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From Stellenbosch to Bamberg - handing over leadership of the Global Network for Public Theology https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4988From Stellenbosch to Bamberg - handing over leadership of the Global Network for Public Theology Marita Snyman<p>​<span style="font-size:11pt;line-height:107%;font-family:calibri, sans-serif;color:black;">Prof Wabel will serve as the hosting chair of the next Global Network for Public Theology Consultation that will take place in Bamberg in 2019. Dr Dion Forster who served as the acting host Chair, on behalf of Prof Dr Nico Koopman, received the Indonesian batik cloth, a symbol of the GNPT since the inception of the network in 2007, from Prof Koopman in March 2017. At a Public Lecture, where Dr Forster presented a paper entitled 'The (im)possibility of forgiveness? Nelson Mandela and the politics of forgiveness in South Africa', the cloth was ceremonially handed to Prof Wabel. It marked a symbolic 'passing of the baton' of service from the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology to the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute for Public Theology. Numerous academics and interested parties, as well as the President of the Otto Friedrich Universität, Prof Ruppert, attended the event. Prof Ruppert pledged his support to the work of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute for Public Theology, and expressed how pleased he was that the GNPT would be hosted in Bamberg. Prof Wabel spoke of the importance of this next meeting, and how the contextual location in Europe, would inform some of the planning and thinking about Public Theologies from various global contexts. He expressed thanks to the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology (BNC), Prof Koopman and Dr Forster, for their work in hosting the GNPT Consultation in Stellenbosch in 2016. As soon as specific details about the dates for the next GNPT meeting in Bamberg are finalised it shall be posted on the BNC website.</span> <br></p><p>Main photo: Dr Dion Forster and Prof Thomas Wabel</p><p>Photo below: Dr Dion Forster and Prof Nico Koopman<br></p><p><img src="/english/faculty/theology/bnc/PublishingImages/news-archive/Nico%20Koopman%20and%20Dion%20Forster%20Batik%20GNPT.JPG" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;height:305px;" /> <br></p>
Responses to the Naming of Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Violence, a colloquium led by Professor David Tombshttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6511Responses to the Naming of Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Violence, a colloquium led by Professor David TombsMarita Snyman<p>​<strong style="text-align:center;">COLLOQUIUM: </strong><strong style="text-align:center;">Responses to the Naming of Jesus as a </strong><strong style="text-align:center;">Victim of Sexual Violence</strong></p><p><strong style="text-align:center;"></strong><span style="text-align:center;">​P</span><span style="text-align:center;">rofessor Tombs' paper was followed by responses from </span><strong style="text-align:center;">Shantelle Weber</strong><span style="text-align:center;">, Senior lecturer: Practical Theology and Missiology, </span><strong style="text-align:center;">Ashwin Thyssen</strong><span style="text-align:center;">, senior student leader and activist and </span><strong style="text-align:center;">Jeremy Punt</strong><span style="text-align:center;">, Professor: Old and New Testament, </span><span style="text-align:center;">all Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University.</span></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong></strong><strong>Professor David Tombs is the Howard Paterson Chair of Theology and Public Issues, at the University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand. He has a longstanding interest in contextual and liberation theologies and is author of </strong><strong><em>Latin American Liberation Theology </em></strong><strong>(Brill, 2002). His research is on religion and violence, and his current writing focusses on crucifixion. </strong></p><p>Pictured are Dion Forster, Shantelle Weber, David Tombs, Ashwin Thyssen and Jeremy Punt<br></p>
Beyers Naudé: The Thug life of an Afrikaner domineehttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4091Beyers Naudé: The Thug life of an Afrikaner domineeMarita Snyman<p>The Beyers Naudé Archive houses many good protest artworks especially in the Pro Veritate collection and the Belydende Kring (literally: "Confessing Circle") which offered theological commentary on relevant social matters. Botha included some of these artworks in his powerpoint presentation to point out that many of the causes Beyers Naudé pursued are stil relevant in the South Africa of today where they keep society divided.</p><p>Among the topics discussed were reconciliation, migrant labour, economic injustice and racial segregation -  issues that are still prominent in society today, especially in Stellenbosch. The aim of the talk was for the audience to think critically about the society they live in and help maintain. Beyers Naudé's message was firstly that there should be an awareness of the prevailing injustice. Secondly that each person initially as an individual then as a community should together take responsibility for a future non-racial, more equal and free democracy where everyone's dignity is acknowledged, not only constitutionally but also by the people and institutions in the country.</p><p>Botha told the audience that it was both an honour and challenge for him to allow Beyers Naudé's words to challenge him as a Christian in the NG Church.</p>
We’ve stopped caring because of compassion fatiguehttps://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>
