D. Maurice Charles

MDV'90, PhD'13 in the History of Christianity

Rev. Charles provided these answers when he was a student in the Divinity School.  

Why did you choose to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School?

I first became enamored with the University of Chicago Divinity School while an undergraduate at Case Western Reserve University. Here I discovered a place where privilege and pedigree matter very little. The toughness of one's mind, the incisiveness of one's argumentation, and the courage to leave no stone unturned in the quest for understanding are what determine one's success and, quite frankly, happiness here. Chicago is the crucible of inquiry that allowed me, during my first stint here, to question my most cherished theological and political beliefs among others who did the same, to leave the church of my childhood, and to take my place as a priest in the Episcopal Church and as Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University. This is now the end of my second stint as a student, where questions raised about religion and state sponsored violence moved me from one mode of inquiry to another, from constructive Christian theology to the history of Christianity. Few places can provide the atmosphere of scholarly formation that Chicago Divinity School offers due, in part, to the quality of the faculty here but especially to the extraordinarily high standard to which students hold one another accountable.

What is your area of study and what is the focus of your current research?

As a Ph.D. candidate completing a dissertation in the history of Christianity, I am concerned currently with the intellectual origins of royal supremacy during the reign of Henry VIII. My dissertation examines the rather curious fact that Henry kept in place several traditional doctrines having broken with the papacy during an explosion of theological and ecclesiological questioning. By examining the legal, ritual, political, and scholarly context of the severing of the Church of England from papal control--for example Henry's own annotations to a collection of historical texts gathered at his behest by some of his closest advisors--I maintain that even as Henry declared himself the supreme and only head of the English Church, he had no desire to undermine the traditional religious supports of his own sacral kingship. So determined was he to keep those supports in place, he declared, for example, the denial of the Eucharistic doctrine of transubstantiation as heresy and therefore worthy of capital punishment, "as in the case of high treason," in keeping with high medieval canonical jurisprudence.

What experience (if any) have you had in teaching?

In addition to the teaching opportunities and presentations offered as part of my job as a chaplain at Stanford after earning my M.Div., during my time as a doctoral student I have taught English Reformation history at Seabury Western Seminary and a junior history seminar at Northwestern University, Authority and Dissent in Early Modern England, where undergraduates were challenged to engage primary texts to discover the role that religion played in the construction of political authority and in authorizing dissent from said authority.

What activities do you participate in outside of the classroom? (community service, work, hobbies, etc.)

I serve as a non-stipendiary assisting priest at the Church of the Atonement, where I preach, lead services, participate in adult education forums, and provide pastoral care as my time allows. I have also served on the boards of directors of Montgomery Place Retirement Community, The Church Home, and Brent House (Episcopal Campus Ministry at the University of Chicago). I am a tenor student of vocal performance and have offered solo and choral performances here and in the San Francisco Bay Area.

How do you like living in Chicago?

Chicago remains one of my favorite cities. It has the pulse of any large city with an affordability found in very few. Hyde Park has the great advantage of a pleasant lakefront, splendid bike path, and easy access to downtown cultural venues. Numerous festivals during clement seasons compensate for the harshness of the winters here. The city comes alive in the summer, a welcome respite from the demands of the academic year and the chill of what Chicagoans know as "the hawk."

What do you plan to do after you have completed your degree from the Divinity School?

I am searching for venues where I can hold together my three great loves: priesthood, scholarship, and music. I could be happy teaching full-time and continuing to serve a parish church in a non-stipendiary capacity, returning to university chaplaincy with the understanding that some teaching is necessary for me to remain intellectually vibrant, or engaging in full-time parish ministry a stone's throw from a major university.