President's Doctoral Scholar Award

Naomi Billingsley

Research degree
PhD Religions and Theology
Thesis title
The Visual Christology of William Blake 1757-1827

Scope of your research

My research focuses on the role(s) of Christ in the pictorial works of William Blake, proposing a method of reading these images as theology ("Christology" is a term used by theologians to refer to theology relating to Christ). My thesis will examine the Christological questions Blake is engaging with in his images; in particular, his conceptions of Christ’s nature(s), soteriology, eschatology, and the "Divine Body" of believers.

I explore how Blake uses images as a theological medium, and seek to reconnect him with the religious culture of his day, considering him in a network which includes theologians, popular religious writers, and painters and illustrators of religious subjects.

I will examine how he engages with literary and visual sources; his images of Christ include illustrations to both the Old and New Testaments, and to texts such as Edward Young's Night Thoughts and the works of John Milton; he also represents Christ in his own prophetic works.

This project seeks new insights into Blake as a religious thinker and artist, and will contribute to broader discussions on the relationships between religion and art.

Brief personal biography

I grew up in Canterbury, Kent. I decided to study theology as an undergraduate because it is such a big subject, both in terms of it dealing with some of the most fundamental questions, and also as it is such a broad subject area, including a variety of disciplines under the umbrella of religion. Like many, I first encountered Blake at school, through his poetry, then, as an undergraduate and discovered some of his images on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and so the seeds of a PhD were sown!

Academic background

  • MA Christianity and the Arts, King's College London, 2011
  • BA Theology and Religious Studies, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, 2010

Academic achievements / prizes

  • Current: AHRC Doctoral Award
  • AHRC Research Preparation Master Award, King's College London, 2010 - 2011

Your research interests

  • William Blake (1757-1827)
  • Theology and the arts
  • Christology
  • British cultural life in the long eighteenth century


Why did you choose to do your research at the University of Manchester?

My project crosses the boundaries between Theology and Art History (and is related to English Literature), so the strong provision in both these fields here at Manchester, together with a broader commitment to interdisciplinarity across the School and the University make it a stimulating intellectual environment for my research. Manchester also has collections which are relevant to my research - at the Whitworth Art Gallery, John Ryland's Library, and Manchester Art Gallery - and I am looking forward to working with these, and contributing to public programmes. Together with the strong research culture and provision for postgraduate researchers, these factors make Manchester an unparalleled place for my PhD project.

How do you feel about being selected as one of the President's Doctoral Scholars?

I was delighted to be selected and it is particularly exciting to be in the first cohort. I am looking forward to engaging with researchers from other disciplines and to participating in the training and project opportunities provided by the scheme.

What are your career aspirations after completing your PhD?

My PhD project will take me beyond the traditional university environment, involving engagement with cultural partners; as such, I hope to gain skills and experiences which would be relevant and enriching for both an academic career and for other pathways within the education and heritage sectors.

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