Theological Anthropology, Fundamental Need, and Human Flourishing

Funded by the University of Otago and the John Templeton Foundation | Hosted through Carey Baptist College



The University of Otago, in partnership with Carey Baptist College, invites applications for one PhD fellowship in science-engaged theology. The fellow will take a position of leadership in research and administration of a major research initiative on “Theological Anthropology, Fundamental Need, and Human Flourishing,” funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Matriculation will begin on 1 February 2022 and, subject to a separate application to the University of Otago, the University will provide a PhD Scholarship for three years.

This project focuses on increasing the number of women in the field of science-engaged theology and thus applications are only open to women. The fellow will be co-supervised by Dr. Christa McKirland and Prof. Murray Rae, but will ideally reside in Auckland for face-to-face supervision at Carey Baptist College. Applications are open to women currently resident in New Zealand and to applicants residing overseas who would be willing to relocate to Aotearoa New Zealand for the duration of the Fellowship. However, due to Covid-19 and the unpredictability of when the border will be open, we can only guarantee funding upon the student’s arrival, which must be by 1 February 2022.

Relocation to Aotearoa New Zealand is entirely the student’s financial and legal responsibility (i.e., visa requests, approval, flights, etc.).

Title: PhD Fellowship

Department: Carey Baptist College in partnership with the University of Otago

FT/PT/Temp: Full-time

Hours: 37.5 hours per week

Living Stipend: $27,000 annually for three years (other benefits listed below)

Tuition: $7,000 annually for three years

Start Date: Negotiable but no later than 1 February 2022

Supervised by: Dr. Christa McKirland (Project Leader (PL) ) and Prof. Murray Rae

Application Due Date: 1 June 2021


About the Research Project:

The project seeks to advance our understanding of what it means to be human by bringing the latest scientific research into constructive engagement with theological anthropology. As such, it will offer a contribution towards the burgeoning field of science-engaged theology. More specifically, the project will focus on the concept of “need”, which has been largely overlooked in contemporary discussions of human spirituality. In so doing it will address the following big question: Are there fundamental spiritual needs that contribute uniquely to human flourishing and, if so, what are they? This will invite a number of sub-questions. Can theology help us to understand the nature of human need? In what ways can cognitive science of religion (CSR), developmental psychology and social psychology complement this understanding? Together, how do they help us to understand the purposes for which God has created human persons? By showing the connection between human uniqueness and a need for God, this project will serve to develop a positive account of the relationship between CSR, developmental psychology, social psychology, and theology. 

Essential Functions:

  • Research interest in an aspect of one or both of the above ‘Big Questions’.
  • Meet with the research team for all scheduled digital or in-person meetings (maximum of four meetings throughout the PhD fellowship).
  • The writing of a doctoral thesis which will make forward progress according to the standards of Otago University.
  • The writing of one conference paper on some aspect of the topic of fundamental need and human flourishing.
  • Contribute to the execution of an international conference at Carey Baptist College (i.e. helping the PL organize the program, chairing a session, etc.).
  • Assist with aspects of the project as needed.


  • Legally identifies as a woman.
  • Is a resident of (and resides in) Aotearoa for the full duration of the Fellowship, beginning no later than 1 Feb, 2022
  • Has formal theological education at the Postgraduate Diploma level (NZQA Level 8) or higher.
  • Has a GPA of 8.0 for Postgraduate Diploma, Honours or Masters level study, including a GPA of at least 8.0 for the dissertation.
  • Has experience writing and publishing scholarly work.
  • Demonstrates strong oral and written communication skills.
  • Possesses strong interpersonal skills.
  • Has the ability to handle projects with deadlines simultaneously and to organize a large range of complex material.
  • Is a team-player, with a desire to work as part of a large academic project/research team.
  • Has the ability or desire to work in a distinctly Christian office environment.
  • Has the ability to work some evenings/weekends for special events.

Desirable Qualifications:

  • Knowledge of research and project administration preferred, but not required


Other Benefits Provided by the John Templeton Foundation:

  • Up to $2500 can be provided for attendance and presentation of a paper at one international conference during the period of doctoral research.
  • Research Costs: $3,000 one-time allowance for books, academic memberships, etc.
  • Publishing Bursary: Following submission of the PhD thesis, a further three months of funding totaling $6,750 can be provided to support the applicant in preparing and submitting an article for publication.

To apply, candidates must submit an electronic packet including the following to [email protected] by 1 June 2021:

  • A brief statement of your research experience, interests, and goals. Please include your research interests as it pertains to this project.
  • A copy of your CV.
  • A research-based writing sample.
  • Names and contact information for three professional references.

The PhD fellowship will be awarded based on a two-stage process. Once the above packet has been received and reviewed by the PL, the most suitable candidate will be invited to apply to the University of Otago. Notification of a decision regarding this first stage will go out to all applicants by 29 June. Admission to the PhD programme at the University of Otago and application for a PhD scholarship will require the completion of a detailed research proposal and further submission of an online application for the second and final stage of the selection process.

Notification of a decision will go out to all applicants by 29 June 2021. Please refer to the Supporting Document.