Remembering in Relation: Edward Schillebeeckx's Theological Anthropology and the Neuroscience of Memory Loss

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation addresses the question of how to interpret and understand memory loss as a person of faith embedded in, and informed by, the contemporary medical-scientific milieu. Its central thesis contends that an interdisciplinary theological anthropology can provide an alternative to hegemonic cultural narratives that reduce a person to their brain.

The dissertation has three parts: a theological analysis, a neuroscientific analysis, and a constructive proposal. Part one analyzes a debate that arose in 1966 between Schillebeeckx and two of his colleagues over an evolutionary anthropological account of Christ. I contend that Schillebeeckx’s response stems from his desire to reject a physical reductionist view of Christ and the human person. I then explore Schillebeeckx’s opposition to a reduction of the human person through his concept of a “disclosure experience,” a theological expression that exemplifies the connection between memory and social interaction. Bringing this theological approach into conversation with the social neuroscience of memory, I argue that social interaction and memory are linked together in a phenomenon that I call “sociorelational memory.” I contend that, from a theological perspective, memory is a sociorelational phenomenon that is inherently indissociable from God and the community.

Part two shifts to a neuroscientific analysis of memory loss in order to contrast the “sociorelational memory” of part one with the individualistic memory in contemporary neuroscience. I address the traces of the Lockean psychological continuity theory that echo within neuroscientific research. I use this Lockean lens to analyze the cutting-edge neuroscientific research on cerebral organoids, an area of molecular and cellular neuroscience in which scientists grow miniature brain organs in order to study diseases, such as neurodegenerative memory loss. I demonstrate how the concepts at the foundation of this research exhibit Lockean tendencies toward an individualistic understanding of memory. I argue that the neuroscientific research that emerges from the laboratory produces authoritative neuroreductive accounts of what it means to be human.

Part three contends that a contemporary theological anthropology that accounts for neuroscientific findings can provide an alternative to the cultural narrative of neuroreductionism. To expand Schillebeeckx’s theological anthropology, I reinterpret questions from the neuroscience of memory loss through the lens of “sociorelational memory” in order to consider how the challenges of this human experience might be viewed in light of the human-divine relationship. The conclusion of the dissertation calls for future work in this topic by listening to the insights of those with memory loss who are living out their faith.


Attribute NameValues
Author Michelle A. Marvin
Contributor Tom Stapleford, Committee Member
Contributor J. Matthew Ashley, Research Director
Contributor M. Catherine Hilkert, Committee Member
Contributor Celia Deane-Drummond, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline History and Philosophy of Science
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
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Defense Date
  • 2020-07-01

Submission Date 2020-07-20
Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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