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PAST307 Special Topic: A Practical Theology of Mental Health

An exploration of what it means to be a human being by focusing on the theological implications of the experiences of people living with mental health challenges.

This course seeks to offer insights, understandings and practices that can help Christians to understand and respond faithfully to complex mental health issues. The course will use a multidisciplinary approach to explore some of the ways in which theology in its theoretical and practical dimensions can throw fresh light on mental health issues. Amongst other things the course will develop understandings of mental health challenges such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety, as well as thinking through crucial issues in relation to areas such as dementia and brain damage. At the end of the course students should have a firm grasp of the nature of mental health and il-health from a variety or perspectives and should be able to offer understanding and assistance to people living with mental health issues.

Paper title Special Topic: A Practical Theology of Mental Health
Paper code PAST307
Subject Pastoral Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2023 (Distance learning)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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One 200-level PAST or PASX paper
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Theology
May not be taken concurrently with MINS405.

Any student can study Theology, whether they are of the Christian faith, another faith or of no religious faith at all. Theology is an examination of the scriptures, history, content and relevance of the Christian faith, but it presupposes or requires no Christian commitment from students. All it requires is an inquiring mind and an interest in those skills that can be gained through the study of any subject in the Humanities.


Professor David Tombs

Teaching staff

Professor John Swinton

Paper Structure

Module 1: Introduction to Practical Theology and Mental Health
Module 2: Understanding Depression and Anxiety: Towards a theology of liberation and joy
Module 3: Understanding schizophrenia
Module 4: Bipolar Faith?: Reflecting theologically on bipolar disorder
Module 5: Forgetting Whose We Are: A practical theology of dementia


Alongside of the various papers that will form the reading for the course, there is one required textbook which all students are expected to read.

John E Colewell (2014). Why Have You Forsaken Me?: A Personal Reflection on the Experience of Desolations. Paternoster: London

Course outline

View the latest course outline here.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised

Scholarship, critical thinking, and ethics.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.

Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete the paper will be able to:

  1. Develop a familiarity with the discipline of practical theology with its core emphases on the interconnectedness between theology and practice
  2. Be able to distinguish clearly between medical understandings of mental health and theological perspectives
  3. Understand the importance of recognising the diversity of what it means to be human and to live humanly
  4. Understand the nature of Christian community and the ways in which issues related to mental health shed light on the meaning of being together
  5. Draw on their own knowledge, practice and experience to throw light on the issues that surround mental health

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Not offered in 2023

Teaching method
This paper is taught through Distance Learning
Learning management system