James Alison. Theology

Recently added texts are listed on the home page


Traversing hostility: The sine qua non of any Christian talk about Atonement - presentation for the Colloquium ‘For Us and for Our Salvation: René Girard and the Doctrine of Atonement’, held at Heythrop College, London (7-8 November 2014).

Towards global inclusion of LGBT people within Catholic communities: a new theological approach - presentation for “The ways of Love”, an International Conference towards pastoral care with homosexual and trans people (Rome, Italy, October 3, 2014).

James' biography and interview (audio and text) on the LGBT Religious Archives Network website (2014)

Renewing the Tradition: The theological project of James Alison - James’ profile by Grant Kaplan, an associate professor of systematic theology at Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Mo., published by the America magazine.

2013 We didn’t invent sacrifice, sacrifice invented us: unpacking Girard’s insight - James’ contribution to the International Theological Journal “Concilium” 2013(4) on the Ambivalence of Sacrifice.

Monotheism and idolatry: Preface to a conversation (text, pdf, epub) - Presentation for the Colloquium on Mimetic Theory and Islam (Heythrop College, University of London, 5-7 November 2013).

PDF Exploring the New Paradigm: Girard and the Christianity of the 21st Century (pdf) - the transcript of the session with Brian McLaren and James Alison recorded at the 2013 Colloquium on Violence and Religion held at the University of Northern Iowa.

Lent 2013 Lectionary Meditations (pdf)
Christian Century Magazine has generously allowed us to post full versions of James' Lent 2013 Lectionary meditations, written especially for them. Christian Century are, among many other things, a source of lectionary meditations throughout the year – please give them kudos for allowing us to show something that is normally behind a paywall.

2012 Theology as Survival - the unabridged version of the interview published by Commonweal Magazine. Also in pdf and epub.

Playing for Keeps with theologian James Alison (audio) - James joined the Playing for Keeps radio show to explore how The Hunger Games and chapter 7 of the Old Testament book of Joshua have something very important in common: a lottery in which the winners get to die for the sake of the community. Same in mp3 format | Same in iTunes | transcript (html, pdf).

2011 The Portal and the Half-Way House: Spacious imagination and aristocratic belonging - This is session 10, of the twelve session Forgiving Victim Course, which will be released in its entirety in both text and video in 2012.

Girard and the analogy of desire - Presentation for the Symposium on René Girard and World Religions, G.T.U. Berkeley, April 14th-16th 2011.

2010 “Like being dragged through a bush backwards”: Hints of the shape of conversion’s adventure

Sexuality, Certainty and Salvation (audio and transcript)
James Alison reflects on his own experience as a gay Catholic, on the givenness of sexual orientation, and on what he calls "the shape of God's affection" in an interview to the Australian broadcaster ABC.

From impossibility to responsibility: developing new narratives for gay catholic living
How are we, together, in our different places, and not minding too much the visible collapse of a certain ecclesiastical structure all around us, going to create “parish”? Going to create communities where we, whose imaginations have so often been paralysed by impossibility, can dare to imagine what might be good and fun for our sisters and brothers, and actually start to create the sort of family values which give genuine glory to God?

2009 The Fulcrum of Discovery or: how the “gay thing” is good news for the Catholic Church

Brokeheart Mountain: Reflections on monotheism, idolatry and the Kingdom - Presentation for the annual COV&R Conference held in St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, 8-12 July 2009. This talk was given as part of a day of discussion with distinguished Muslim scholars concerning the “fearful symmetries” between Christianity and Islam.

Befriending the vacuum: Receiving responsibility for an ecclesial spirituality - Presentation for the Conference “Sources of Transformation: Revitalising Traditions of Christian Spirituality for Today” (St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, 30 June - 3 July 2009).

What sorts of difference does René Girard make to how we read the Bible?
Presentation for the 2009 Theology and Peace Conference, a gathering of lay people and clergy from many different denominations who are interested in furthering the impact of Girard’s thought through their preaching, teaching and pastoral practice (Chicago, 26 May 2009).

The Priestly pattern of Creation and a fraudulent reading of St Paul: A Catholic reads some Pauline texts in the light of Mimetic Theory (PDF)
Contribution to the Colloquium entitled Saint Paul: Apocalypse et révélation at the Villa Bonaparte and the Villa Medici, Rome, 27-28 March 2009.

Prayer: A case study in mimetic anthropology
The following is the tentative text of one of the twelve sessions of The Forgiving Victim – the Adult Introduction to Christianity on which I am currently at work.

The pain and the endgame: reflections on a whimper
Dear C. You wrote to me to say how overwhelmed you were with the various incidents in the public domain relating to being Catholic and gay which piled up over the last few weeks of 2008, and wondered if I had anything to say. I asked you for some time, since I too have found it all somewhat overwhelming, and wanted to avoid immediate commentary, which tends to be reactive and not helpful.

