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The Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology and Faculdades EST, Brazil strengthen partnershiphttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4276The Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology and Faculdades EST, Brazil strengthen partnershipDion Forster<p>The Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University has been engaged in a rich and fruitful partnership with colleagues from Faculdades EST since 2007. Faculdades EST is a Brazilian institution of research and academic training in the fields of human sciences and applied social sciences, linguistics, languages, arts and health. The partnership has focussed predominantly on issues of Public Theologies in the respective contexts. Prof Dr Rudolf von Sinner from Faculdades EST and Dr Dion Forster from the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology serve as the coordinators of an ongoing research project on the nature and content of Public Theologies from Brazil and South Africa. This has been a very fruitful collaboration over the years with the exchange of staff and students, participation in conferences in Sao Leopoldo and Stellenbosch, and shared publications. <br> <br>On the 14th of September 2016 the Faculty of Theology (Stellenbosch University) and the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology presented Prof Dr Rudolf von Sinner with an artwork for the Centre for Ethics at Faculdades EST. The artwork, which was created by Prof Daniel Louw (Emeritus Professor - and former Dean - of the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch) is entitled '<em>The Cursed and Wounded Healer</em>'. It symbolises the frailty and brokenness of human persons and society as a result of sin. Yet, it points towards the hope of healing and restoration that the cross of Christ brings, expressed in Pauline terminology, as wholeness (<em>parrhesia</em>).</p><p>We look forward to many fruitful years of South by South collaboration between these two Southern hemisphere institutions. In this picture Dr Donald Katts, Stellenbosch (left) is presenting the artwork to Prof Dr Rudolf von Sinner (right) at a special service at Faculdades EST.</p>
Russel Botman Memorial Lecturehttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4342Russel Botman Memorial LectureHelette van der Westhuizen<p style="text-align:left;">The <span style="text-align:center;">Russel Botman Memorial Lecture, </span><span style="text-align:center;">commemorating the life of Prof Hayman Russel Botman, is </span><span style="text-align:center;">hosted annually by the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University </span><span style="text-align:center;">in conjunction with the curatoria of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa and the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology.</span></p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>"Are we still of any use?"</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>Situating Russel Botman's thinking on poverty, empowerment and education </strong><strong>in our contemporary times.</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>Date</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;">Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 18:15</p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>Venue</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;">Attie van Wijk Auditorium, Faculty of Theology, 171 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch</p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>Speaker</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;">Prof Crain Soudien, Human Sciences Research Council</p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>Response</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;">Prof Yusef Waghid, Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University</p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>Vote of thanks</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;">Mr Randall van den Heever, Russel Botman bursar, <br>Stellenbosch University</p><p style="text-align:center;"><strong>RSVP by 10 October 2016</strong></p><p style="text-align:center;">Helette, 021 808 9560 or hvdwest@sun.ac.za</p><p></p>
Public lecture by Lord Rowan Williamshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4389Public lecture by Lord Rowan WilliamsMarita Snyman<p>Lord Williams was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 – 2012 and currently holds the position of<span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-2-0"> </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Masters_of_Magdalene_College%2c_Cambridge"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-2-0">Master</span></a><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-2-0"> of </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_College%2c_Cambridge"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-2-0">Magdalene College</span></a><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-2-0"> at </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Cambridge"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-2-0">Cambridge University</span></a><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-2-0">. </span>He is acknowledged internationally as an outstanding theological writer, scholar and teacher. He has been involved in many theological, ecumenical and educational commissions. His visit forms part of the Global Network for Public Theology's Consultation on Democracy and Social Justice in Glocal contexts, presented by the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology and the Faculty of Theology. Please note that there is limited seating – please book your seat with Marita Snyman (<a href="mailto:maritasnyman@sun.ac.za">maritasnyman@sun.ac.za</a> or 021 808 2538) as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.</p>
