The Torrance Oral History Project - Description


Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple, general editors, The Torrance Oral History Project (The Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, 2019-ongoing)


Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple, general editors. The Torrance Oral History Project. The Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, 2019-ongoing.

Publication life cycle / General notes

General editors: Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple.
Project advisors: Gary W. Deddo, Thomas A. Noble, Robert T. Walker.

Collaborators wanted: To conduct interviews and/or prepare transcriptions.
Look for the first batch of oral histories to be published on this website in Fall 2023

  • Main page (this page): Start here. For participants and researchers. An overall description of the project.
  • Project Manual. For editors and interviewers. Provides guidance and explanations, with a Style Guide.
  • Editorial page (requires an editorial log-in). Not accessible to the public. Allows access to projects that are currently in the editing queue.
  • Published oral histories: Once published, oral history pages will be listed here, on this page. They will also be fully searchable, and interlinked with other resources on the site, including bibliographies. Expect the first batch of oral histories to be published here in January 2024.


The Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, a Related Scholarly Organization of the American Academy of Religion, is conducting the Thomas F. and James B. Torrance Oral History Project to record the personal stories of those who interacted with T. F. and J. B. Torrance and their siblings, in order to capture a richly-textured portrait of the intellectual, social and cultural communities in which they lived and worked. The project is devoted to elucidating the life experiences of those who interacted with Thomas or James Torrance. It will collect reminiscences of family members, former students, academic colleagues, and friends and collaborators in both church settings and broader society, in Scotland and around the world. Attempts will be made to recruit a range of people representing different occupations (theologians, scientists, philosophers, artists, historians, etc.), religious traditions (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc.), and nationalities from every continent.

The project will contribute to a broader understanding of the history of theology in the second half of the 20th century. Because of the interdisciplinary breadth of the Torrance’s work, the project also will help reconstruct the experiences of those in other disciplines, including the natural sciences, philosophy, intellectual history, political philosophy and the fine arts. If attention to those who work in leading areas of theology, including its relations with other academic disciplines and to public life, were to be overlooked in the cultural heritage of the 20th century, we would be left with a one-sided impression of the role of religion in society and a regrettable gap in our cultural heritage. By throwing light on the lives and works of T. F. and J. B. Torrance and their siblings, this project aims to capture the dynamic and interdisciplinary character of theological education and activity in a distinctive and enduring 20th-century tradition, with the goal of making the Torrance tradition more accessible to future generations across disciplinary and cultural contexts.


An “oral history” captures a first-person account of the life experiences of a “narrator” (the interviewee). These experiences are reported in a recorded conversation that is informally structured and fluidly guided by the interviewer. The interviewer’s open-ended questions may prompt a dialogue in which the narrator recalls memories and shares stories about their experiences. By emphasizing personal memories and aspects of daily life and work, oral history goes beyond the printed record to capture intangible and unrecorded aspects of personal and professional lives that throw light on personal perspectives, interactions, and motivations, all of which are anchored in particular communities and material culture. An oral history interview differs from a typical interview due to the open-ended nature of the questions. Unlike other interview formats, the purpose is to collect the story of the narrator, not to interpose the views of the interviewer.

Numerous oral history projects related to particular disciplinary communities are underway. For example, in the natural sciences, the British Library is conducting the “Oral History of British Science,” and the Science History Institute is spearheading a similar effort in the United States. Similarly, the British library offers a Collection guide to oral histories of religion and belief, which includes efforts such as the Templeton Foundation’s Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum project. The latter features life interviews with contemporaries whose paths may have intersected with the Torrances, such as John Hedley Brooke, Malcolm Jeeves, Mary Midgely, Russell Stannard, Rupert Sheldrake and Simon Conway Morris. In America, one oral history project in religion was devoted to recovering the experience of 79 scholars who participated in the founding of the Graduate Theological Union: Remembering Theological Education in the 1960s (GTU Digital Library).

This project will follow the Principles and Best Practices of the Oral History Association.


Summer 2019: In Phase 1, the Torrance Oral History Project will begin by seeking interviews with 6-8 potential narrators (interviewees), prioritizing according to seniority and availability.

2022-2024: In Phase 2, others will be interviewed, particularly members of the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, who experienced first-hand interaction with the Torrances, both for their own perspectives as members of this community of scholars, and for their recollections of the Torrances and for their impressions of how interaction with the Torrances shaped their present careers.

2024-on: Phase 3 will consist of interviews conducted by members, after appropriate training.

Phase 2 and Phase 3 interviews may take place at professional meetings (American Academy of Religion), at the University of Edinburgh, or other locations.

Transcription and indexing of the oral histories is underway; assistance from interested members of the Fellowship is most welcome (training provided; see below). Additional interviews will be planned as capacity permits, particularly as additional members are recruited and trained to conduct oral history interviews.


Upon completion of the interviews, all narrators will receive a copy of their audio recording, along with a printed, bound transcript and other documents that comprise the material archive.

The material products of the oral histories will include a printed, bound transcript; an uncompressed copy of the official audio file; and associated documents. These will be archived in the Thomas F. Torrance Science and Religion Collection, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries (#2022-OU-1). The OU History of Science Collections will provide long-term public access.

