Friday, March 20, 2015

activist researchers and community up research as fresh words and deeds

One of the benefits of being at Uniting College is our connection with Flinders University. This includes their extensive professional development workshops. So yesterday, on a beautiful autumn morning, I found myself learning about models for successful post-graduate supervision.  I currently am involved in supervising 9 postgraduate students- 5 PHD students, 3 DMin, 1 MMin – so it was a morning bound to benefit not only myself, but a number of gifted, competent and hard-working colleagues in ministry.

During the morning, the presenter noted that only 15% of those who gain PhD’s in the United States find academic work. This is partly because of a shrinking job market and growth in PhD candidates. But it is also, according to research, because people study for many reasons. These include those who have no desire for an academic job. Instead, they research because they want to impact a group they are working with, or bring change to wider society.

A word began to rattle around in my head “activist researchers” – those who study in the hope of wider change.

It made sense of my own PhD journey. I was planting a new form of church and it was attracting considerable critique.  So the PhD was a change to think deeply about what I was doing. I deliberately wanted to expose my musings to rigorous processes of thought, both for my sake, for the sake of those who were joining this experiment in mission and for the sake of the church in society today.  Academic work (at that time) was the last thing on my mind. (Ironic now I realise :))

Now I’m not saying that those who find academic work are not activists! (I’d like to argue I’m an activist academic, but that’s for another post). I’m simply noting that this is a very different motivation from say those who study to get a good job, or to become a lecturer.

It also makes sense of the students I supervise.  Everyone of them has a question that has bugged them. They turn to post-graduate study in order to have a sustained period of in-depth reflection. The reward is personal and societal. They want to be better practitioners in their field, they want to be part of making a difference.  They also are “activist researchers.”

The church I serve, the Uniting Church, makes specific mention in it’s founding documents of scholarship.  Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” What is interesting is how these scholars (and presumably their research?) is placed in this paragraph within an activist framework.  “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr.”  In other words, the Uniting Church does not conceive of the stand alone scholar (or the stand alone theological college). Instead, it envisages partnerships among evangelists, scholars, prophets and martyrs.  (Funny how we have theological colleges for scholars, but not colleges for evangelists, prophets and martyrs).

And the horizons, in the Basis of Union, for all these charisms is activist – “It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.” The task of scholars and research is, in partnership with other parts of the body, to be a pilgrim people on mission.

This then suggests some interesting implications for research methodologies.  How do scholars work on partnership with these wider gifts? How does the thinking and writing serve these missional horizons?

At this point I’d turn to the Community Up framework provided by Linda Smith. In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, she notes that the “term research is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.” (4)   She advocates that we stop thinking about research from the perspective of the researcher, and instead consider those researched.  This involves “community up” research, in which the research practices are forms of critical pedagogy. They transform the world. (5)  Researchers “map concrete performances that lead to positive social transformations. They embody ways of resisting the process of colonization.” (12)

So this is activist research. It does not need itself to activate. But it does need to uncover the performances that will benefit the community. Which sounds to me like “fresh words and deeds.” And made me glad of the activist researchers that I know and work with.

Posted by steve at 10:46 AM | Comments (5)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

I’ve just submitted the following abstract for a theology conference later this year. It emerges from my teaching last year and my participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice during which I did research, seeking student feedback on the changes I was making – in particular implementing flipped learning and making a focus on indigenous Christologies. It’s good to take the next step, from doing research, to presenting research

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

One way to “revalue” the worth of the lives we teach is to examine the pedagogies we employ. Educational research reminds us that all pedagogies speak, offering a “hidden curriculum.” What are the truths expressed in the “babble of information” that originates from our teaching? Is e-learning a pandering toward “endless opportunities for self-gratification”?

This paper will explore pedagogical innovation in teaching. Participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice in 2014 provided an opportunity to research student experience when teaching is approached as mobile, accessible and connective.

A core topic (Theology of Jesus Christ) was taught using e-learning technologies, including video conferencing and Moodle. Blooms taxonomy was used as a theoretical frame to negotiate the change with students and the shift in contact time from lecturer-driven content to student-centred small group activities. Changes were made to assessment, shifting participation from face to face to digital, in order to enable connectivity. Indigenous voices were introduced to enhance access.