2008 Letter to a young gay Catholic - This article was written for, and appears in the International Catholic Theological Review Concilium in the issue dedicated to “Homosexualities” (2008/1).

2007 Navigating uncharted waters: the gift of faith and growing up LGBT

The shape of daring imagination: coming out and coming home

Strong Protagonism and Weak Presence: The Changes in Tone of The Voice of God - A contribution to the Second Colloquium entitled “Post-modern or post-secular Christianity? Two interpretations of late modernity” which took place at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, on the 5-6 of September 2007.

Advent and Christmas Lectionary Meditations

Love Your Enemy: Within a Divided Self
«The instruction “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” comes as the mid-point, the point of passage, between these two different patterns of desire: the first pattern in which our identity is given to us and grasped onto by us imitative creatures as we mirror each other in our reciprocity; and the second pattern of desire in which our identity is given to us by someone moving us entirely independently of being moved by us. The instruction is not one about being a doormat, it is one about how to be free.»

“He opened up to them everything in the Scriptures concerning himself” (Lk 24, 27b): How can we recover Christological and Ecclesial habits of Catholic Bible Reading? - Lecture for the “Voices of Renewal” Lecture series at Corpus Christi University Parish, Toledo, Ohio, 9 October 2007.

How do we talk about the Spirit? - a transcript of the contribution to a day of ecumenical discussion and exploration, seeking deeper understanding of the many meanings underlying our use of the word ‘spirit’ (London Centre for Spirituality, 13 May 2007).

God and Desire - Presentation for the 2007 Quest Conference, Sheffield (England), 21 July 2007.

Finding a narrative - homily for BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship (29 April 2007) recorded at Most Holy Redeemer parish, San Francisco. The transcript of the programme is available for on the BBC.

Three Holy Week Sermons - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

On helping the Faithful negotiate confusion
“Church authority has become aware that the advent of "matters gay" in recent years may not primarily center on sexual ethics at all. Rather it concerns an emerging anthropological truth about a regular, normal and non-pathological variant within the human condition.”

“Like children sitting in the market place”: a teaching on Wisdom, vanity and desire
“Just as the Jewish discovery of Creation meant an ability to glimpse the contingency of everything that is, so Jesus’ resurrection meant an ability to see the contingency, the non-necessity, the non-sacrality, even of death, thus setting us free to live as if death were not. And the giving of the Holy Spirit enables us to see the contingency and the non-sacrality of all human desire. Not something to be run away from, or protected against, but something which the Creator can curve upwards, away from vanity, towards upbuilding, and indeed towards a fruition and a joy, starting in the permanent now, which is where we are.”

2006 Taking the Plunge: Immersed in Theology - an article published by The Christian Century.

Mark Tully in conversation with James Alison - a transcription of Something Understood (BBC Radio 4, Christmas Eve 2006).

Sacrifice, Law and the Catholic Faith: is secularity really the enemy? - The Tablet Lecture 2006.

Wrath and the gay question: on not being afraid, and its ecclesial shape. This talk is available for purchase on CD from the Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women.
“What seems to me to be important is not to be so concerned about getting Peter’s approval that it becomes a substitute for the hard work of finding ourselves on the inside of God’s story. And that means the hard work of discovering ourselves loved, being able to face up to the terror, the sense of annihilation, the fear of loss, the powerlessness and frivolity, and the continuous sense of shame which have been our lot.”

Discipleship and the Shape of Belonging
“The group identity that is built up by mutual regard is impervious to the regard of God. Or, stated differently, reciprocally given identity is a closed system, and it is only through undergoing a loss of reputation, which means a loss of identity, which means a certain form of death, that a gratuitously given identity can break through.”

Living the Magnificat
“Ethics without grace tends to moralism; and the shape, the pattern of grace, which informs ethics is a far subtler matter, and one much more difficult to pin down, than we usually attend to. So I’m going to try to offer you something in the way of prefatory remarks about the shape of grace which is revealed to us through the presence of Our Lady.”

Violence undone - James Alison on Jesus as forgiving victim - interview published by The Christian Century.

Is it Ethical to be Catholic? - Queer Perspectives
“I can scarcely tell you how strange it sounds in retrospect, but I was discovering that it is part of the mercy of the Catholic faith that those of us who are infected by spiritual haughtiness find ourselves being lowered slowly and gently into the mud, the slime, of being one of ordinary humanity, and learning that it is this ordinary humanity which is loved as it is.”

Blindsided by God: reconciliation from the underside
“Reconciliation” rather than being a merely moral imperative is instead the way in which being created happens in us, taking for granted our sad starting condition of selling ourselves short and remaining stuck with identities forged over against each other, and for that reason fated to a short circuit of mutual reduction to negativity.” Also available in video format

2005 Letter of response to friends in the aftermath of the Vatican Instruction of 29 November 2005
On the Instruction “Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders” issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education.

