The Rev. Daniel J. Handschy, PhD

Background and Intersections of Interest

My undergraduate degree (from the University of Colorado, Boulder) is in Physics, with a minor in Philosophy.  Physics was in the air growing up: my dad had an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and some graduate work in physics.  He worked in research in the nuclear weapons industry; my older brother was earning his PhD in physics while I was an undergraduate.  I worked two years as a failure analyst in the semiconductor industry from 1980 to 1982.

In 1985, I graduated with an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and was ordained, first to the diaconate (1986) and then the priesthood (1987) in the Episcopal Church.  During a 26-year rectorate at Church of the Advent in the Diocese of Missouri, I earned a PhD in Historical Theology from St. Louis University.

My research interests include ritual theory, epistemology, and sacrifice.  I see these interests at the intersection of physics and theology.  Since the turn of the twentieth century, modern physics has done away with the Newtonian/Laplacian fantasy of an objective standpoint from which to observe the universe.  Einstein’s theories of relativity place the observer squarely in the system being observed, with no escape.  Quantum mechanics has inextricably linked the outcome of any observation with the observer, the knower with the known.

This has also meant that knowledge is firmly located within a community structure.  The answer to the question, “What is physics?” is, “What physicists do.”  The publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions sparked a debate about how physicists in fact advance the field.  To my mind Imri Lakatos gave the best answer in his essay, “The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.”  Agreement within the scientific community is central to his thesis.  The programme that produces new and unexpected insights will gain the most traction with the specialists involved.

Ritual theory also connects the knower with the known.  Ritual creates a symbolic universe and subjects who can inhabit it.  The anthropological study of ritual has shown that ritual, social structure, logical systems, and epistemic structures interlock and reinforce one another.

In some regards, the ritual of sacrifice structured the ancient world, creating both kinship and hierarchical structures.  A fuller understanding of how sacrifice functioned in the classical world can only help us understand the role the eucharist plays in shaping the social structure of the church, creating a kind of commensality and kinship, and hierarchical structures.  The different theologies of the eucharist in the different denominations line up quite well with their liturgical styles and social organization.

I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, and became disillusioned with it because I could not understand the doctrine of complete sanctification (it never seemed to take with me).  As an adolescent, it seemed to me that the Nazarene Church focused almost exclusively on individual conversion and salvation.  I was baptized into the Episcopal Church after graduation from college, having found in it an understanding of corporate salvation that fit better with idea of the social construction of knowledge and meaning.

All of this, and my friendship with Richard Valantasis beginning in divinity school had a profound effect in shaping my understanding of the priesthood.  Under the signs of bread and wine (which incorporate the gifts of God’s creation — sunshine, water, dirt, and air — and human economic effort), and in the name of the community, the priest offers the life of the community to  God.  The consecrating agency of the Holy Spirit transforms that offering into the Body of Christ, given for the world.

Texts that Formed Me


Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (1967).

Imri Lakatos, “The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.”

Bernard d’Espagnat, Reality and the Physicist (1989).

Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (1974).

Ritual/Social theory

Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory: Ritual Practice (2009).

Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (rev. ed. 2002); Natural Symbols (3rd ed. 2003).


Mary Douglas, Leviticus as Literature (rev. ed. 2001).

Nancy Jay, Throughout Your Generations Forever (new ed. 1994).

Stanley Stowers, “Greeks who sacrifice and those who don’t,” (1995).

What I'm Currently Reading

Jordan Daniel Wood, The Whole Mystery of Christ: creation as Incarnation in Maximus Confessor. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.2022.

Paul M. Collins, Partaking in Divine Nature: deification and communion. London: T&T Clark. 2010.

Paul Anthony Dominiak, Richard Hooker: the architecture of participation. London: T&T Clark. 2020.

William Harmless, S.J., Desert Christians: an introduction to the literature of early monasticism. Oxford: OUP. 2004.

William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel. London: Macmillan & Co. 1959.

Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John. Anchor Bible 29-29a. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co. 1966-70.

Dieter Georgi, The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1986.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: the universe according to Maximus the Confessor. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2003.

Maximus the Confessor, On the Ecclesiastical Mystagogy; a theological vision of the liturgy. Yonkers, NY:  St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.  2019.

Maximus the Confessor, On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: selected writings from Maximus the Confessor.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 2003.

Charles C. Twombly, Perichoresis and Personhood:  God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus. Eugene, OR:  Pickwick Publications. 2015.

St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith.  Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 2022.


I publish an (almost) weekly blog on the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday: A Preacher’s Ponderings.