Students completed a written survey at three points during the course. The results demonstrate that a significant shift had occcured in the class, with students moving from an appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students felt the changes enhanced their ability to communicate effectively, appreciate collaborative learning and connect across boundaries.

Haythornthwaite and Andrews (E-learning Theory and Practice, 2011) map the diverse ways students participate in class to enhance learning. This provides a way to theorise my data, including the student who believed they could “now connect [their] own culture and Christ”; because they were asked in a group “by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to [their] culture.”

This suggests that the pedagogies we deploy do indeed have the potential to “revalue” the worth of the lives of those we teach.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

research assistance required

I am seeking research assistance for a project that involves developing a theological resource for undergraduate students in the area of indigenous women’s Christologies.

The project involves working with a number of local theologians, in particular selected indigenous woman (already identified), to clarify their theology (in both written and visual forms), and to create an accompanying resource guide by which undergraduate students can identify the resources and processes used in theological contextualisation and consider the questions raised for theological method.

Applicants will need skills including the ability to

  • interview
  • organise technologies (visual and written) to preserve the insights
  • write clearly
  • develop resources
  • think theologically, including in areas of Christology and culture

Funding is available for a total of 25 hours at Flinders University Causal Academic Rates. The project needs to begin by late September, 2014 and to be finished by early November, 2014.

Apply by email to Steve Taylor (steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au) by Friday 6 September. Applications should include a CV and a letter of interest, addressing the skills required.

Posted by steve at 11:10 PM

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series: a “down under” perspective

Today I took a break from the Sustainability in fresh expressions book project. I’ve written about 26,000 words, plus transcribed 10 hour long interviews in the last month, and I’m a bit knackered. Lacking sustainability! Plus there were a number of pressing tasks on my academic “must-do” list.

It was good, in the midst of a major book writing project, to pause and actually get something done. For those interested here is my conference paper abstract for the Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities conference (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:10 PM

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the diversity of story weaving

The Story Weaving conference is one of the most diverse spaces I’ve been in. Of the 130 delegates, over 40 are indigenous. In the two days to date I’ve listened to research on indigenous theology from Canada, Samoa, Solomon Islands, India, Aotearoa New Zealand, while other streams have included work from Fiji, Philipines, Indonesia. I’ve shared meals with folk from PNG and the indigenous communities of Taiwan and built and renewed connections with various Uniting church leaders, including Congress folk from Tasmania.

The weaving metaphor has been great – we’re each unique and together, as we dialogue and engage, we find a fresh pattern. They even had folk actually weaving late this afternoon.

It’s been a really challenging time, so much stretch and stimulus. It’s a reminder of how much energy there is in the research scene in Australia and around the world. It has made me reflect on my childhood, the marginality of growing up a minority person in PNG and what it has meant to move countries in the last few years.

I’m not sure I’ve had the time to come (I’m meant to be teaching a 2 week intensive in early February), but I’m glad I have.

Posted by steve at 11:16 PM

Monday, January 23, 2012

this is my body? paper update

My paper presentation today, shared with Tim Matton-Johnson, from Congress Tasmania, seemed to go OK. Having two voices was certainly nice in an afternoon session.

Some really useful questions in response, which will help to clarify and make it sharper. It’s the most developed of papers I’ve done in recent times, so it should be an easy task to make publishable – the plan as a result of the confernece is to produce both a set of DVD’s, plus a book as a result, with Palgrave publishers. So hoping for that …

for now, after a 5.45 am start, it’s goodnight …

Posted by steve at 09:45 PM

Friday, January 20, 2012

story weaving conference

I’m off on Monday morning (early), to be part of Story Weaving, an international conference on Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology. It is being hosted by Whitley College, Melbourne. They are Baptist, so I’ll be able to breathe deep that Baptist air :) Apparently the conference is over-subscribed, which is great. For me, being part of these types of conversations is an esssential partnership that needs to lie alongside fresh expressions, as a concrete expression of being a stranger, of surfing the edges and entering into the marginal spaces.

