Rachel Nelson

Rachel Nelson

Department of Theology and Religion
Doctoral Researcher

Contact details

PhD title: Manifesting the New Being: A Comparative Analysis of the Existentialism of Paul Tillich and Jean-Paul Sartre and its Implications for Pneumatology
Supervisors: Dr David Cheetham
PhD Theology and Religion


  • MDIV, Southeastern University
  • BS, Management American Military University
  • AS, Criminal Justice Community College of the Air Force


Majority of my adult working life (11 years) was spent as active duty military. I deployed five times, the last of which took me to Afghanistan. It was here I had an existential crisis of sorts after experiencing several long-lasting firefights. Confronted with death, I chose to live the most authentic life possible, which meant leaving the military to undergo an extensive re-evaluation of what I considered to be truth and Christian faith, while focusing on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to help process myself.

I quickly found myself in seminary as I sought out questions to life and faith and received a Master of Divinity from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.  I also pursued a life of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, training twice a day, as some form of manistic reflection through communal exercise. My focus began to center on how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu may manifest Paul Tillich’s concept of the New Being. My interest in the concept of New Being continued after graduation, particularly towards the concept of Spiritual Presence and how it presents itself within human existence. This continued interest has led to my pursuit of a PhD wherein I engage New Being and investigate the concept of Spiritual Presence through the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre.

I continue to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu obsessively as well as a means to investigate and cultivate authenticity within myself. I am currently a brown belt under Robson Moura in Tampa, Florida.  

Other interest include the intersection of nature and human consciousness and the influence it may develop on human authenticity, near death and afterlife research, and the writings of Epicurus and Seneca in relation to the biblical writings and themes of St. Paul.


This research will compare the pneumatology of Paul Tillich and the existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. This comparison is intended to strengthen Tillich’s theology of manifested New Being that is proposed as a response to existential estrangement. Because Tillich places the symbol of Spiritual Presence in human existence, an investigation of Sartre’s philosophy of existence is hoped to explain how Spiritual Presence communicates within the human condition to guide individuals in the manifestation of New Being. The goal is to produce a robust existential pneumatology.

A secondary result of this research is to unearth what is conceptualized as the image of God in humanity. This occurs through an investigation of the human condition via the works of Sartre.