Dr. Benjamin DeSpain

Research Fellow
Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry / Religion and Theology

Benjamin DeSpain

Areas of expertise: historical and philosophical theology; catholic philosophy; theological ethics; theology and the arts; mystical and ascetical theology; tradition; platonism; Thomas Aquinas

Email: bedespain@acu.edu.au

Location: ACU Melbourne Campus

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-1369-2224

My research examines a variety of metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological issues in historical and philosophical theology. In my previous work, I considered the ways Thomas Aquinas integrated the Platonic notion of the divine ideas into the Summa Theologiae's theological pedagogy. The purpose of this work was to determine how Aquinas employed philosophical concepts to make theological sense of the world in which we live. Since arriving at ACU, I have developed more contemporary and constructive interests, engaging, in particular, theories of autonomy, natural theology, and sacred tradition. As part of a larger program of study, my recent work has also been looking at how art-making practices can help us better understand the connections between spirituality, embodiment, and knowledge. I welcome PhD students interested in any of these areas of research, especially those with a focus on the intersections between experience and knowledge, both speculative and embodied.

Beginning in 2019, I helped lead the ACU funded project, "Redeeming Autonomy: Agency, Vulnerability, and Relationality," alongside the principal investigators, Christopher Insole, David Kirchhoffer, Jennifer Herdt, Kristin Heyer, and Yves De Maeseneer. This project created a new framework for engaging the notion of autonomy. With Christopher Insole, I coordinated the "Negative Natural Theology" project, which asks the question, "What might be at stake in employing - implicitly or explicitly - the concept of the divine, or not doing so?" The project is funded by the Templeton Religion Trust as part of "Widening Horizons in Philosophical Theology." I have also contributed to the project, "Spiritual Understanding and Secular Art: Engaging Art as Religious Ritual," which is led by Lexi Eikelboom and funded by the Templeton Religion Trust.

Select publications


  • Thinking Theologically about the Divine Ideas: Reexamining the Summa of Thomas Aquinas (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2022).

Journal Articles

  • "Aquinas's Virtuous Vision of the Divine Ideas," Theological Studies 81.2 (2020), 453-66.

Book Chapters

  • "Seeing One's Own Face in the Face of God: the Doctrine of the Divine Ideas in the Mystical Theologies of Dionysius the Areopagite and Nicholas of Cusa," in Christian Mysticism and Incarnational Theology: Between Transcendence and Immanence, eds. Louise Nelstrop and Simon D. Podmore (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 29-46.


  • 2021-2024 "Negative Natural Theology: Freedom and the Limits of Reason," with Christopher Insole (Durham University). Templeton Religion Trust, "Widening Horizons in Philosophical Theology."
  • 2021-2023 "Spiritual Understanding and Secular Art: Engaging Art as Religious Ritual," Project Participant. Lexi Eikelboom (ACU), Project Director. Templeton Religion Trust, Art Seeking Understanding.
  • 2018-2023 "Redeeming Autonomy: Agency, Vulnerability, and Relationality," with principal investigators Christopher Insole (Durham University), David Kirchhoffer (ACU), Jennifer Herdt (Yale University), Kristin Heyer (Boston College), and Yves De Maeseneer (KU Leuven). ACU funded project.

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