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The Dissolving Self? Dementia and Identity in Philosophical Theology

S & CB 31 (2)
October 2019


Dementia has been the focus of significant work in pastoral theology, but has received relatively little attention in (impractical?) philosophical theology. Yet dementia raises acute questions in philosophical theology to which we must give an answer, such as the nature of personhood, death and its encroaching on life, physicality, resurrection and hope, and the like. This paper focuses on questions relating to memory and identity. What does it mean to be a ‘self’? How does that relate to memory and personal narrative? What happens to us, to our identity, when memory, the ability to remember the stories we use to define ourselves, fades? Do the acids of dementia dissolve our very selves? These questions, valid in their own right, are seen in sharp and deeply personal focus in the experience of those who endure dementia. I will outline a particular response to these questions in critical conversation with John Swinton’s practical theology of dementia, and suggest ways in which practical theology and ethics and philosophical theology can engage in mutually enriching conversation.

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