A Divinity Ordinand!

Ordinand Karen McClain Kiefer will be graduated in June with a PhD in Divinity from the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St Andrews.

Karen describes her doctoral thesis The Holy Risk of Empty Space as follows:

My thesis project lies at the intersection of three areas of fascination for me: theatre’s evocative stage, the mystery of Holy Saturday and humanity’s relationship with the former two — specifically, a general disposition and risk-aversion toward the unknown encountered in either.  At the heart or origin of each of these areas is engagement with an empty space of some kind.  Peter Brook wrote, ‘I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A [person] walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching [them], and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged’. Through analogical consideration of their engagement with what I broadly embrace (from Brook’s inspiration) as ‘empty space’, I explore how we can trace some potentially illuminating resonances with our own human experiences and encounters, and be encouraged to accompany others there.

I identified these resonances in terms of khora, which also represents a kind of empty space, defined by Plato as a non-place space out of which the Forms emerge, or in which a thing ‘is’, and which he likened to a receptacle or womb. In interdisciplinary fashion, I engaged aspects of the phenomenology of the empty stage in improvisational theatre and, more specifically, the methods of ‘Playback Theatre’. In doing so, I was able to then explore the possibilities for healing, redress, transformation, and even new life that may be experienced in risking such ‘empty space’ encounters—encounters in which we may experience God’s accompaniment and indwelling presence. Artistically, I have been able to creatively express and explore the themes in my thesis through art installations and performances over the past six years coordinated through an artist group I helped start at the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts. Most recently, at our exhibition (a)void in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in St Andrews, I installed a large piece in which people could enter a dark space and experience a kind of void-like space with an invitation to explore an inner space.

Photo courtesy of Karen McClain Kiefer