Andrew Sloane on dementia, identity and philosophical theology

ISCAST fellow Andrew Sloane, from Morling College in Sydney, has two articles published in the October 2019 issue of Science and Christian Belief on various aspects of dementia, identity and theology. The articles require a subscription to access, however the abstracts are copied below. Some of Andrew’s writing, including a tantalisingly titled piece called “On The Physics of the Resurrection,”

can also be found here on the New College CASE site.

The Dissolving Self? Dementia and Identity in Philosophical Theology

Dementia has been the focus of significant work in pastoral theology, but has received relatively little attention in (impractical?) philosophical theology. Yet dementia raises acute questions in philosophical theology to which we must give an answer, such as the nature of personhood, death and its encroaching on life, physicality, resurrection and hope, and the like. This paper focuses on questions relating to memory and identity. What does it mean to be a ‘self’? How does that relate to memory and personal narrative? What happens to us, to our identity, when memory, the ability to remember the stories we use to define ourselves, fades? Do the acids of dementia dissolve our very selves? These questions, valid in their own right, are seen in sharp and deeply personal focus in the experience of those who endure dementia. I will outline a particular response to these questions in critical conversation with John Swinton’s practical theology of dementia, and suggest ways in which practical theology and ethics and philosophical theology can engage in mutually enriching conversation.

Untangling the Cords of Sheol: Dementia and the Eschatology of the Physical Universe
Dementia raises important theological questions regarding human identity and hope. In this piece I propose that we understand dementia as an instance of cosmic entropic processes impinging on human neural systems. Theologically, such entropic decay can be seen as death encroaching on life – the cords of Sheol entangling the sufferer’s brain, with devastating consequences. Psalm 88 presents us with a lens through which to reflect on the nature of death encroaching on life, and so the problem that Christian hope needs to address. Resources for dealing with both cosmic entropy and its all-too-human effects can be found in David Wilkinson’s Christian Eschatology and the Physical Universe. He gives an account of space, time and matter that addresses the cosmic futility of entropy, and which can, in turn, ground a meaningful resurrection hope for people with dementia.