Dissertation Abstract

Précis of Discerning the Thoughts and Intentionality of the Body:
Retrieving Theological Psychology

The dissertation advocates a holistic and tiered psychology that distinguishes higher, rational executive consciousness from a lower, more physiologically conditioned emotional states. Reformed theologians have often been wedded to a more cognitive framework for understanding emotion according to which emotions are mental states that show us what we truly believe. I appeal to the psychology of Thomas Aquinas for an exemplar of a more holistic tiered model where the higher powers govern the lower bodily conditioned powers politically. Aquinas models both organic agency and a robust account of embodied habit, that nuances the prevailing cognitive view of emotion. Aquinas also has several notions of virtue (even the imperfect habit of health) that overlap in a single act of consciousness. I trace how Aquinas’s account of the soul and its powers came to be contested prior to the Reformation leaving it underrepresented at the time of the Reformation, but especially in Calvin.

In the second half of this dissertation, I positively recommend a Thomistic-like dualistic holism and a model of how emotion works along the various levels of consciousness and with bodily inputs. I also appeal to biblical theology to substantiate my models, showing the importance of embodiment in biblical theology and putting Matthew 6:25 in its biblical and eschatological context. In terms of biblical theology, I appeal to the gardener metaphor for how we relate to our bodies, which participate in the curse of the ground. Just as God manages his world by his word, so we are undergardeners of creation and our bodies, and govern our agency with words and by directing our attention. Our agency is top-down with bottom-up reciprocity.

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One thought on “Dissertation Abstract

  1. Matt, I have been anxious to read your findings since AJ told me what you were researching.. From what I have seen in my own family the past couple of years I believe you will support what I have believed has been missing in the church which can be something than can work along with what the Lord has taught us in His word.

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