The conference was held in Brisbane, Australia, June 24-29, 2005. The theme of the conference was: “Dreaming the Land. Practical Theologies in Resistance and Hope”
Under the leadership of Brian J. Kelty, the conference was a meaningful link in the chain of encounters. The title refers to the aim of reflecting on indigenous spiritualities and their meaning for practical theology around the globe. The key lectures were organized around this theme. Joan Hendricks and Tony Kelly (both from ACU Brisbane) introduced the context and the theological implications. Five theologians from the region discussed the topics of resistance and hope: Gerard Hall (Australia), Mary Eastham (New Zealand), Pilip Gibbs (Papua New Guinea), Kafoa Solomone (Fiji), and Mikaele Paunga (Fiji). Finally, Riet Bons-Storm (The Netherlands) offered an international perspective on the local issues, and Norbert Mette (Germany) discussed the concept of ‘vision’. The presidential lecture by Daniel Louw (South Africa) was titled ‘Dreaming the Land in Hope. Towards a Practical Theological Ecclesiology of Cura Terrae’. The public lecture was given by Hans van der Ven (The Netherlands) and dealt with ‘The Drama of the Multicultural Society. Religion’s contribution to its failure or success’.
Next to the plenaries and seminar sessions, this conference offered an experiment in structure. Three working groups were created that met four times each. This helped the participants to deepen their conversations. The working groups were initiated by Ruard Ganzevoort (The Netherlands), and introduced as follows: Practical Theology is an exciting discipline, not in the least because it takes shape in diverse contexts and is performed in many ways. The challenge and opportunity for IAPT is to enhance communication between all these approaches and to contribute to the quality and depth of our work. For that purpose, and given the expansion of the Academy through the years, we have two needs to attend to: the need for overarching practical theological dialogues (unity), and the need for more in-depth conversation between scholars with connecting approaches (diversity). The executive committee and the program committee therefore have decided upon an experiment to be executed and evaluated in the next conference. The experiment is a refinement of how our conferences were structured already, not something alien to our customs.
The basic idea is that it might be helpful if there is some kind of substructure in our conversations, one in which colleagues with compatible interests meet a few times during the conference. These ‘working groups’ will convene three times, and participants are expected (if possible) to attend the three sessions of the working group they have chosen. This way we hope to enhance continuity and increasing depth in the discussion. In the working group sessions, we can have papers, panels, and ongoing discussions. Each working group will have a chair monitoring and facilitating the process. In the last session there will be an evaluation of the experiment, focusing on the question whether and how this initiative could be taken further as a structure for the time until the next conference.
We have chosen to start with three working groups. We do not propose a division based on subdisciplines or regions, because most of us have access to subdisciplinary or regional networks. Such a division would compromise the international dimension and/or the overarching goal of an academy, two essential features of IAPT. Instead we have chosen three fundamental approaches witnessed in our field:
- Practical Theology and empirical research
- Practical Theology and liberating practice
- Practical Theology and ministry formation
These topics are not coincidental. They refer to three approaches with different object, aim, and central questions and methods, that is, to different practical theological discourses. Rick Osmer (IJPT 1997)has provided an analysis of different types of rationality present in our discipline. The various discourses are governed by different types of rationality.
‘Practical theology and (empirical) research’ is located before the audience of the academy. It seeks to strengthen the scientific (usually but not exclusively empirical) quality of the discipline. It may focus on empirical methods, discussions on the philosophy of our discipline, epistemology, and results from empirical research. The aim of this approach is to enhance the academic nature of practical theology, notably in relation to other disciplines like the social sciences. The type of rationality here is argumentative, valuing formalized patterns of reasoning and criteria of proof.
‘Practical theology and ministry formation’ focuses on the audience of the church. Many practical theologians have a clear commitment to training for ministry and indeed specific tasks in this training. The discipline of practical theology has the duty (among other things) to support this formation with research, reflection, and development of new approaches. The type of rationality here is primarily conversational. This hermeneutic approach stresses the relation between tradition and present, taking into account that the other (e.g., the student or the congregation) is a subject rather than an object of knowledge.
‘Practical theology and liberating practice’ is directed toward society. It often takes the form of public theology, clearly committed to the resistance toward oppression and evil and inspired by the liberating practice of an orientation on the Kingdom of God. Many practical theological debates on for example globalization, economic and sexual abuse, violence, and HIV/AIDS are directed toward liberation for the whole of society. The rationality here is rhetoric, stressing interests, critique, and concrete, specific, and episodic strategies.
This experiment proved fruitful. The combination of deepening our specific discourses ánd integrating the perspectives in plenaries and seminar sessions may be important in furthering the discipline. The Executive committee was asked to develop more structure in this respect, also for the time in between conferences.
The Seminar Sessions (SS) and Working Groups (WG) contained the following papers:
Working group 1: Practical Theology and Empirical Research (chair Jaco Dreyer)
Immink * Theological concepts in empirical research
Ormerod * When the data is just not enough
Osmer * Practices as a focus of empirical research
Schweitzer * The development of religious identity in childhood and adolescence.