Good-faith learning and the fear of God
“When people say to gay and lesbian people ‘You should just be obedient to the teaching of the Church’, it is no frivolity to reply, ‘Sure, but which one? To the uninterrupted teaching about grace and original sin? Or to the recent characterization which the Vatican Congregations now consider necessary in order to maintain the traditional prohibition? Because both together, at the moment it’s not clear how that can be done’.”

Collapsing the closet in the house of God: opening the door on gay/straight issues
“While societies tended to treat being gay as some form of objective disorder, and some similarly self-destructive outcome was expected, in the degree that people started to occupy the place of shame, it did indeed begin to become evident that it was survivable, and that being gay is just something that is, more comparable to left-handedness than to alcoholism.”

Deliver us from evil - a paper given at A Conference on Evil: A Dialogue among Psychoanalysts, Philosophers and Theologians (New York City, 30 April – 1 May 2005).

Those with eyes to see - a contribution to The Tablet’s series about the Eucharist.

Aboard the Disco Boat Queen - an interview published by an American Episcopal magazine, God's Friends.

The transcribed texts of two sermons previously available in audio format: Staggered Vision - the sermon for Easter Sunday evening (John 20:1-9), and Show Us the Father - the sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter (John 14:1-12).

2004 Wrestling with God and Men – a conversation with Steven Greenberg, a rabbi, presenting his book Wrestling with God and Men at the Jewish Book Week, London.

Befriending a Vengeful God - a radio programme transcript, a kind of introduction to James' major themes and concerns.

"But the Bible says ..."? A Catholic reading of Romans 1
“You need a very modern liberal reading of the Bible in order to make it a weapon against gay people, and those who refuse to do this are, by and large, much more traditional in their Biblical reading habits. [...] It is time we learnt to read the words of our brother Paul, someone who wrote to us not from above, but on the same, fraternal, level as us, in a Eucharistic manner.”

Some thoughts on the Atonement
“I'm going to try to defend a thesis with you: that Christianity is a priestly religion which understands that it is God's overcoming of our violence by substituting himself for the victim of our typical sacrifices that opens up our being able to enjoy the fullness of creation as if death were not.”

Challenging deceptive sacrificial notions in Christianity – a radio programme transcript.

Human Sexuality... or Ecclesial Discourse?
“The really hard work in Christian theological discourse lies in the ecclesiological sphere: creating Church with those who we don't like.”

2003 Following the still small voice: Experience, truth and argument as lived by Catholics around the gay issue
The presence of the crucified and risen Lord teaching us, together, as Catholics to inhabit Words like “Go and learn what this means, I want mercy and not sacrifice” or “the Sabbath is made for humans, not humans for the sabbath”, His Presence is the still small voice that is at work through and in all our debates and disjunctions, and will always be opening us up to being made anew starting from where we are.
Watch or listen to this talk (external link)

Honesty as challenge, honesty as gift: What way forward for gay and lesbian Catholics? - A talk given to Fordham University Catholic Chaplaincy, 11 November 2003.

Contemplation and monotheism: On the indispensability of irrelevance
“As a discovery, and in the degree to which it remains a discovery, monotheism is wonderful. Whenever it shifts status from discovery to idea, then it becomes terrible.”

Yes, but is it true...? - a contribution to the discussion on the UK government's proposals concerning same-sex partnership rights and a reflection upon the CDF's Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons.

Worship in a violent world
“The discovery that might is might, a frightening aberration for which we can take some responsibility, rather than right, a natural part of the order of things which just tends to run away with us, is a hugely complex insight whose consequences we haven't yet worked out.”

2002 Ecclesiology and indifference: challenges for gay and lesbian ministry

Unbinding the Gay Conscience
A chapter from On Being Liked

2001 Looking backwards for Christmas
“Who appears in our midst during midnight mass? I suppose most of us, nudged along by the ceremony of the placing of the babe in the manger, assume that it is the infant Christ. But the one who is present in our midst at midnight mass, as at every eucharist, is the crucified and risen Lord. We are, in fact, as at every holy communion, celebrating Easter.”

Contemplation in a world of violence: insights from René Girard and Thomas Merton
Talk prepared for a day retreat with Sebastian Moore on Contemplation in a world of violence: Girard, Merton, Tolle, organised by the Thomas Merton Society.
Chapter from A chapter from On Being Liked

‘spluttering up the beach to Nineveh...’
A chapter from Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

1999 Good Shepherd

Being saved and being wrong
“This is what Jesus’ Resurrection began to make possible: the construction of real human stories, fired and nurtured by an imagination fixed on the deathlessness and vivacity of God, that are able creatively to undo the monotonous human story structured by grasping desire and murderous exclusion.” (Originally appeared in Priests and People, London.)

1996 Girard's breakthrough - a short introduction to Girardian theory.

1993 Excerpt from Knowing Jesus, regarding “justification by faith”.