I cannot believe how fast my time at the University of Leeds has gone. My PhD thesis is entitled: ‘Constructing a Theological Ethic for Achieving a Fuller Realisation of the Seventh-day Adventist Vision of Wholeness and Antiracist Witness’. Recently, I have just completed a chapter that aimed to demonstrate how Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) at times, have been dialogically attuned to the Black Protest Tradition (BPT) in their struggle to creatively contest, expose and overthrow a pseudo vision of reality that conceals whiteness so that it marks non-white people as the other who exist outside of the norm. Therefore, the pseudo vision perpetuates racial division and strife, rather than wholeness and antiracism. In the context of the Civil Rights era, I explore “wholeness” (SDA) and “soul” (BPT) as two specific moral resources for constructing a counter-visionary ethic to the pseudo vision.   

In what way(s) do you feel your research examines the role of religion in public life and the relationship between the two? 

My research examines the role of religion and public life by critically investigating the theology and ethics of the SDA Church. Particularly, my research critically examines the SDA church’s public witness in relation to its encounter with a pseudo vision that perpetuates white supremacy, white privilege and racism in the North American context and beyond. Unfortunately, there have been times in the church’s history when it has failed to detect the invisibility of whiteness and this has meant that the church has conformed to the status quo of a racially divided social (dis) order, and this has hindered its progress towards achieving a fuller realization of its vision of wholeness and antiracist witness in public life. However, in my research, I argue that Adventists will be able to engage more fully in an antiracist public witness, by re-envisioning wholeness in conjunction with black theological sources in order to form a counter-visionary ethic that restores Shalom.