Van der Ven * Towards a comparative empirical theology. The Human Rights project
Ziebertz * Life Perspectives of Youth in Europe
Working group 2: Practical Theology and Ministry Formation (chair Ed Foley)
Foley * The ministry incident report. Ministerial memorial as an appropriate text for educating practical theologians
Nauer * Multi-dimensional ‘soul care’
Nel * Pastors. Recruiting, training, and keeping them
Wittwer * Pastoral Formation: Storytelling Professional Identity
Working group 3: Practical theologies and liberating practice (chair Riet Bons-Storm)
Casey * Women and the Divine (Report on Liverpool-Hope Conference)
Johnson * Youth ministry in community-based perspective
Müller * A postfoundationalist practical theology
Power * Cultures in Counterpoint
Thierfelder * Exploring the Difference (Luce Irigaray)
Veling * Justice and mercy at the gates of the city
Dreyer * Land Reform: A Key Human Rights Issue
Long * Rahner’s theology of co-determined guilt application to economics
Kennedy * Natural Law and Cultural Pluralism
Selander * Church Law in a Secular Society
Hall * The Theology, Promise and Practice of Interfaith Dialogue.
Webb * Muslims, Christians, Dialogue, Dreaming
Beauregard * Writing a Public Theology
Rumbold * Public Theology in a Pluralist Society
Koepping * Life is a Chicken-ladder: the Experience of Rural Lutherans in South Australia
Tuohy * Re-membering the past
Ganzevoort and Bouwer * Life story book methods and care for the elderly
Gräb * The aesthetic dimension in religion
Koepping * Life is a Chicken-ladder: the Experience of Rural Lutherans in South Australia
Tuohy * Re-membering the past
Hastings * When theological and nationalist dreams collide
Kana * Mission as Reconciliation in Malaysia
Impressions from the working groups
Practical theologies and liberating practice
Members of the group were Maria Power, Susanne Johnson, Yolanda Dreyer, Kafoa Solomone, Constanze Thierfelder, Bruce Rumbold, Julian Müller, Norbert Mette, Sven-Åke Selander, Elaine Graham, Joan Hendriks, Philip Gibbs, Riet Bons-Storm (chair and report).
This group convened four times and discussed the following papers:
- Julian Müller : “A Postfoundationalist, HIV-Positive Practical Theology”;
- Constanze Thierfelder: “Exploring the Difference”;
- Damien Casey: “Women and the Divine”, impressions from the Liverpool-Hope Conference;
- Terry Veling: “Justice and Mercy at the Gates of the City”;
- Susanne Johnson: “Youth Ministry in Community Based Perspective”;
- Maria Power: “Cultures in Counterpoint”.
In all discussions two things became very clear:
- The definition of Practical Theology and – connected with that, the methods to obtain practical theological knowledge – are very diverse. Connected with a country/continent’s culture there are different practical-theological ‘languages’, that need a lot of translating and explaining before mutual understanding can be reached. The differences between the various countries/continents and their (scholarly) cultures and languages have to be acknowledged. If not: very easily a hegemony of Western/Northern culture comes into being.
- Some practical theologians put the liberating quality of a practical theology in the first place in choosing a field of research that needs liberating (children, youth, women, oppressed people in general). Others put the liberating quality in the first place in a methodology with liberating practices.
Due to the excellent paper of Julian Müller we focused, during all the sessions, on the liberating qualities of the methodology used. Do the methods – interviewing, analysing, concluding, etc.- look at the interviewees as persons in their own right, look at the differences between the interviewees, differences anchored in their variety of the culture they grew up in, look at their biographies, look at their past experiences of oppression and the way they deal with them, look at their hopes and aspirations? Julian Müller calls the people he interviews “co-researchers”.
The paper of Terry Veling gave much food for discussion, when it became apparent how differently the members of the group thought about ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’ and their biblical, theological meanings.
Constanze Thierfelder and Damien Casey both concentrated on what Luce Irigaray said about ‘difference’, concentrating on the difference between the sexes. Again: the difference in their interpretation of Luce Irigaray came to the front. It was interesting to try and find the roots of this difference in interpretation.
Susanne Johnson contributed her ‘work in progress’. It struck us how well it works in a discussion-group if the group-members are not given a finished product of thinking, but are taken along in the thinking process of the person who presents the paper.
Maria Power gave us, next to her paper, some stimulus questions, which are very important for all.
- Are there common guiding principles and best-practice processes that facilitate intercultural practice?
- Is there a role for Indigenous customary law, and customary systems of authority and decision-making?
- Do you know of any models that would support the development of an effective cultural match’?
- What are obstacles to birthing “cultural match’?
- What specific capacities do you see as necessary for dominant culture personnel working at the intercultural interface?
- Are there key principles that need to inform capacity building?
- Do you have examples of liberating practice that can speak to the context outlined?
- Where does the gospel fit into the creation of cultures in counterpoint?
- Is resistance a sign of hope?
- What other elements of Christian tradition are relevant in creation of cultures in counterpoint?
- “The regenerative powers of the ego are not limitless, the human spirit can be broken beyond repair”(Rappaport). If this is true, what does this mean in terms of developing a pastoral response in the context outlined?
- Tapping into the experiences of working with culture and tradition, what do you see as valuable elements in the process of societal reconciliation?
- In moving towards ethics of cultural difference do you see the following distinctions as creating a dualistic, over-differentiated way of encountering each other in this land (Australia)? Or do we rather have some sort of ethical obligation toward development of consciousness of that which informs our context?
Distinctions: Whitefellas and Blackfellas/ conquered and invader/ insider and outsider/ Christianity and Dreaming/ domination and resistance/ mutual obligation and mutual aid/ subjects of encounter and objects of engagement/ transaction and interaction/ accountability and forgiveness/ land of mythic significance and land of historical value.
We did not have enough time for our discussions, but they were stimulating further thought.