Leading scholar in Disability Theology wins the 2021 Aldersgate Prize

MARION – Indiana Wesleyan University’s John Wesley Honors College is pleased to announce the winner of the 2021 Aldersgate Prize. Dr. John Swinton, Finding Jesus in the Storm: The Spiritual Lives of Christians with Mental Health Challenges (Eerdmans, 2020).

Dr. John Swinton

Motivated by the ethos of its Christian liberal learning community, the John Wesley Honors College awards the Aldersgate Prize annually to celebrate the outstanding achievement of an author whose scholarship challenges reductionistic trends in academia by yielding a broadly integrative analysis of life’s complexities and offering fresh illumination on ultimate questions that can enrich Christian conceptions of human flourishing.

Selected from nearly sixty nominations for this year’s prize, the selection committee determined that John Swinton’s Finding Jesus in the Storm best exemplifies this sort of impactful scholarship, integrating psychology, theology, and philosophy into a thorough rethinking of the meaning and significance of mental health and spiritual flourishing.

Finding Jesus in the Storm explores “what it means to be human” in the shadow of mental health challenges. Swinton offers an illuminating critique of dominant psychological practices that reduce patient care to mere biological approaches and general clinical care that—though important—remain insufficient for charting a path of flourishing amidst debilitating mental health challenges. In contrast, his analysis draws on thick and expansive experiential descriptions from Christians living with severe mental health challenges to reexamine approaches to care through a process of redescribing the diagnoses of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Swinton thus reorients dominant paradigms of psychiatric care in ways that enrich current clinical practice with enhanced models of care that refuse to lose sight of fundamental human thriving as the goal for people faced with these disorders. Swinton’s integrative approach yields a more comprehensive and holistic vision of mental health that equips readers to frame and tackle such challenges as part of our common quest for human wholeness.

The Aldersgate Prize selection committee was particularly drawn to Swinton’s attentive posture towards individual experiences of debilitating psychological behavior, as opposed to broad and generic accounts. For under the layers of mental distress, Swinton reminds us of the truth that all human persons “need love, belonging, meaningful and purposeful existence.” Consistent with this logic, Finding Jesus in the Storm ultimately offers a theological examination that provides tangible hope to persons who encounter psychological suffering and challenges readers to reimagine the human experience in a manner that nurtures deeper empathy, care, and understanding for individuals facing mental health challenges. 

As an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland, Dr. John Swinton serves as Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies at the School of Divinity, History, and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He previously authored Dementia: Living in the Memories of God (2016), which won the Michael Ramsey Prize for theological writing. Swinton is certified as a registered mental health nurse, a licensed mental health chaplain, and is the founder of the Centre for Spirituality, Health, and Disability at the University of Aberdeen. He has received the Lanfranc Award for Education and Scholarship from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2020 and was recently elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.        

Dr. Swinton will accept the Aldersgate Prize on October 24, 2022 when he visits the IWU campus to deliver an address on his book as part of the President’s Author Series.

The selection committee for the 2021 Aldersgate Prize included the faculty of the John Wesley Honors College as well as Stacy Hammons (Provost, IWU), David Riggs (Dean of John Wesley Honors College, IWU), Willem Van De Merwe (Blanchard Chair in Physics, IWU, Emeritus), Stephen Pierce (Assistant Professor of History, IWU), Dr. Vittorio Montemaggi (Lecturer in Religion and the Arts at King’s College London). Dr. Mary Hirschfeld (Associate Professor, Economics & Theology, Villanova University)

Nominations are open for the 2022 Aldersgate Prize here: http://www.indwes.edu/Academics/JWHC/Aldersgate-Prize/.