Alison Woolley

I was born in Birmingham and lived near Lichfield until heading off to London as an undergraduate in 1991 to study music. After an MA in Music Therapy, for the next 25 years I worked in this capacity with children, young people and adults with complex learning difficulties and autism, whilst based in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Following on from a part time PhD that investigated the role of silence as a spiritual discipline in contemporary Christian women’s faith lives, I set up the Seeds of Silence (SoS) Project. SoS exists to encourage and support people of faith and none in developing a practice of silence as part of their spiritual practice through a variety of online opportunities and a signposting website. In 2022 I established the Doctoral Support Project, which draws on my academic, therapeutic and spiritual direction skills to suppot women undertaking doctoral level studies in theology as they explore the intersectionality of their area of academic research, their spiritual journeying and their personal narratives through one-to-one sessions and peer support groups. Since 2020 I’ve lived rurally close to a river in the Scottish Borders with my partner and our cat, where we delight in being less than 15 minutes from the sea, especially after having lived most of my life in the middle of the UK. 5Rhythms dancing, poetry, visiting art galleries and walking country lanes in the early morning or by starlight are all things that bring me joy and nourish my being.

In summer 2024 I will be beginning a 16 month Psychology Cross-training Fellowship at the University of Birmingham, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and using this opportunity to undertake research into the Doctoral Support Project described above. During this period I will be a Resaerch Fellow at Queen’s.

Qualifications

PhD2015University of Birmingham (Queen’s Foundation)
MA in Music Therapy1996Anglia Ruskin University
BMus (Hons)1994Goldsmith’s College, University of London

Roles at Queen’s

Honorary Research Fellow

I also work with a number of Queen’s PhD students who are participants in the Doctoral Support Project (see above).

Roles outside of Queen’s

I am the Director of both Seeds of Silence and the Doctoral Support Project. I  serve as a sub-committee member for SD Forum UK and jointly established and co-ordinate the Spiritual Direction Scotland Network. I am a former BIAPT committee member and, as its student rep, I initiated the BIAPT Annual Student Conference.

Research and supervision

As a feminist practical theologian, my research interests span four broad areas: the place of Christian women’s engagement in contemplative spiritual disciplines within their faith development; intentional practices of silence, apophatic spirituality and the emergence of nondual consciousness; theological research understood as spiritual practice; and the intersectionality of women’s area of research, their personal narrative and their faith journey as a site of potential flourishing.

Rooted in feminist articulations of women’s historical and ongoing marginalisation within the academy, the church and their discourses, my current primary research project investigates how engagement in a programme of holistic one-to-one and peer group support contributes to the flourishing of women undertaking doctoral studies in theology. I also co-lead a small-scale exploration into how people on the autistic spectrum perceive that this impacts on their engagement in Centering Prayer.

I am not currently engaged in formal academic supervision. In the Doctoral Support Poject I support women researching in areas that include Biblical Studies; Liturgical Studies; Missiology; Religious Education; and Trauma, Black, Queer, Post-Colonial and Disability theologies. I have been an academic supervisor for first year students undertaking Professional Doctorates in Practical Theology at the University of Chester.

Publications

Books:

Alison Woolley, Women Choosing Silence: Relationality and Transformation in Spiritual Practice (Routledge, 2019).

Book chapters:

Alison Woolley, ‘Beyond words: “The Voyage Out”’, in Ashley Cocksworth, Rachel Starr and Stephen Burns, eds., From the Shores of Silence (London: SCM, 2023), 212­­–230.

Alison Woolley, ‘Wholly sound: A feminist reframing of the “problem” of interview silence as a methodology for discovering new knowledge’, in Nicola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips, eds., Researching Female Faith (London: Routledge, 2018), 155–170.

Alison Woolley, ‘Silent gifts: An exploration of relationality in contemporary Christian women’s chosen practices of silence’, in Nicola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips, eds., THe Faith Lives of Women and Girls (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 147–159.

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