We should cultivate healthier social media habitshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7768We should cultivate healthier social media habitsDion Forster <p>We should cultivate healthier social media habits that are aligned to our better values, writes Prof Dion Forster from the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology) in an article for <em>The Conversation</em> (21 October 2020).<br></p><ul><li>Re​ad the article below or click <a href="https://theconversation.com/we-must-make-moral-choices-about-how-we-relate-to-social-media-apps-147509"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0" style="">here</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0" style=""> </strong>for the piece as published.</li></ul><p>​Recently a South African radio show asked, “If you had to choose between your mobile phone and your pet, which would choose?" Think about that for a moment. Many callers responded they would choose their phone. I was shocked… But to be honest, I give more attention to my phone than to my beloved dogs!<br></p><p>Throughout history there have been discoveries that have changed society in unimaginable ways. Written language made it possible to communicate over space and time. The printing press, say historians, helped shape societies through the mass dissemination of ideas. New modes of transport radically transformed social norms by bringing people into contact with new cultures.</p><p>Yet these pale in comparison to how the internet is shaping, and misshaping, our individual and social identities. I remember the first time I heard a teenager speaking with an American accent and discovered she'd never been out of South Africa but picked up her accent from watching YouTube. We shape our technologies, but they also shape us.</p><p>The potentially negative impacts of social media have again been highlighted by <em>The Social Dilemma</em> on Netflix. The documentary, which Facebook has slammed as sensational and unfair, shows how dominant and largely unregulated social media companies manipulate users by harvesting personal data, while using algorithms to push information and ads that can lead to social media addiction – and dangerous anti-social behaviour. Among others, the show makes an example of the conspiracy theory QAnon, which is increasingly targeting Africans.</p><p>Despite its flaws, the doccie got me wondering what our relationship should be to social media? As an ethics professor, I've come to realise that we must make moral choices about how we relate to our technologies. This requires an honest evaluation of our needs and weaknesses, and a clear understanding of the intentions of these platforms.<br></p><p><strong>Tug-of-war with technology</strong></p><p>Yuval Noah Harari, author of <em>Sapiens</em>, contends it's our ability to inhabit “fiction" that differentiates humans. He claims you “could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven". Humans have a capacity to believe in things we cannot see – which changes things that do exist. Ideas like prejudice and hatred, for example, are powerful enough to cause wars that displace thousands.</p><p>The wall between Israel and Palestine was conceived in people's minds before being transformed into bricks and barbed wire. Philosopher Oliver Razac's book <em>Barbed Wire: A political history</em> traces how this razor-sharp technology has been deployed from farms that displaced indigenous peoples to the trenches of World War I and the prisons of contemporary democracies.</p><p>Technology is in a constant psychological, political and economic tug-of-war with humanity. Yet, some of today's technologies are much more subtle than barbed wire. They are deeply integrated into our lives – they know us better than we know ourselves.<br></p><p>I have thousands of 'friends' on social media – far too many to relate to meaningfully. Yet, at times I can be more present to people that I have never met than I am to my family. This is not by chance – social media platforms are designed to seek and hold our attention. They are businesses, intent on making money. Harvard University professor Shoshana Zuboff, who features in the documentary, explains in <em>The Age of Surveillance Capitalism</em> that social media “trades exclusively in human futures".</p><p><strong>We are the product</strong></p><p>Zuboff says that social media platforms exploit our emotions and pre-cognate needs like belonging, recognition, acceptance and pleasure that are 'hard wired' into us to secure our survival.