With permission, at a mutually agreed-upon time, digital versions of the oral histories (including access-quality audio files in mp4 format, with associated documentation) will be made available on the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship website.


The project will be directed by general editors Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple as an expression of their professional interests as historians of science and in conjunction with their work as bibliographers and webmasters of the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship (which already broadcasts a Call for Materials).

Magruder, Purkaple, and trained member collaborators will contact potential narrators and perform the interviews. Potential narrators will be advised beforehand of the nature and purpose of the project so that they can respond with informed consent. They will be advised beforehand of planned and potential outcomes, including digital distribution and Creative Commons licensing. The narrators’ rights during and after the interview will be explained, including:

  • The narrator owns the interview as an original work of authorship.
  • The narrator may refuse to answer any questions or discuss certain topics.
  • The narrator may withdraw from the project at any time.
  • The narrator will be given the opportunity to review and edit the transcript.
  • The narrator may restrict use in various ways, which will be specified in the deed of gift.

The oral histories will consist of audio recordings, transcribed and indexed. Where possible, audio will be recorded in an uncompressed WAV format of CD-quality (16 bit, 44.1kHz) using high-quality microphones. Studies show that in a typical oral history project, 40 hours are required per recorded hour to complete the transcriptions and associated archival documents. Associated documents may include captioned photos, scrapbooks, letters, diagrams, maps or artifacts which the narrator may show the interviewer during an interview, along with, at a minimum, the following standard components of oral history documentation:

Completed before or at the interview:

  1. Topic list
  2. Interview data form
  3. Deed of Gift
  4. Biographical data form
  5. Image donation form

Completed after the interview:

  1. Transcript for review
  2. Term and Name list
  3. Abstract
  4. Time-stamped log
  5. Final transcript
  6. Final Oral History document (incorporating all of the above)

Any original items (photos, maps, letters, etc.) presented during the interview, either for immediate scanning and return, or as gifts, will be covered by the agreement and included in the project.

In Phase 3 of the project, members of the Fellowship will be recruited and trained to work with the Project Directors to transcribe and index the recordings, and to conduct additional interviews. At that point, options for acquiring equipment expressly devoted to the ongoing project will be assessed.

The project will license the oral histories with a Creative Commons license (CC-by-nc-sa).

Participants list (confirmed)

Participant Relationship Religious Affiliation Notes/Occupation Interviewer Status
David W. Torrance Brother Church of Scotland Minister. Interviewed with son David and daughters Grace and Ruth. Kerry Magruder

•Interviewed June 2019.
•In transcription.

Robert T. Walker Nephew Church of Scotland Teacher, editor, organizer of Torrance retreats at Firbush. Kerry Magruder

•Interviewed June 2019.
•In transcription.

Margaret Stein Student of TFT Church of Scotland Among the first women licensed to preach in the C of S; artist; influenced by Ignatian spirituality of visual arts Kerry Magruder

•Interviewed June 2019.
•In transcription.

Jock Stein Student of TFT, Editor Church of Scotland Minister, Publisher Kerry Magruder

•Interviewed June 2019.
•In transcription.

Jennifer Floether Student of TFT Scottish Episcopal PhD Art.
Instructor, University of Edinburgh
Kerry Magruder

•Interviewed June 2019.
•In transcription.

Eckhart Floether Student of Ray S. Anderson; friend of TFT Scottish Episcopal Business consultant.
Instructor on eastern spirituality vs. practical Trinitarian theology.
Kerry Magruder

•Interviewed June 2019.
•In transcription.

Gary W. Deddo Student of JBT, friend of TFT and Ray Anderson. Organizer, former president TFT Fellowship. Presbyterian President, Grace Communion Seminary Brent Purkaple and Kerry Magruder Interview pending
Thomas A. Noble Student of TFT and JBT, President TFT Fellowship Nazarene Senior Research Fellow at Nazarene Theological College, Manchester; and Professor of Theology, Nazarene Theological Seminary, Kansas City Brent Purkaple and Kerry Magruder •Interviewed November 2019 (Part 1).
•In transcription.

Sample questions

These are some of the themes and topics that may be discussed in the interviews.

Substitute TF, JB, and/or DW for [he, him]

Your Story


Early life: Where were you born, and how did you find your way… up through your first encounter with the Torrances?


When, where and how did you meet TFT/JBT/DWT? (hereafter “him”)


Describe the locations where you encountered him.


Who were your fellow students? Or fellow participants in the community at that time? How did they interact with him? How did the community change over time?

Life and work: Impact of Torrances


Tell us about your experience in the various professional positions you have held. Have the challenges you have faced changed over time?


How did your encounter with TFT/JBT shape you? As a person? in your work? your faith?


Have any specific books by the Torrances affected you in a significant way?


Do you teach any courses related to TFT/JBT?


Do any of your book projects or creative achievements reflect your relationship with or response to TFT/JBT?

Memories of Torrances


How would you describe (TF, JB, DW)? What was [he] like in person?