My paper, which I’m delivering on Monday afternoon, is titled:

This is my body? A post-colonial investigation of the elements used in indigenous Australian communion practices

The introduction is here. What is most fascinating is how the paper has evolved. As part of my research I got into conversation with Tim Matton-Johnsto, a Congress (indigenous) leader in Tasmania. Some email, some skype, some shuffling of drafts back and forth, some negotiation with his local elders and the result is that he will be sharing the paper with me, telling a story from his indigenous community of one of their communion practices.

There’s something very personally satisfying about a process which will mean I, as a recent migrant, am part of theologising alongside indigenous communities here in Australia, and am to co-share a paper in this type of way.

Posted by steve at 10:23 AM

Thursday, February 11, 2010

indigenous tables and the prayerful art of gentle space-making

The phrase

gentle space-making

belongs to Sarah Coakley (from her Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Challenges in Contemporary Theology), page 35. She is wrestling with what to to with the kenosis, the word found in Philipians 2 and used to discuss the vulnerability and self-emptying of Jesus.

For Coakley, Christology is “what rightly distinguishes Christian feminism from various secular versions of it” (3) and so the question she wrestles with is how to lose one’s life in order to save it, particularly in light of feminist anxiety around themes of fragility, vulnerability, self-emptying.

In other words, if I am vulnerable, won’t I then be taken advantage of? If I’m a minority, what hope is there in the notion of losing one’s life in order to find it?

Earlier in the week I blogged about the privilege of sitting with Covenanting Committee, a group set up to maintain relationships between indigenous Aboriginal people and the Uniting Church. It seemed to me that some of the same questions and anxieties were present – how, as a minority, might we find voice, be heard, be part of change, yet in ways that are distinctly Christian?

Coakley offers a number of suggestions.

Firstly, there is her approach. She is a careful, exacting reader, looking back through history to argue that the Christian history is rich and complex. Thus various notions of kenosis have existed and when rightly understood, are not in fact demanding complaince, but a strength made perfect in weakness and in a way that does not replace one form of secular power with another form of secular power.

Second, there is her conclusion, prayer. In particular, wordless prayer. The regular habit of responding to God. This is not pietism, a withdrawal, a silencing but rather “the place of the self’s transformation and expansion into God.” (36)

If anything it builds one in the courage to give prophetic voice. (35)

It’s a fascinating place to conclude: that each and any of us, no matter how marginalised, have power: are invited into a spiritual way of living, in which space is made for the other that is not us. In so doing, we let God be God.

Posted by steve at 02:44 PM

Saturday, November 07, 2009

reading our R-rated Bible

The Bible has some appalling moments: R-rated stories of violence and violation. In preparing for worship for this Sunday, the Lectionary reading suggested is Isaiah 24. To use that text then demands almost a sermon in explanation. However doing a sermon (thus making 2 for the service) was not the task given to me as curator of worship this Sunday. Instead, I chose use the Psalm of the day as the Lectionary reading. And felt guilty all week. Then read this from Maggi Dawn.

Pretty often I edit our lectionary very liberally on the basis that the unthinkable, unimaginable horror stories in scripture should only be read in services where there is an adequate space to address them, and when it’s a read-sing-pray service, the readings have to be selected appropriately. That’s not at all the same thing as editing out the dodgy bits – it’s about choosing when and where they are read, with the possibility of addressing the strange and difficult readings.

So that’s two options for dealing with the R-rated:
1. edit when there’s little time
2. make time to deal with the tough texts. Like I hope we at Opawa have tried to do with our Bible days this year. As we start a new Bible book, we offer a 2 hour Saturday seminar on tools for reading that book and how to deal with the tough texts. The feedback has been very positive over the year and we’ll continue the pattern in 2010.

Maggi has a great 3rd suggestion, changing the congregational response. Rather than “Thanks be to God”, she suggests: “This is an outrageous story to our ears – what does the ancient text have to tell us about what they thought about God then, what we think now, why we still read it at all?” I like. It allows us to be honest. It names the two horizons – that ancient world and our world. It affirms that this text is important enough to keep reading and in a way that invites curiousity and question, not outright rejection.

So that’s 4 options:
1. Steve Taylor’s choose the easier reading
2. Maggi Dawn’s keep but edit the hard bits
3. Opawa’s offer Bible days
4. Maggi Dawn’s change the congregational response.