</p><p>Recognition relates to two of the primary functions of the brain, avoiding danger and finding ways to meet our basic survival needs (such as food or a mate to perpetuate our gene pool). These corporations, she says, are hiring the smartest engineers, social psychologists, behavioural economists and artists to hold our attention, while interspersing adverts between our videos, photos and status updates. They make money by offering a future that their advertisers will sell you.</p><p>Or, as former Google and Facebook employee Justin Rosenstein, says in <em>The Social Dilemma</em>:</p><p><em>Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers.</em></p><p>If our adult brains are so susceptible to this kind of manipulation, what effects are they having on the developing minds of children?</p><p>The documentary also reminds the viewer that social media has a more subtle and powerful influence on our lives – shaping our social and political realities.</p><p><strong>Fake news and hate speech</strong></p><p>The documentary uses an example from 2017 in which Facebook use is linked to violence that led to the displacement of close to 700,000 Rohingya persons in Myanmar. Something that doesn't really exist (a social media platform) violently changed something that does exist (the safety of people). Facebook was a primary means of communication in Myanmar. New phones came with Facebook pre-installed. What users were unaware of was a 'third person' – Facebook's algorithms – feeding information that included hate speech and fake news into their conversations. In Africa, similar reports have emerged from South Sudan and Zimbabwe.</p><p>Another example used is the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which also played out in Africa, most notably in Nigeria and Kenya. Facebook user information was mined and sold to nefarious political actors. This information (like what people feared and what upset them) was used to spread misinformation and manipulate their voting decisions on important elections.</p><p><strong>What to do about it?</strong></p><p>So, what do we do? We can't very well give up on social media completely, and I don't think it is necessary. These technologies are already deeply intertwined with our daily lives. We cannot deny they have some value.</p><p>However, just like humans had to adapt to the responsible use of the printing press or long-distance travel, we will need to be more intentional about how we relate to these new technologies. We can begin by cultivating healthier social media habits.</p><p>We should also develop a greater awareness of the aims of these companies and how they achieve them, while understanding how our information is being used. This will allow us to make some simple commitments that align our social media usage to our better values.</p><p> </p><p><br></p><p><br></p>
Memorial service for Prof Plaatjies-Van Huffel on 29 Mayhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7388Memorial service for Prof Plaatjies-Van Huffel on 29 MayMarita Snyman<p>​<a href="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Memorial%20service%20MAP.jpg"><img class="ms-asset-icon ms-rtePosition-4" src="/_layouts/15/images/icjpg.gif" alt="" />Memorial service MAP.jpg</a><br></p>
New Gender Unit at the Beyers Naudé Centre, Faculty of Theology http://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4783New Gender Unit at the Beyers Naudé Centre, Faculty of Theology Marita Snyman<p> </p><p><br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Gender%20Unit-89.jpg" alt="Gender Unit-89.jpg" style="margin:5px;width:800px;height:541px;" /></p><p><span class="ms-rteFontSize-1">Caption: Prof Amanda Gouws (Guest speaker); Dr Charlene van der Walt (Gender Unit); Prof Julie Claassens (Gender Unit) and Prof Sarojini Nadar (Main speaker) during the launch of the Gender Unit on 28 March 2017</span></p><p>Maternal health and infant mortality are two of the United Nations' Millennium Goals. In SA and the rest of Africa, women and children are particularly vulnerable in the face of the following:  HIV/AIDS (which can be described as a gendered pandemic); caring for the sick and the elderly; poverty and sexual violence.</p><p>The Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University, together with partners in South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal), in Tanzania (TUMA University) and Ethiopia (Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology) took up this challenge and each institution developed a unique Master's program in Gender, Health and Theology/Religion that sought to address the grim reality. Unique to this program is also the association with NGO's that markedly strengthens the academic program's social impact.</p><p>At Stellenbosch University, the MTh Gender and Health since 2013 has seen each year 10 diverse and very interesting Master's students from all over the country as well as beyond its borders come together in order to grapple with the complex intersection of Gender, Health and Theology.