Rooms renamed in honour of two inspirational, female theologians

On Thursday 15 September, two teaching rooms were renamed in honour of inspirational, female theologians from New College history in a moving ceremony attended by family and friends.

Lecture Room 1 has been renamed to The Elizabeth Templeton Lecture Room after the creative and passionate theologian Elizabeth Templeton and Room 1.07 is now known as  the Althaus-Reid room in honour of Marcella Maria Althaus-Reid, a provocative and daring practical theologian.

Elizabeth Templeton 1945 – 2015

Elizabeth Templeton

Elizabeth Templeton was a gifted woman who was the first woman to hold a full-time lecturer post in the Faculty of Divinity, New College, and was committed to the Church as community of faith, but whose vocation as an educator was mostly lived ‘on the edge’. Elizabeth (known as Anne to her family) was from Glasgow, where she was brought up by parents who were both teachers and pacifists. Her intellectual brilliance and questing mind were apparent from an early age, and she studied Philosophy and English Literature at Glasgow University. Having been nurtured in the Christian faith, the logical positivism she learnt there seemed to exclude all grounds for belief in God. She wanted to test herself and others who claimed such belief, so she came to Edinburgh to study theology at New College.  It was here that she discerned that faith is at heart a matter of relationship and community which gives space and freedom to live with fundamental questions. One of her professors described her as the most brilliant student he had ever taught. In 1970 she was appointed as Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion. Her inspirational dialogical teaching, fearless encouragement to explore and gift for friendship had a deep and enduring impact on a generation of students. In turn, she was profoundly influenced by her colleague John Zizioulas – a radical Greek Orthodox scholar for whom, as she said ‘doctrine was less important than human joy and human freedom’.

In 1977 she married Douglas Templeton, who lectured in New Testament, and in 1980 she left her academic post to bring up their young family.  For the rest of her life, Elizabeth operated as a ‘freelance theologian’: widely regarded and called upon as a writer, lecturer, worship leader, facilitator and educator in diverse contexts including the Lambeth Conference, the World Council of Churches and as a religious broadcaster. She worked for the Religious Education Movement, and was at the cutting edge of ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, but remained a loyal, though always critical, lay member of the Church of Scotland. Her vision was for theology to break free from the confines of the academy and become integrated into the everyday lives, struggles and joys of ordinary people. This was the inspiration for ‘Threshhold’ – a walk-in centre in Tollcross which she ran for several years, and her work as consultant with the Adult Learning Project (ALP), rooted in the radical pedagogy of Paulo Friere.  In 2006, Douglas and Elizabeth’s adult son disappeared, and for six years they lived with the terrible pain of loss and uncertainty until his body was found in 2012. With courage and clarity, she continued to confront the hardest questions about human existence, and was involved in the ‘Missing People’ charity. Living in rural Perthshire, she was a regular preacher and much loved friend in her local church.

Elizabeth Templeton was a woman of outstanding intellect and compassion who made her mark on New College and far beyond, exploring the freedom of Christian faith, the strangeness of God and the ‘unmanageability’ of human life.


Marcella Maria Althaus-Reid 1952 – 2009

Marcella Maria Althaus-Reid was born in Rosario, Argentina in 1952. Raised Roman Catholic, Althaus-Reid was inspired by the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina, and later decided to follow her passion for liberation theology at the ISEDET ecumenical seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Following her studies in Argentina she continued her work in the field of liberation theology in St. Andrews, Scotland. As a result of her passionate and innovative PhD in this area of study, Althaus-Reid was appointed as a member of staff at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She would go on to become the first female Professor within the 160-year life time of the School of Divinity. She was, at the

Marcella Maria Althaus-Reid

time, the only female professor in a Scottish University.

This description is what Marcella did, but it does not touch on who she was as a person.

At New College, you simply say the name “Marcella” and there is an automatic acknowledgement. She coined the phrase “indecent theologian” to describe what she was doing in regards to traditional theological studies. She touched on topics that others found to be out of line with what Christians were supposed to talk about. She spoke the unspeakable, with daring and provocative excellence. I think it is safe to say she was unlike anything New College had ever seen before. When she published her book The Queer God in 2003, no doubt John Knox was shaking his stone head in the courtyard.

Many disagreed with her, others were inspired, but what should be remembered is that Marcella believed passionately in what she was researching and teaching. She was working out her faith in a way that touched those who felt rejected by historical understandings of theology. She gave God a new gender, a new sexuality, a new colour, a new face. Theology is not something that is known. It is something that we create to explain a God that none of us have seen. Marcella spoke to that fact. She offered a place of refuge for those who were finished with the version of God that had been created through white, male, western, heterosexual visions. She challenged the authority that is bestowed to these academics, and she offered an alternative view of theology that gave hope and inspiration to countless who met and read her.

Marcella Althaus-Reid was a practical theologian in the greatest sense. She was not content to sit in an ivory tower and tell others what to think about an unknowable being. She found God in the streets of Dundee and Perth, in the dance clubs and the churches of Argentina, in the love that human beings of all genders, ages, races, sexualities have for one another. By the time of her untimely death in 2009, she had changed the face of theological studies forever. And for that we are all humbly grateful of her life and legacy.