Researcher of the Month – April 2021, Charity Hamilton

Charity Hamilton is a Methodist presbyter based in Middlesbrough with an interest in theologies of female embodiment, ill bodies, and eating. She is currently writing her Ph.D with Professor Rachel Muers, at the University of Leeds, on ‘Eating God: Female Bodies As Redemptive of God.’

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

My first degree was in English Literature and Creative Writing at St Martin’s College, Lancaster. I began exploring a call to some kind of ministry following my time as an undergraduate and I became part of the chaplaincy team at Bristol University. During this time I audited some modules at an Anglican theological college and felt so utterly out of place and bored that it put me off academic theology for some time!

I went on to work for a number of years as a community worker for the Methodist Church in the inner-city of Bristol before candidating for Methodist ministry. I then trained for ministry at Wesley College Bristol where I wrote my MA on, ‘The body as metaxu; a feminist reading of Simone Weil’s body theology’. The PhD came along when I’d been in circuit ministry for a couple of years.

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

Ever since my MA I’ve been preoccupied with metaxu, which is something that simultaneously separates and connects. Simone Weil explains metaxu as two prisoners in neighbouring cells, the wall between them separates them but they knock on the wall and it connects them – in every separation is a link. I was encouraged to write the PhD by a number of women from whom I learnt about the nature of embodiment and the Divine. The PhD started off as being about women’s bodies as metaxu – could women’s bodies as metaxu redeem God? It was then shaped by a significant period of ill health that meant I was unable to get nutrition in perceptibly ‘normal’ ways e.g., through the act of eating. These experiences altered the framing of the PhD into the context of food and eating, asking questions such as what if eating was metaxulogical? And what if metaxu was a space of redemption?

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

Well, I’m currently at that bizarre stage of ‘writing up’ my PhD. I’ve just completed a long chapter on Methodist eating and the redemptive properties of distinctively Methodist eating. I’m about to start sorting out a chapter on female embodiment next. I’m also preparing a short paper for a conference on embodiment at the Susannah Wesley Foundation at Roehampton University on ‘The danger of the Divine at the embodied intersection of narrative medicine and ministry’, but writing up the PhD is my priority. I feel like I’ve been doing it forever and I’ve loved it but I’m at the stage where I’d just like it done and finished now! I think I’m at the point that I’ve heard PhD students talk about – where the end is in sight and yet there’s still so much to write and sort out.

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

Eating affects all of us, whether we eat or not, whether we can eat or not, eating is something which has an embodied affect upon us, how we live our lives and how we function as a society. Eating impacts how we understand the nature of the Divine and how we are understood. The identity of bodies which ‘eat’ is profoundly different and sometimes disenfranchised from bodies that restrict their eating. I thought about renaming my PhD for awhile to ‘I blame the patriachy’, because it turns out I do and it also turns out patriarchy is the culprit for so much that is at odds with the flourishing of women in society and in the Church. Women, in particular have been subject to a patriarchal over-writing in all kinds of ways. One of these ways is that they have been expected to make themselves small, rather than expanding and taking up space. The way in which we are made small or expansive in embodied reality is in, and through, eating. So eating and the Divine is a conversation that should be had within religion in public life because the act of eating is an act in which realties and truths are exposed and impacts our embodiment.

The redemptive nature of eating for women is that the act of eating may just re-embody both them and the Divine through its mutuality and recognition of the Divine other. However, I mostly just blame the patriarchy.