What do other reader of the Bible text do when they hit the R-rated bits?

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

is God holding a white-y Bible? (chapter four)

This continues a review of Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire and the question of whether God’s book, the Bible, really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. For me, such conversations are essential to whether an emerging church can get beyond a stylistic makeover, and actually be part of a post- world in which the Bible can have a liberating, rather than enslaving, place in the task of being Christian and being church.

Chapter four. Pigs, Pots and Cultural Hybrids.

There is a convergence between the biblical narrative and archaeological reconstructions, not in terms of an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from Egypt that in one swoop defeated Canaan, but in terms of a developing unique identity among indigenous Canaanites, evolving over time, in negotiated contact with neighbours. This includes contact with refugees from Egypt, bringing the name Yahweh to Canaan.

Archaeological evidence suggests some hundreds of new settlements in the hill country around the 12th century BCE. (Of course, more evidence might be discovered in the future, but this is an argument from silence).

Biblical evidence includes the fact that Bible book of Joshua only mentions the burning of three Canaanite cities (Jericho, Ai and Hazor) and of these, only Jericho enacts the “holy Jihad” of Deuteronomy 20:16. It also includes the fact that Amos 9:7 describes multiple Exodus narratives. (This reminds Israel that their landrights are not exclusive. More, if they do not act justly, they will forfeit their land.)

“In the course of time, and especially with the rise of urban centres, one group within Israel developed an understanding of El-Yahweh that made the worship of other gods incompatible with Israelite identity, even though many aspects of culture continued to be shared with Indigenous neighbours. In principle, there is nothing problematic with this development, since no ethnic group is static.” (Brett, Decolonizing God, 77, 78)

For discussion: What are the implications of ethnic identity is framed as ‘part of a continuum of ethnic groups with overlapping borders … held together by a founding … set of … narratives about how this particular group came into being’ (70)? Is God any less powerful if he is part of such an evolving story?

For all the posts relating to this book/blog review go here.

Posted by steve at 09:30 PM

Sunday, September 13, 2009

is God holding a white-y Bible? (chapter three)

This continues a review of Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire and the question of whether God’s book, the Bible, really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. For me, such conversations are essential to whether an emerging church can get beyond a stylistic makeover, and actually be part of a post- world in which the Bible can have a liberating, rather than enslaving, place in the task of being Christian and being church.

Chapter three Ancestors and their gifts. How should Christians relate to indigenous spirituality? How does the Bible shape our understandings of redemption?

Brett suggests Genesis 14:18-22 is a guide: an example in which an indigenous priest names the Creator as God most high (El Elyon), which Abraham assimilates with his reply, honouring Yahweh El Elyon. Brett finds more examples in Deuteronomic theology, an overall strategy “not so much to revoke the previous traditions as to assert a new interpretation of older Israelite identity and law, claiming continuity within change.” (Brett, 50)

Exodus 20.24 encourages worship in every place, 1 Samuel 20:6 indicates worship in various places, yet Deuteronomy 12:5-6 encourages worship at a single site. Since “Deut. 13.2-10 subversively ‘mimics’ Assyrian treaty material” (Brett, 48) then was the book of Deuteronomy written at a much later date, after the Assyrian invasion, as a theology of centralisation within Israel?

“Several studies have pointed out that Exodus 23 envisages the destruction of Indigenous cults only, not the ‘holy war’ on Indigenous peoples that we find in Deut, 20.16-18 …. In other words, there was more that one denomination of Yahwism.” (Brett, 54). What we see is, in the words of Chris Wright a “taking over [of] established culture patterns and then transforming them into vehicles of its own distinctive theology and ethics.” (Brett, 57, citing Wright, God’s land, 156).

Ah. So is colonisation now justified Biblically? Dueteronomy did it, so we can do it: sanctioned by God no less?

Not quite, for the Old Testament mounts sustained resistance against the abuse of centralised power: Naboth in 1 Kings 21:3, the year of liberty in Leviticus 25), which enshrined land in families and Dueteronomy 26:14 separates veneration of ancestors from worship of familial gods, affirming the first, rejecting the second.