International Bonhoeffer Society raises voice in resistance to discrimination and aggressive nationalismhttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4635International Bonhoeffer Society raises voice in resistance to discrimination and aggressive nationalismMarita Snyman<p>Comprising scholars and religious leaders from the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the purpose of the English Language Section of the International Bonhoeffer Society is to encourage critical scholarship in conversation with the theology, life, and legacy of the German pastor-theologian and Nazi resistor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While initiated in the United States, this statement expresses the concern, input, and support of our members in many countries that are demonstrating and protesting around the world. We speak noting that Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself taught the profound relatedness of all human persons and, indeed, of peoples and nations. We therefore feel called to raise our voices in support of justice and peace, and in resistance to every form of unjust discrimination and aggressive nationalism.</p><p>The United States has undergone an unusually contentious, bitter, and ugly election that has brought us to an equally contentious, bitter, and ugly beginning of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. While it is impossible to predict what lies ahead, we are gravely concerned by the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening in respectful public discourse. Some of the institutions that have traditionally protected our freedoms are under threat. In particular, this election has made the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, the poor, and the marginally employed and the unemployed, feel even more vulnerable and disempowered.</p><p>The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer is quoted often in such times, for he spoke eloquently to such issues. His entire theological and political journey was shaped by his conviction that the church is only truly church when it lives for all God's children in the world, and that Christians fulfill their faith as Christians only when we live for others. Members of the Bonhoeffer Society hope to make a faithful contribution to our society in this ominous time.</p><p>The best way to understand Bonhoeffer's possible message for our times is not to draw direct political analogies between his time and ours, but to understand the meaning of how he understood his faith and his responsibilities as a citizen in his own times and discern where these words might resonate for us today:</p><p>In the coming time, we will seek to live such a life of witness, not only for the sake of our country, but because our Christian faith calls us to do so.</p><ul><li>He warned that leaders become "misleaders" when they are interested only in their own power and neglect their responsibilities to serve those whom they govern. (1933)</li><li>He warned that when a government persecutes its minorities, it has ceased to govern legitimately. (1933)</li><li>He admonished Christians to "speak out for those who cannot speak" (1934) and reminded that the church has an "unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community." (1933)</li><li>In his book <em>Discipleship</em>, he wrote: "From the human point of view there are countless possibilities of understanding and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus knows only one possibility: simply go and obey. Do not interpret or apply, but do it and obey. That is the only way Jesus' word is really heard. But again, doing something is not to be understood as an ideal possibility; instead, we are simply to begin acting."(1936)</li><li>He wrote: "I believe that in every moment of distress God will give us as much strength to resist as we need…I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are not in vain and that is not more difficult for God to deal with them than with our supposedly good deeds. I believe that God is no timeless fate but waits for and responds to sincere prayer and responsible actions." (1942)</li><li>He wrote: "Is there a political responsibility of the <em>individual Christian? </em>Individual Christians can certainly not be held responsible for the government's actions, nor dare they make themselves responsible for them. But on the basis of their faith and love of neighbor, they are responsible for their own vocation and personal sphere of living, however large or small it is. Wherever this responsibility is faithfully exercised, it has efficacy for the polis as a whole."(1941)</li><li>He wrote: "… one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life….then one takes seriously no longer one's own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane…. How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one's failures when one shares in God's suffering in the life of this world?" (1944)<br><br>In the coming time, we will seek to live such a life of witness, not only for the sake of our country, but because our Christian faith calls us to do so. </li></ul>
International Bonhoeffer Congress January 2020https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7255International Bonhoeffer Congress January 2020Marita Snyman<h2>​The XIII International Bonhoeffer Congress was held from 19-23 January 2020 at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch. <br></h2><p><strong></strong></p><p><strong>International Graduate students' colloquium</strong></p><p>A graduate students' colloquium was held (prior to the XIII International Bonhoeffer Congress) at Volmoed Conference and Retreat Centre near Hermanus from Friday 17<sup>th</sup> of January till Sunday 19<sup>th</sup> of February 2020. </p><p>Masters' students, doctoral students and post-doc researchers working on Bonhoeffer shared during the colloquium their research and experience with the group and this led to lively discussions. We are grateful for the presence at the colloquium of leading Bonhoeffer scholars such as Clifford Green, Reggie Williams, Barry Harvey, John de Gruchy, Michael DeJonge, Jennifer McBride, Jens Zimmermann, and Keith Clemens who not only responded to the students' presentations but also shared insights and stories from their own involvement in Bonhoeffer studies over the years.   