</p><p>The impact of this program is evident in the many beautiful success stories since its inception. Most of its students are church leaders in a prime position to effect change in their respective communities. Moreover, this program also draws some non-traditional students. To mention but one example: Renate van der Westhuizen is a schoolteacher at a private school that caters for children experiencing learning difficulties in traditional schools. As the Deputy Head of the school, she spends quite a bit of time counselling students and over the years has seen a great number of children who were victims of rape and sexual assault, leading her to her thesis topic "Rape as Torture: Re-reading the Rape of the Levite's Concubine in Judges 19." It was inspiring to see how this study has transformed her, and in some significant ways the school setting where she is teaching. She regularly started to address the topic of rape into her classes. Her continued commitment to educate students and colleagues on the reality of sexual violence in schools is evident in that for the first time a sexual violence workshop was held in 2016 for teachers in her school. She was invited to attend a Department of Higher Education workshop where she was asked to give a presentation on possible curricular changes with regard to addressing the reality of sexual violence in schools.</p><p>The success of the MTh Gender and Health program has led the personnel to explore new opportunities for teaching and research on the intersection of Gender, Health and Theology that already has exhibited a definite social impact in faith communities as well as in the society at large. Stellenbosch University Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, Prof Eugene Cloete, initiated the Gender Unit at the Faculty of Theology. The Head, Prof Juliana Claassens, as well as the Research and Program Coordinator, Dr Charlene van der Walt hope to contribute to the formation of a world where racism, sexism, homophobia and the dehumanizing reality of poverty is no more by amongst others:</p><ul><li>Raising funds for PhD scholarships for research on Gender, Health and Theology and so helping to cultivate thought leaders who can go back to their respective communities in order to serve as agents of change.</li><li>Creating a community of scholars who, through their research, contribute to the establishment of a centre of excellence that contextually explains the intersection of Gender, Health and the various sub-disciplines of Theology. Courtesy of Prof Eugene Cloete, the Gender Unit was able to appoint its first postdoctoral fellow, the very talented and experienced Dr Funlola Olojede, born in Nigeria.</li><li>Building networks on campus, with FBO's, NGO's and faith communities, and with scholars nationally as well as internationally in order to stimulate discourse on various aspects of the intersection of Gender, Health and Theology with the goal of cultivating an ethos that affirms the dignity of all people and resist all forms of discrimination</li></ul><div><br></div><div><br></div>
Dr Marthie Momberg awarded a top 20 Post-Doctoral Fellow prizehttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7955Dr Marthie Momberg awarded a top 20 Post-Doctoral Fellow prizeMarita Snyman<p>The Beyers Naudé Centre congratulate their colleague and project leader, Dr Marthie Momberg, with being recognised as among the top 20 Post-Doctoral Fellows out of over 320 at the University of Stellenbosch.<br></p><p>Her colleagues are very grateful for the significant work that Dr Momberg has done on the important topic of 'Shifting Perceptions of Zionism', with a particular focus on issues of justice for the people of Palestine in the Israel / Palestine conflict. <br></p><p>Please click on the link below for an article on the award:<br></p><p> <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7844&fbclid=IwAR0VgKatSA6DbnYva8_lg1Vy4V8nMT3gjEUh-ZwVyffEBUguSuO8R5VUc0g">http://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7844&fbclid=IwAR0VgKatSA6DbnYva8_lg1Vy4V8nMT3gjEUh-ZwVyffEBUguSuO8R5VUc0g</a><br></p><p><br></p>
Launch of Gender Unit at the Faculty of Theologyhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4786Launch of Gender Unit at the Faculty of TheologyHelette van der Westhuizen<p>Prof Juliana Claassens, Professor of Old Testament and Head of the Gender Unit, shared the story of the unit and said, "We want to offer a creative space for interdisciplinary research on an intersectional understanding of gender where we bring together students and scholars, locally, nationally and internationally to help us think differently about gender. Within this Gender Unit, we want very much to adhere to a feminist ethos that can be described as honouring all voices, interrogating power relations and reconstituting community."</p><p>The Vice-Rector for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, Prof Eugene Cloete, who played an important role in the establishment of the Gender Unit, said the unit stands for human dignity. "Human dignity is the number one priority. The second is creating an inclusive environment and a space where people can talk to one another. The idea is to work towards a common good."</p><p>Prof Amanda Gouws, who wished the Gender Unit well on behalf of the wider SU campus, talked about the importance of partnerships, and how essential it is to work together across departments and faculties in terms of issues of gender.</p><p>According to Dr Charlene van der Walt, Research and Programme coordinator of the Gender Unit and the very successful MTh Gender, Health and Theology programme, the unit already collaborates closely with various NGOs working on gender-based violence and minority sexualities in Africa, and they look forward to including other interested partners. Dr Funlola Olojede is the first postdoctoral fellow at the unit. She is making a valuable contribution with her focus on Africa women reading the Bible in terms of the challenges and opportunities in our contemporary context.</p><p>Prof Claassens concluded her address with a quote by<strong> </strong><em>bell hooks:</em> "I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another's differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility." May the Gender Unit be such a place.</p>
