An Interview with Jacob Phillips

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: From whom did you do your postgraduate studies in Systematic Theology, what was the most interesting course that you took, and why was it so interesting?


Jacob: It was at King's College, London. An MA module entitled 'Reason and Revelation' was the most memorable bit - engaging in a close reading of texts by all the great masters of 19th and 20th century theology on the nature of revelation.


Gordon: Where did you serve as Faith Centre Coordinator and what were your primary responsibilities?


Jacob: That was LSE - I coordinated the activities of a multi-faith chaplaincy and centre for religious literacy. I worked on a new certificate they were developing called 'Faith and Leadership', as well as generally hanging out and talking to lots of different people of different religious persuasions. It was a very enjoyable year.


Gordon: What did you enjoy most when you were a Lecturer in Theology?


Jacob: Probably simply having to read a lot of new material, and understand it well enough to teach on it. I learnt from more experienced colleagues about how to make teaching and module design engaging and innovative as well. Then there's students - who consistently get you thinking and always stimulate new thoughts and ideas.


Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities as Director of the Institute of Theology and Liberal Arts at St Mary's Twickenham?


Jacob: The Institute is two departments including humanities degrees, creative industries, and Theology programmes. I'm the strategic lead, so I'm responsible for the direction of the centre, its overall performance, and less enjoyable stuff like staffing and budgets etc.


Gordon: What in your opinion is the most challenging doctrine of faith, and why is it so challenging?


Jacob: Good question. I've probably struggled most in teaching about the perpetual virginity of Mary, but also in practical terms the Catholic teaching on artificial insemination is one of the hardest. On one level, people feel they're encouraged to procreate (responsibly), and yet faithful and loyal couples are forbidden from seeking medical help in order to do this. I always focus on the primary focus of the Catholic teaching on love and sex in response - that the nuptial union is uniquely precious and significant because it is the site through which God creates the infinitely precious reality of a human soul. Any attempt to interfere with that process undermines its unique and precious status.


Gordon: Please share with our readers and overview of your book Obedience is Freedom.


Jacob: This book was not meant to be an academic work, but rather a discursive reflection on how estranged contemporary culture is from virtues related to obedience which are now viewed as unacceptably toxic - things like loyalty, duty, discipline, etc. I discuss how these virtues always resurface somehow, drawing on cultural criticism, literature, and recent history


Gordon: Who is your favorite saint and why is that saint your favorite?


Jacob: I'd struggle to mention just one! Favorites include St John Henry Newman, of course, but my top list would have to be St Padre Pio, St Maximilian Kolbe, and St Louis de Montfort. These figures are my favorites because the mood and tenor of their spirituality inspires my prayer life


Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.

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