The colloquium was attended by about 40 people.</p><p> <br></p><p><strong>The XIII International Bonhoeffer Congress, Stellenbosch 19-23 January 2020</strong></p><p>The 13<sup>th</sup> International Bonhoeffer Congress took place from 19-23 January 2020 and was hosted by the Faculty of Theology and the Beyers Naudé Center for Public Theology at Stellenbosch University, in partnership with the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of the Western Cape. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The theme of our conference was “How the coming generation is to go on living?" – a theme drawn from Bonhoeffer's remarkable text “After Ten Years," in which we read: “The ultimate responsible question is not how I extricate myself heroically from a situation but [how] a coming generation is to go on living? Only from such a historically responsible question will fruitful solutions arise." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">It was the hope of the conference that participants would grapple with the way in which this remark of Bonhoeffer shows a concern to take responsibility not only for our own personal and communal life in all its complexity and richness but also for the kind of values and society that future generations will inherit from us. We believe that the pertinence of Bonhoeffer's question is felt anew in our day as we experience threats on a global level to socio-political, economic and inter-religious stability and solidarity. Also within the South African context there have been major sea changes since the first truly democratic elections were held in 1994. And the reality of climate change and ecological devastation implies that the question of how future generations are going to go on living is linked to the fact that we live on a  planet in jeopardy.</p><p>It is against this background that the congress convened. The congress started with a church service at the Stellenbosch United Church, with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba as preacher. A special word of thanks to the Ecumenical Board of the Faculty of Theology, and in particular the local congregations for their role in the planning of the service and for sponsoring the refreshments afterwards.</p><p>Keynote speakers at the congress included Wolfgang Huber, Nadia Marais, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Teddy Sakupapa, and Reggie Williams. In the final session John de Gruchy moderated a panel of mostly younger scholars addressing the conference theme. </p><p>Two of the keynote sessions (on the Wednesday of the congress) took place at the University of the Western Cape, followed by an excursion to Cape Town and included visits to the St George's Cathedral and the District Six Museum and Homecoming Centre (where we also had our conference dinner). </p><p>There were 170 registered participants at the congress, of which 70 presented seminar papers. About 100 of the conference participants were from abroad.</p><p>On the Monday night a book launch was held of three Bonhoeffer publications with strong South African links, namely John de Gruchy's <em>Bonhoeffer's Questions: A Life-changing Conversation</em> (Lexington Books, 2019); Nico Koopman and Robert Vosloo, <em>Reading Bonhoeffer in South Africa after the Transition to Democracy</em> (Peter Lang Verlag, 2020) and Andreas Pangritz, <em>The Polyphony of Life: Bonhoeffer's theology of music</em> (edited by John de Gruchy and John Morris, and translated by Robert Steiner (Cascade Books, 2019).</p><p>We are also grateful for a spirited performance by the Stellenbosch Libertas Choir on the Monday evening of the conference. <br></p><p><br></p>
New Gender Unit at the Beyers Naudé Centre, Faculty of Theology https://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>
Transgression and Transformation conferencehttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6444Transgression and Transformation conferenceMarita Snyman<h2>​​​​​Transgression and transformation: the role of feminist, postcolonial and queer biblical interpretation in fostering communities of justice​<br></h2><h2><span lang="EN-ZA"><br></span></h2><p><span lang="EN-ZA" style="line-height:107%;font-family:"times new roman",serif;font-size:11pt;">On March 13-15, 2019, the Gender Unit, Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology, in collaboration with the Center for Theology, Women, and Gender of Princeton Theological Seminary hosted a successful Transgression and Transformation Conference.</span></p><p><span lang="EN-ZA" style="line-height:107%;font-family:"times new roman",serif;font-size:11pt;"></span><span style="line-height:107%;font-family:"times new roman",serif;font-size:11pt;">Keynote speakers to this conference included Prof Jacqueline Lapsley, Princeton Theological Seminary; Prof Christl Maier, </span><span lang="EN-ZA" style="line-height:107%;font-family:"times new roman",serif;font-size:11pt;">Philipps University Marburg, Germany; Prof </span><span style="line-height:107%;font-family:"times new roman",serif;font-size:11pt;">Dora Mbuwayesango, Hood Theological Seminary; Prof Linda Thomas, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, IL; Prof Charlene van der Walt, University</span><span lang="EN-ZA" style="line-height:107%;font-family:"times new roman",serif;font-size:11pt;"> of KwaZulu-Natal. </span></p><p><span lang="EN-ZA" style="line-height:107%;font-family:"times new roman",serif;font-size:11pt;">This conference formed part of the Core Module of the MTh Gender and Health as well as the MDIV class and were attended by between 60-70 participants.</span><br></p>
We should cultivate healthier social media habitshttps://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>
Launch of Gender Unit at the Faculty of Theologyhttps://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>