What do you remember of his interactions with… former students? academic colleagues? Friends? People in other occupations? Scientists? Artists? Non-theologians? Did you have interdisciplinary impressions or experiences with him?


What do you remember of his relations with the Church of Scotland? Other religious traditions? Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc.? Did you have any ecumenical impressions or experiences with him?


Did you witness him in interaction with persons uncommitted or opposed to religious belief?


What do you remember of his ties with other parts of the world? Did you have any international experiences with him?


What seemed to interest him besides theology? Pets, hobbies, leisure activities?



What do your colleagues think of [him] or of your Torrance-related work?


Some may wonder why others pay so much attention to the books the Torrance brothers have written. How would you advise those who have been helped by their writings to keep the Torrance contribution in proper perspective?


Is there any aspect of his thought/teaching that you think is important but often overlooked? Any aspect that, in your opinion, is often misunderstood or could use clarification?


What do you regard as his key contribution to Christian witness? to Christian scholarship? to the mission of the Christian church?


In your opinion, what are the primary obstacles that inhibit full appreciation of his contribution to Christian thought and ministry?

At the beginning:


Record 10 seconds of silence for room noise sample.


“This is (Interviewer Name). Today is (Month, Day, 2019).  I am interviewing for the (first) time (Participant Name).  This interview is taking place at (location). This interview is part of the (Torrance Oral History) project.”

At the end:


Is there anything I failed to ask about that you’d like to share?

Call for Collaborators

This project is a collaborative project conducted by members of the T. F. Torrance Theological Fellowship in conjunction with the Thomas F. Torrance Science and Religion Collection, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries (#2022-OU-1). We seek Fellowship members to participate through (A) transcribing interviews; (B) conducting interviews; and (C) donating funds or the equipment listed below for member use in this project.

(A) Transcribing interviews. Experience suggests at least 20 hours is required to transcribe an hour-long interview. In addition, you will need to purchase your own transcription software and foot control pedal:

A project manual, including a transcription Style Guide, is provided to guide the editorial process of oral history materials. Each oral history project will have its own editor. 

In phase 1 of editing, a volunteer transcriber will create a rough transcription. This rough transcription may be assisted by the use of automatic transcription software.

In phase 2, the editor of the particular oral history will work collaboratively with the general editors to add documentation, establish a term list, and complete a review process. The documentation, tagging, and term lists are the chief editorial tasks, although a finer quality transcription consistent with the Style Guide may be completed at a later stage (particularly if excerpts are to be published elsewhere, such as in Participatio).

Training in the conventions of oral history transcription protocols, and use of the above software and equipment, will be provided at no cost by the general editors of the project via documentation in the manual and personal support. Volunteers experienced in oral history transcription are welcome to use other software and control devices, if no support is needed.

(B) Conducting interviews. If you know a potential participant (narrator) who studied with, or was deeply affected by, TFT, JBT, or DWT, let us know if you are willing to interview them and we will discuss logistics and protocols. We are particularly interested in recording the experiences of persons who represent multi-disciplinary, global, ecumenical, and/or social contexts that might otherwise escape prominent notice in the existing published literature.

The key point to keep in mind is that an oral history interview is not interrogative like a traditional interview, in order to allow the narrator the opportunity to elaborate in directions that might not have been anticipated by the interviewer. In an oral history interview, the interviewer refrains from expressing judgments and opinions on topics discussed, in order to facilitate as full as possible disclosure of the narrator's own recollections and perspectives, unsullied by intrusions on the part of the interviewer.

Training in the conventions of oral history interview protocols, and use of the following audio recording equipment, will be provided at no cost by the editors of the project, via printed documentation and personal support.

  • Marantz PMD-561 recorder ($320, Amazon); or Logic Pro software (project template will be provided)
  • Blue Yeti Pro microphone ($260, Amazon)
  • Auxiliary: cables, memory cards, headphones, transport case.

Experience suggests that one should allow several hours for training in logistics and protocols, and an additional day for practice recording and preparation of requisite forms (mentioned above). These must be completed at least a month before conducting the actual interview. Once paperwork is complete, in most cases, we will arrange to ship a microphone and recorder to you for use at a pre-arranged time (that is, after donors have contributed the equipment! see next). Volunteers experienced in audio recording are welcome to use other software and recording devices, assuming equal audio quality and no support needed.

(C) Donating equipment. If you would like to support this project financially, we would like to acquire one or two foot controls, a Marantz recorder, a Blue Yeti Pro microphone, and the auxiliary cables, memory cards and headphones listed above, along with a robust protective case for transport (about $1,200 total). These will be checked out and mailed to volunteer collaborators for specified lengths of time. Donations to cover FedEx shipments will also be welcome. (If we were to receive up to $5,000, we could create extra kits to accelerate the capturing and transcribing of recordings!)

Kerry Magruder conducts oral history projects for the University of Oklahoma History of Science Collections and has earned basic and advanced certificates from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. Brent Purkaple received oral history training as part of his OU History of Science studies. Training by Brent and Kerry for collaborating members in conducting interviews or creating transcriptions will be achieved through personal support via web chat, or at the annual conference. No additional formal training will be necessary.

Please contact us for more information if you're interested in collaborating in this project!