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Title: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" : reimagining life-giving responses to the problem of loneliness among people with learning disabilities
Author: Waldron, William
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis focuses on conducting a theological engagement with the problem of loneliness among some people with learning disabilities As a result of witnessing the problem at close quarters in Ireland and of confirming its existence generally through an examination of the results of some research projects focused on loneliness and learning disability, the dominant rights-based legislative approach to all disability matters in Ireland, and in the UK, is tested for its ability to address the problem of loneliness It is discovered that the approach is ill-equipped to respond to the problem despite its frequent expression of the desirability of a sense of community cohesion among those with and without disabilities, but which only ever remains at the level of the aspirational As the approach here is both critical and constructive, the benefits to people with disabilities of legislative rights in the spheres of healthcare, housing and access are acknowledged but their ineffectiveness in the sphere of interpersonal relationships and in the fostering of the kinds of friendships that can alleviate the effects of loneliness is stressed. The aim of this thesis is neither to confirm the percentage of those with learning disabilities who are lonely, nor to construct a 'hierarchy' of loneliness. Rather, the aim is to show that it is a problem for many and that the solution will not be found within a rights-based approach to disability. The difficulty is discovered to be located at the level of anthropology and the understanding in all Western disability policy that human persons are, above all, individual citizens with competing rights to choice, equality and inclusion. Such a view renders those with and without learning disabilities 'combatants' in a legislative arena where the expressed wishes for freely given and received friendship among those who are lonely are frequently ignored in the battle for personal rights. The search for a solution requires then a different account of the origin and nature of the human person and of human relationships. In turning to Christian theology and its understanding of 'communion' as expressed in the Christian practices of friendship, hospitality and a particular understanding of belonging, the solution to loneliness appears in the faithful practice of these principles, concretised in the form of an ecclesiology which is neither exclusive nor rigid in form, but rather gentle and inviting, imitating the constant gentle invitation of Christ to 'come, follow me'. This first chapter is concerned with methodology. It locates the research within the field of Practical Theology generally and describes the four-stage 'pastoral cycle' which provides the framework for exploring the problem of loneliness among those with learning disabilities. The four 'stages', namely experience, analysis, reflection and response act as tools for conducting the research; The second chapter recounts the experience of meeting people with learning disabilities who were lonely despite residing in the community and having part-time employment. Their experiences are described in detail in an effort to both capture their sadness and to provoke discussion regarding the adequacy of legislative and policy-based approaches to disability which had provided them with employment and housing opportunities but which appeared helpless in the face of their heartfelt need for life-giving friendships. The third chapter begins with a reiteration of my overall aim, namely that of highlighting the particular problem of loneliness for many with learning disabilities and to highlight the limits of conventional legislative approaches to disability to successfully deal with the problem. I trace the history of disability studies and give the definition of disability that emerges, describe the models of disability that are current, discuss these models in terms of their contribution to the public perception of people with learning disabilities and focus on the shifting preference for one model over another. I point out the difficulty with agreeing on one definition but then move to a history of the thinking of the disability rights movement and how its approach to disability has shaped the accepted definitions that now underpin disability legislation. I finish this chapter by providing a working definition of 'learning disability' that is used throughout the remaining chapters. The fourth chapter focuses on the meaning of loneliness. Loneliness is difficult to define but I offer a working definition at the beginning of the chapter which will be amended at the end of the chapter in light of the analysis of loneliness among those with learning disabilities. I discuss loneliness conceptually as an issue among the population generally, and then focus on it in terms of its relationship to solitude, isolation, aloneness and estrangement with the assistance of material from psychology, sociology and medicine. I comment on how loneliness is measured and then focus specifically on the problem among those with learning disabilities through reporting on several research projects in which people with learning disabilities of various ages reported being lonely, how they felt and what they believed would improve their situations. I return to the definition of loneliness offered at the beginning of the chapter and rework it, focusing specifically on its meaning for people with learning disabilities and its prevalence among that group. The fifth chapter summarises the success of the disability rights movement in lobbying for disability legislation founded on the principles of rights, equality, inclusion and choice. The meanings of these four principles are then explored and their contribution to the improvement of the lives of people with learning disabilities acknowledged I show that disability legislation in Ireland, much of which originates at an EU level, is successful within its areas of competence which include access to employment and housing and healthcare, but limited in the sphere of fostering the sorts of relationships that can alleviate the difficulties associated with the problem of loneliness among people with learning disabilities. The legislation can promote the personal right to inclusion in the community but it cannot foster life-giving friendships. People with learning disabilities continue to experience the problem of loneliness in spite of the introduction of a raft of legislation and policy documents. The principles on which the legislation is built, namely rights, equality, inclusion and choice are blunt instruments in the shaping of communities of belonging in which the problem of loneliness can be addressed. The sixth chapter considers theological responses to the problem of loneliness among people with learning disabilities. Having described my constituency of concern, provided a working definition of loneliness, given an account of my experience of meeting people with learning disabilities who are lonely, and highlighted the limits of the legislative approach to learning disability concerning its usefulness as a solution to the problem of loneliness, I now seek to respond to the problem of loneliness with the assistance of theological anthropology regarding the nature and meaning of being 'human'. I will engage primarily with the theological anthropology of Karl Rahner. I will consider his insights in terms of the practices of friendship, hospitality, belonging and communion which are all posited as solutions to the problem of loneliness. I will not seek to design a new ecclesiology however. Rather I will take the anthropological insights of Rahner and, bringing them into the next and final chapter, discuss the fundamental connectedness of all of humanity and suggest therefore that encounters or 'conversations' are possible between those who offer different solutions to the problems faced by people with learning disabilities. Rahner's anthropology allows for the possibility of such conversations without the insistence on prerequisites which can take the focus away from the problem of loneliness and place it instead on a search for what the parties have in common before beginning the conversation. Such preliminary negotiation delays the process of searching for a response to the problem of loneliness. The seventh and final chapter represents the response to the problem of loneliness among people with learning disabilities. It urges interested parties within and outside the church to engage in a conversation in order to address the problem of loneliness among people with learning disabilities. I borrow from the work of the theologian Rowan Williams who, in interpreting the work of the historian John Bossy on 'fraternities', writes about conversations of 'charity', understood as 'caritas' or love in which all those concerned about the welfare of those with learning disabilities engage without the prerequisite of finding common ground but rather to recognise and make visible that ground which is already common to all. In this regard, the insights of theological anthropology into the nature of the human person and of human relationships will be a welcome voice in such a conversation in which the principles of friendship, hospitality and belonging can enter into the discussion about the difficulties faced by those with learning disabilities who are lonely. Such conversations of 'charity' or caritas have the potential to foster relationships of 'charity' or caritas so that people with learning disabilities who are lonely may experience the type of fellowship which can alleviate their suffering caused by loneliness.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: People with mental disabilities ; Loneliness ; Theology ; Practical