Dr Chris Jones’s book wins most downloaded book awardhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8780Dr Chris Jones’s book wins most downloaded book awardMarita Snyman<p>The BNC congratulates <strong>Chris Jones* and Juri van den Heever</strong> on winning the following award:</p><ul><li>Most downloaded book during 2020 in the <strong>Humanities & Social Sciences AOSIS Scholarly Domain</strong></li><li>Book Title: <a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://books.aosis.co.za/index.php/ob/catalog/book/114&data=04%7c01%7c%7c1ba09e175cb144e9d1fa08d9b00885ad%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637734372912194577%7cUnknown%7cTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7c3000&sdata=CrwyxqgKuuk7HTLsQUrGsnMAembp2FtnB5fGmGz9PBM%3D&reserved=0"><strong>Moral Issues in the Natural Sciences and Technologies</strong></a></li></ul><p>*Dr Chris Jones is the head of the Moral Leadership Unit of the Beyers Naudé Centre<br></p><p><em>This book reflects academically on important and relevant natural scientific disciplines, important technologies, and related media to determine and communicate the moral issues and challenges within those specific fields of study, and how to deal with them morally and from a multidimensional South African context. It aims to add scientific, technological, and ethical value, locally and globally, by reflecting mainly from the viewpoint of specific scholars, writing about the most pressing moral issues or challenges raised by problems within their specific field of study</em>. – Chris Jones & Juri van den Heever</p><p><em>This collected work reflects, in a multidimensional fashion, on moral issues that arise in scientific and technological work. It resembles the South African heritage and circumstances of the authors. Let me state unequivocally that this is a very professionally conceived and completed project. That it is multidimensional is a given</em> – Prof Michael Ruse, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, United States of America. </p><p>More about the AOIS Laureatus Awards:<br></p><p>The annual <a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://aosis.co.za/laureatus-awards-2021/&data=04%7c01%7c%7c1ba09e175cb144e9d1fa08d9b00885ad%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637734372912184619%7cUnknown%7cTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7c3000&sdata=1gPTEPW9sRIJra3UaLEdzsReV2E%2BFS8qZdz5kNL5BxU%3D&reserved=0"><strong>AOSIS Laureatus Awards</strong></a> is a prestigious awards ceremony where we acknowledge the hard work and dedication of authors and researchers who are making an impact in our scholarly community. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we have adapted with the times to bring you the 2021 awards ceremony <a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v%3DRNqFBA1MGk8%26t%3D43s&data=04%7c01%7c%7c1ba09e175cb144e9d1fa08d9b00885ad%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637734372912184619%7cUnknown%7cTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7c3000&sdata=zHsjb0MMkFSjJiCKlaXqnaC1GRYSy2ryB97ezbc%2B7UE%3D&reserved=0">virtually.</a> </p><p>  It is with great pleasure that we give well deserved recognition to all the winners. View the complete list of prize winners: <a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://bit.ly/30U7tJZ&data=04%7c01%7c%7c1ba09e175cb144e9d1fa08d9b00885ad%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637734372912194577%7cUnknown%7cTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7c3000&sdata=Wl9E4fGYd8/mQGM8QAn2V9uC%2B73nmXLbGKSFfB3tmoU%3D&reserved=0">https://bit.ly/30U7tJZ</a></p><p>Click <a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v%3DRNqFBA1MGk8%26t%3D3s&data=04%7c01%7c%7c1ba09e175cb144e9d1fa08d9b00885ad%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637734372912204535%7cUnknown%7cTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7c3000&sdata=rzA%2Ba7iIyJTQyUy3diymsRlNV/zAHlbFh0tJYNL%2BLF8%3D&reserved=0"><strong>HERE</strong></a> to watch the <a href="https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v%3DRNqFBA1MGk8%26t%3D3s&data=04%7c01%7c%7c1ba09e175cb144e9d1fa08d9b00885ad%7ca6fa3b030a3c42588433a120dffcd348%7c0%7c0%7c637734372912204535%7cUnknown%7cTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7c3000&sdata=rzA%2Ba7iIyJTQyUy3diymsRlNV/zAHlbFh0tJYNL%2BLF8%3D&reserved=0"><strong>Laureatus Awards.</strong></a></p><p>​<br></p>
