Dementia: Living in the Memories of God
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Dementia: Living in the Memories of God

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by John Swinton

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Dementia is one of the most feared diseases in Western society today. Some have even gone so far as to suggest euthanasia as a solution to the perceived indignity of memory loss and the disorientation that accompanies it.

In this book John Swinton develops a practical theology of dementia for caregivers, people with dementia, ministers, hospital chaplains, and


Dementia is one of the most feared diseases in Western society today. Some have even gone so far as to suggest euthanasia as a solution to the perceived indignity of memory loss and the disorientation that accompanies it.

In this book John Swinton develops a practical theology of dementia for caregivers, people with dementia, ministers, hospital chaplains, and medical practitioners as he explores two primary questions:

  • Who am I when I've forgotten who I am?
  • What does it mean to love God and be loved by God when I have forgotten who God is?
Offering compassionate and carefully considered theological and pastoral responses to dementia and forgetfulness, Swinton's Dementia: Living in the Memories of God redefines dementia in light of the transformative counter story that is the gospel.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Michael Ramsey Prize 2016 finalist

Stanley Hauerwas
— Duke Divinity School; author of God, Medicine, and Suffering
"John Swinton has clearly become the premier pastoral theologian of our time. In this book he approaches the troubled topic of dementia with his usual thoroughness, engaging the science with an unapologetic theological voice. Dementia: Living in the Memories of God will become a classic."

Stephen G. Post
— Stony Brook University; author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping
"Swinton offers us the best constructive theology yet written on the important place for the deeply forgetful in our communities and our lives. His ability to elevate the most significant Christian scholarship on this topic to the level of a compelling new synthesis is clear on each thoughtful page. Those who want to reflect deeply on where individuals with dementia fit into our world will benefit from this breath of fresh air. It is a brilliant book that stays true to everything meaningful in Christian ethics, theology, and care."

Stephen Sapp
— University of Miami; author of When Alzheimer's Disease Strikes!
"Engagingly written and thoroughly researched, Swinton's Dementia is a ringing challenge to current thinking (and speaking and acting) about dementia. Especially significant is the author's insistence that Christians always consider dementia from a theological perspective and move beyond the dominant (and limited) medical model."

David Keck
— author of Forgetting Whose We Are
"This vigorous yet gentle book is changing the way I practice theology. It deserves a broad audience of both theologians and pastors since it challenges fundamental habits of thought, prayer, and service. Indeed, this book — this offering — provides hope. It demonstrates the power of faithful theology to engage very difficult, even frightening topics."

John Goldingay
— Fuller Theological Seminary; author of Remembering Ann
"For the last decade of her life my first wife, Ann, couldn't speak, not because she couldn't move her lips but because she could no longer work out what to say. She had dementia. . . . I would worry over how she and God could relate if she couldn't think straight, so I love Swinton's statement that people such as Ann 'remain tightly held within the memories of God' and I resonate with this description of the church as 'a living body of remembering friends.' Indeed, as I read this book, I kept saying, 'Yes, Yes, Yes!' "

Elizabeth MacKinlay
— Charles Sturt University; author of Spiritual Growth and care in the Fourth Age of Life
"This groundbreaking book tells a counter-story of dementia that brings hope and challenges the fears that are so dominant within society and the church."

“Offers theological insight and practical help. . . .  Provides guidance and spiritual help for caregivers who turn to the church and its pastors for help with loved ones suffering from dementia.”
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
“We are fortunate to be able to read such a highly literate, readable, informed, and erudite set of reflections on one of the major health conditions of our time. . . . A most perceptive and informed analysis.”
Journal of Christian Nursing
“Offering compassionate and carefully considered theological and pastoral responses to dementia and forgetfulness, Swinton’s Dementia redefines dementia in light of the transformative counter story that is the gospel.”
Calvin Theological Journal
“This is a thoughtful, provocative, and often heart-rending work. It is as much a book about theological anthropology as it is about pastoral care of persons with dementia; therein lies its beauty. . . . Highly recommended for pastors or seminary level students, particularly those interested in care of the elderly.”
Journal of Adult Theological Education
“As a survey of much of the literature on the subject, this book is extremely valuable. . . . Outside the academy and the training institutions, as a work of encouragement to those who minister to, or live with, or fear becoming sufferers from dementia, it should be read widely.”
“This reader highly recommends John Swinton’s study to all Christians, but especially pastors and other leaders.”
Catholic Library World
“Highly recommended and should be required reading for those offering clinical or pastoral care of persons with dementia and their families. This work further stands out for its poignant approach and for allowing the voices of theologians, caregivers, and people in the early stages of dementia to resonate loudly and clearly. . . .  Also highly appropriate for pastoral libraries or institutions of higher education.”
Presbyterian Outlook
“Stunning in its scope and profound in its implications, this is theology that truly deserves the term ‘practical.’. . .  There is no other book that explores this subject so well.”

