Bob Phillips

Honorary Research Assistant Project

Human Sexuality as a ‘wicked problem’.

Bob PhillipsDr Bob Phillips, from Illinois in the USA, graduated from our MLitt Bible and the Contemporary World programme in 2014.  He is to be an elected delegate to the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist (UM) Church in the US. The UM church is holding a special conference in early 2019 specifically to address the issue of human sexuality, with that conference empowered to make decisive judgments on the future. Research articles addressing issues, process and outcomes from a theological framework rooted in Wicked Problem (WP) theory can contribute significantly to understanding events and productively influencing the process.

While the announced challenge is human sexuality, the United Methodist Church is a poster child for what organizational theory calls a “Wicked Problem.” Institutions can face three basic types of problems. “Simple problems” are those where all agree on the nature of the problem and the preferred response, with disagreement as to the best way to implement the response.  “Complex problems” are those where all agree on the problem but disagree on the best response.  “Wicked problems” are those where there is no agreement on the precise nature of the problem; the host of issues defy decisive resolution, unintended consequences abound, and the world view and assumptions of the various stakeholders conspire to defeat efforts for collective response.

Bob has access to conversations and resources that no external observer can rival and, subject to Research Ethics Approval these will significantly inform his research understanding and possibly influencing the division/re-formation of the United Methodist Church, second largest Protestant denomination in the US.

The institutional dynamics at play transcend any one faith group. WP theory can contribute wisdom to many groups struggling with revitalizing ‘organized’ religion for the 21st century.

The anticipated outputs from this project will be a series of articles to journals such as Wesleyan Theological Journal,  Methodist Review, Christianity Today and/or Christian Century. Bob also anticipates beginning a book on this theme.

The benefit to the School of Divinity is the likely unique opportunity for public engagement and impact in a constructive role as the UM process unfolds. This contextualised research in human sexuality will also inform staff teaching on our MLitt programme in terms of bridging the thought world of the bible with 21st century understandings of human sexuality.

Information on the Honorary Research Assistant Project