We’ve stopped caring because of compassion fatiguehttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7706We’ve stopped caring because of compassion fatigueDion Forster<p>Compassion fatigue during abnormal times such as the COVID-19 pandemic can cause people to care less for others, writes Prof Dion Forster from the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology in an opinion piece for Mail & Guardian (26 Sept).<br></p><ul><li>Read the article below or click <a href="https://mg.co.za/subscribe-and-support-independent-media/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">here</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>for the piece as published.</li></ul><p><strong>​Dion Forster*</strong><br></p><p>In recent weeks I have noticed that even the most cautious members of my family, circle of friends and colleagues, have started to relax their stringent adherence to COVID-19 safety measures. They are arranging social gatherings, travelling across the country, returning to work, shopping with greater freedom, washing their hands less frequently, and even leaving their homes without wearing a mask. </p><p>This is a stark contrast to the vigilance we exercised in the early days of our national lockdown. Remember when you would wash every item you brought back from the grocery store? Or when no more than two persons could travel in a vehicle, and the passenger sat in the back seat? Or, when we <a href="https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/lifestyle/2020-03-27-a-marathon-during-lockdown-yes-its-possible--you-dont-have-to-leave-your-house/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">ran circles</strong></a> on our balconies and backyards to get our exercise? Being careful seemed so important and necessary! After all, we were protecting ourselves, and others, from being infected with a possibly deadly virus.</p><p>When South Africa went into <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-52055161"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">lockdown</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>on the 26<sup>th</sup> of March, we had only 218 reported cases of coronavirus infection. The first two COVID-19-related deaths were <a href="https://sacoronavirus.co.za/2020/03/27/latest-confirmed-cases-of-covid-19-27th-march-2020/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">reported</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>a day later. Understandably, we were shocked and afraid. I am sure that all of us can remember the first time that we heard of a close relative, friend, or co-worker who was infected with the coronavirus? Some of us have also had to suffer the loss of family and friends who succumbed to COVID-19. And of course, some of us are among the nearly 585 000 persons who were infected with the virus and have recovered (approx. 655 000 people were infected).</p><p>The pandemic is not only a health tragedy in South Africa. It is also an economic disaster, putting further strain on an already faltering economy. The media have reported  <a href="https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-04-17-the-biggest-lockdown-threat-hunger-hunger-everywhere/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">large scale suffering</strong></a> from hunger, the brutality of increased gender-based violence, the loss of job security for many South Africans, and the failure of our education system that has left teachers vulnerable, and learners even further behind in their schooling. It is likely to take decades to address some of these problems. This will almost certainly be hampered by ongoing corruption in both the government and the private sector.</p><p>Yet, for the majority of South Africans life seems to be 'returning to normal'. We have numbed ourselves to the images of frontline workers dressed in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) caring for desperately sick persons in hospitals. We hardly seem to notice when the daily news reports that another 100 or so persons have died as a result of COVID-19 overnight, and that the death toll now sits at around 16 000 persons. These are no longer the faces of persons – they are just a number.<br></p><p><strong>Why have we stopped caring?</strong></p><p>The short answer is that we are suffering from a condition known as '<a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328049042_Affect_Empathy_and_Human_Dignity_Considering_Compassion_at_the_Intersection_of_Theology_and_Science"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">compassion fatigue</strong></a>'. Compassion fatigue is common among persons who are constantly exposed to unresolvable suffering. It is most often reported in the so-called 'caring professions' (e.g., nurses, doctors, social workers, religious leaders). Research has shown that when a person is constantly confronted by suffering, their response to the suffering becomes <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1049909109354096"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">less pronounced</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>over time. This is the body's way of coping with the pain and trauma of witnessing and experiencing the suffering of others. </p><p>When we see someone suffer, or hear about someone suffering, a part of our brain is activated that causes us to <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328049042_Affect_Empathy_and_Human_Dignity_Considering_Compassion_at_the_Intersection_of_Theology_and_Science"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">recreate