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Dr Michael Kirwan SJ

Dr Michael Kirwan SJ Director of HIRS/Lecturer
Telephone: 020 7795 4236


I am a Jesuit priest whose encounter with Heythrop College was in 1982, when I arrived to study philosophy. Since then most of my theology studies have taken place here. My doctoral thesis, (completed in 1998), is entitled ‘Friday's Children: An Examination of Theologies of Martyrdom in the Light of the Mimetic Theory of René Girard’. It seeks to bring together Christian understandings of martyrdom and witness, and to shed light on these by using the ‘mimetic theory’ of cultural formation put forward by the French American cultural anthropologist, René Girard (1923–2015). Girard's provocative theory asserts strong interconnections between religion, culture and violence, and this highly relevant topic remains my principle academic interest. I am a member of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, an international and interdisciplinary group dedicated to exploring the implications for both research and application of Girard's model, and the director of REMUS: (Religion-Mimesis-Society), one of the work projects under the umbrella of the Heythrop Institute for Religion and Society (HIRS).

I have two other broad areas of research interest, Political Theology and Theology and Literature. My approach to Political Theology is shaped by the way that both European political theology and Latin American theology of liberation have had to acknowledge a new cultural context, one that is ‘postmodern’, ‘post-Marxist’, but also in important respects ‘post-secular’. I am also keen to explore culture and literature, rather than philosophy, as a distinctive and vital avenue to theological questions. I am interested in issues arising from hermeneutics (theory of interpretation), and narrative and dramatic styles of theology, with a particular interest in the theological dimension of modernist literature.

I have lectured in a number of Systematic and Pastoral Theology programmes at Heythrop, including sessions on Ecclesiology and Ecumenism, Theology of Ministry, Foundations of Pastoral Theology, as well as introductions to theology, political and liberation theologies, and soteriology. I have also been extensively involved in the pastoral and spiritual formation of Jesuits students for the priesthood.

In 2014 I was appointed Dean of Theology of the Bellarmine Institute, the Catholic ecclesial faculty attached to Heythrop College. In summer 2015 I took over as director of HIRS.  I am a member of the Catholic Theological Association (GB), and have also participated in its European meetings, as well as networks of Jesuit theologians and intellectuals. 

I coordinate the pastoral theology programmes at Heythrop, and one of my current projects is an attempt to work out a Jesuit “style” of contemporary global theology. Related to this project is my interest in the ‘conversation’ between political theology and literature, especially in the early modern period.

Current teaching

Modules in systematic theology and pastoral theology, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Research Interests

Additional Areas of Interest

  • Raymond Schwager
  • Liberation Theologies; Literature and theology


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Conference Papers

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Other information

I am supervising research students for MPhil/PhD in the following areas: sacrifice and gift (a conversation between anthropology and theology); theological aesthetics and liberation theology; the social model of the trinity and base communities in Tanzania.

I have supervised PhDs to completion in the following areas: Asian Theology of Priesthood’; Biblical Concepts in Rene Girard and Walter Brueggemann’.

I have examined ten PhD theses in Theology for the Universities of London, Durham, Surrey, Oxford and Leuven.