Reviews in Religion and Theology
“Swinton’s volume is to be highly commended, both to theologians, lay people, and to medical professionals. It is practical theology of the most charitable and careful kind, avoiding sentimentality and engaging in deep explorations of one of the most painful problems of the human experience.”

Theology Today
“This work is practical theology in a thoroughly practical and thoroughly theological sense. It finds its starting point in God and God’s self-revelation, working out from there to its understanding of humanity and so to challenge the prevailing assumptions about dementia, and it generates suggestions for what it means to be practicing Christians, individually and collectively, in the face of dementia.”
James Woodward
There can be no greater fear than the possibility of losing our memory. Modernity may have offered us longevity but at some threat to our human wellbeing. Dementia poses many fundamental theological and pastoral challenges.
John Swinton has produced a masterpiece, exploring the many dimensions of Dementia. Here is pastoral theology at its best - careful, sensitive, clear, searching, insight and with an integrated theology that supports good care. I warmly commend it to the widest possible readership.
Albert Jewell
This is a truly monumental book, not in length but in depth and scope, with a liberating and empowering message for theologians, pastoral carers and church communities. It engages honestly and creatively with the big issues raised by dementia: personhood and identity, mind and memory, body and soul, and (movingly) the value to be found in every human life. No one is better qualified to write it than John Swinton. Prepare yourself for a challenging but immensely rewarding read! It is Biblical and practical theology at its very best.

Margaret Goodall
Grounded in deep pastoral concern and theological integrity, Dementia: living in the memories of God, is essential reading for anyone wishing to develop an understanding of dementia from a Christian perspective. John Swinton provides an important and timely re-description of the story of dementia which offers hope based on experience and insight. The reader is encouraged to recognise the darkness of dementia as only part of the story in which the person continues to be held in relationship by God who does not forget. A practical theology for dementia, and the continued importance of visiting, is worked out in the new story he offers.
Joanna Collicut
In this clearly written and accessible volume, Swinton incorporates the best insights of contemporary psychological approaches to human memory and dementia care into a biblically grounded theology. The result is an account that does not shy away from the pain and challenge that faces people affected by dementia, yet at the same time asserts a transformative vision of their situation based on the grace of the God who creates and redeems them.

Product Details

Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

John Swinton is professor of practical theology andpastoral care at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, andfounding director of the Centre for Spirituality, Health,and Disability at Aberdeen. His other books includeSpirituality and Mental Health Care, Resurrecting thePerson, and From Bedlam to Shalom.

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Dementia: Living in the Memories of God 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Robert-of-Rochester More than 1 year ago
As we move steadily through life’s years, we encounter more and more individuals who exhibit Dementia. How we personally respond to them will depend ultimately on whether we approach them from a neurological stance of “defectology” where cognition is the ultimate determiner of the value of their being, or from a relational stance of “person-centered care” where “rather than perceiving challenges in the person’s linguistic abilities as a slippage in personhood or humanness, it would be better to see them as a movement from a mode of communication within which the linguistically competent are comfortable to a context where interpretation and understanding need to be recalibrated in line with the changing expression” (p. 191, f. 4). The author expresses much appreciation to Jean Vanier of L’Arche who similarly has expounded a purposeful person-center approach to persons of special need. Dementia for Swinton is “a thoroughly theological condition” (p. 8). Talking about a person as if they were not there and saying they have experienced a loss of self thus excusing abandonment or even euthanasia find no place in Swinton’s thinking. This work is an extremely helpful resource in learning how best to be with persons with such needs in the most truly personal and pastoral of ways. Not light reading, but indispensable for those wanting to care in a most appropriate way.