the experience</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>of the other person in our own imagination. We feel something of their pain. This is a pre-cognate reaction – in other words, it happens in that deep part of our brain that responds to pain without thinking. This capacity is believed to have evolved in all mammal brains (to different degrees) in order to evoke the responses of care and the avoidance of danger. </p><p>When we imagine the suffering of another, we are instinctually motivated to avoid it ourselves. We also tend to shield those that we care for from facing harm. Similarly, when we see someone suffering, we are also instinctually prompted to help them ease their pain. The offering of care and the avoidance of pain have served to preserve life and so they have become 'hard-wired' into the functioning of our brains.<br></p><p>However, my research, and that of others shows, that while our brains are 'wired' for survival and the avoidance of pain and threat, they also <a href="https://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2015/07000/Compassion_fatigue__The_cost_of_caring.15.aspx?casa_token=YjKnyScHBx8AAAAA:uQryqaM_I0rBCKSAeviSUrlXfoZiSPSRMNq3TMFVA5DXE4rpISQk2OAC6v412oRb-siXd6IVdpcS2sao243dKiLa9PZ1l6Tb5Q9_"><strong>a</strong><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>d</strong>apt to avoid emotional pain</strong></a> and psychological threats. Over time, as we are exposed to ongoing pain and suffering of others, we become less and less sensitive to it. Our emotional reaction to their pain is less severe. We rationalize what we hear and see, moving from the emotional center of the brain to the cognitive and rational functions. Over time we are no longer shocked to hear that 100 persons died in the last 24 hours from a virus that each one of us could be infected with. We are no longer thinking about 15 000 individuals – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters – who have died; we are thinking about a number, a statistic.<br></p><p>Research further shows that compassion fatigue can also occur in groups – such as communities, or nations. For example, a community may become accustomed to certain forms of suffering, or abuse, and normalize them. Gender activists frequently <a href="https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-06-18-gender-based-violence-is-south-africas-second-pandemic-says-ramaphosa/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">point out</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>the abnormally high rates of rape, femicide and gender-based violence in South Africa. In <a href="https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy.lib.gla.ac.uk/stable/10.5749/jcritethnstud.2.1.0073"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">America</strong></a>, for example, the frequent mass shootings, or the killing of black persons by the police, are rationalized and diverted from painful experiences into political debates. </p><p>Compassion fatigue on a personal and a structural level can lead to a loss of perspective. It may cause us to miss-recognize the humanity of others, hindering us from adequately and effectively responding to suffering and pain. Just as we would not want to be treated by an uncaring doctor or nurse, we also should not want to live in a society which does not care about the suffering of its fellow citizens.<br></p><p>In his 1947 novel <a href="https://books.google.co.za/books?id=3qCOmB8EYigC&dq=editions:G--JUyAmT1oC&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjp54HkvO3rAhWNN8AKHWnDD3sQ6AEwBXoECAAQAg"><em class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>The plague</strong></em></a>, Albert Camus tells the story of the arrival of a plague in the Algerian city of Oran. After facing great tragedy and hardship, the citizens of Oran start to normalize their lives. Camus, however, uses his novel to illustrate how <a href="https://www.counterpointknowledge.org/when-a-pandemic-makes-the-impossible-possible/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">abnormal</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>some aspects of their normal lives actually are.</p><p>It is important that we recognize when compassion fatigue starts to set in. We must guard against it in our closest relationships, and also name it when we see it in our communities and social systems. To show compassion requires an ongoing choice to recognize the humanity of those who suffer. It requires the courage to face pain and discomfort. To create a more compassionate society, we will have to face the reality of our shared humanity, our shared frailty, and our need for one another. We will have to avoid the instinct to escape or simply ignore what causes pain and suffering. In these difficult times, we could all do with a little more care, a more humane and compassionate society.   <br></p><p><em>*Prof </em><em>Dion A. Forster is an Associate Professor in Systematic Theology and Ethics and the Chair of the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology at Stellenbosch</em> <em>University (SU). He also serves as the director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology at SU. </em><br></p><p><br></p>