Meet the Pilgrims: Joanna Leidenhag

What are you doing, and how did you end up doing it?

Joanna Leidenhag

I am doing a PhD in Systematic Theology at the University of Edinburgh (supervised by Prof. David Fergusson, 2016-). My thesis fits broadly under the doctrine of creation, and works at constructing a dialogue between secular philosophy and Christian theology. I had a circuitous route to studying Theology and Modern History at the University of St Andrews (2009-2013) having tried very hard to go to other universities, and originally intended to study English literature. However, at St Andrews I fell in love with the study of theology and so changed my subject for honours (years 3 and 4 in Scottish universities). I then applied to do a further Masters in Theology, at Princeton Theological Seminary in America (2013-2014), with the conscious intention to going to PhD thereafter. And this where you now find me – happily studying and doing what I love, despite the threat of endless unemployment, over-qualification, and economic instability. I don’t regret it for a second.

What’s your biggest passion for the church?

Although I want everyone to know and love the God who gives my life comfort, purpose, hope, existential foundation, joy, and depth … my biggest passion for the church is not growth in numbers, but to faithfully witness to this God. Even if church numbers are small, therefore, I care most that the worship of the church, the celebration of the eucharist, the reading (and preaching) of the Bible, is ongoing, faithful, and forward-looking to the return of Jesus.

What excites you about Jesus?

In no particular order (because I will tie myself in knots about which is the most theologically appropriate place to start here):

That Jesus really is God excites me, because it means that God is knowable, lovable, has the beautiful character of Jesus, and cares about me. I might have hoped for this kind of God, but Jesus shows me that this really is what God is like.

That Jesus is still alive excites me, because it means that death is not going to be the end, that this life has hope and purpose, and that I can still know and experience God in my life through the presence of the Spirit.

That Jesus is coming back, that he has not given up on us, that the hope which I have is not just for me but for the whole cosmos and will bring about a justice which I know deep down in my bones is how the universe was always meant to be … and that – no matter how grim everything in the world seems – it will all be worth it in the end.

Who has most shaped your spirituality/discipleship journey?

In reverse order of importance, I have to say a mixture of (a) my theological instructors and teachers in different universities and churches, and those texts which they forced me to study and think about, and (b) friends! Friends, both growing up and in St Andrews really showed me more what the “working out” of faith in daily life really means. The vulnerability of sharing narratives, struggles, and faith with each other has had a large influence on me. I am, therefore, left with the unexpected conclusion that those who walk alongside have a bigger impact than those who lead. But perhaps that’s appropriate for a blog called “Pilgrims’ Process”. So, let’s walk this journey together.


Joanna is a PhD student in Systematic Theology at the University of Edinburgh. She is also a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church of Scotland (Anglican). In her free time, Joanna loves sport and exercise and is a semi-professional artist (Christian oil paintings).

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