In summary, “Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy all pay respect to the ancestors, even though the monotheizing tendency of these books has absorbed the diversity of ancestral religion in very different ways… In short, the biblical ideas of redemption cluster around the restoration of ‘kin and country’, and to suggest as colonizers sometimes did that Indigenous people need to forsake their kin and country in order to be ‘redeemed’, turns this biblical language into nonsense.” (Brett, 59)

For discussion: How important was family and land in your redemption? Have you ever considered worshipping Jesus as your great ancestor?

For all the posts relating to this book/blog review go here.

Posted by steve at 06:18 PM

Thursday, September 10, 2009

is God holding a white-y Bible? (chapter two)

This continues a review of Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire and the question of whether God’s book, the Bible, really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. For me, such conversations are essential to whether an emerging church can get beyond a stylistic makeover, and actually be part of a post- world in which the Bible can have a liberating, rather than enslaving, place in the task of being Christian and being church.

Chapter two Alienating Earth and the Curse of Empires. For Brett “one of the most significant biblical texts in the development of colonialism was Gen. 1.28, a single verse within the Bible’s complex theologies of creation. The divine command in this verse to ‘subdue the earth’ was frequently cited from the seventeenth century onwards both as the reason for imperial expansions and as a warrant for linking the cultivation of land to property rights.” (32)

Yet for Brett, the verse provides no endorsement of colonialism. Reading Genesis 1-11 as narratives, Brett notes that Gen 1:29-30 presumes a context of vegetarianism. In Gen 2, humans are tasked with service and care, rather than with rule and subdue. Then in Gen 9:1, when the vegetarian ideal is replaced, so is the command to “subdue.” Further, in 9:13, humans are offered a covenant of restraint with the earth. Consider also the Babel narrative (Gen 11) which encourages not the superiority of one culture, but of cultural diversity.

A second verse significant in the history of colonisation is the “children of Ham” in Gen 9:20-25. Brett argues that what unites the children of Ham is not in fact an ethnic unity, but a social and economic pattern of life. Ham-ites are city builders (10:8-12), while Shem-ites are rural dwellers. Brett suggests this would help a rural Israel make sense of their oppression as slaves of the city-building Egyptians.”

“Colonizers would be the ones to stand under Noah’s curse, not the Indigenous peoples whose connection with the land was swept aside. Thus it is not just that colonizers of modern history misconstrued these chapters in Genesis to serve their own interests. Rather, they inverted what the editors set out to do, and failed to see that the biblical texts potentially deprived them of legitimacy.” (41)

Brett notes the approaches of St Francis and the Celts toward creation. As Christians, they never read the Bible as giving license for exploitation of indigenous people and planet. Rather, for Brett, modern philosophies have re-configured Biblical texts.

For discussion: How important has “subdue” in Gen 1:28 been in your understanding of Christian faith? Does the notion of a complex of theologies of creation excite you, or freak you?

For all the posts relating to this book/blog review go here. For a review of a fine book on St Francis, go here.

Posted by steve at 03:17 PM

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

is God holding a white-y Bible? (introduction, chapter one)

Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire is a fascinating read by Australian, Mark Brett. He’s a lecturer in Old Testament at Whitley College and has been a researcher in Aboriginal land claims. It gives him a unique perspective from which to consider the question of whether God is a white-y, and whether God’s book really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. In this chapter by chapter review, I plan to summarise the book and offer some down-under reflections, specifically from where I sit in New Zealand. It’s an urgent discussion for those of us who live in a post- world, and have to face the abuse of the Bible, it’s complicity in slavery and colonisation and whether we can have any confidence in our ability to use it better than those who have gone before us.

In the Introduction Mark lays out his aims. He acknowledges the crucial role of the Australian context in shaping his work and the fact that he Bible has been used, historically, to legitimate colonization. He outlines his method, in which he refuses to adopt one particular hermeneutic. Instead he uses a range of questions and methods to ask the question: Can God be decolonised, freed from this past? What might it look like for Christianity to not only say sorry, but to find ways to live that are freed from historical injustices and power imbalances?

Chapter one The Bible and Colonisation explores how the Bible was implicated in colonisation and the key texts that might help a ‘post-colonial’ re-reading of the Bible. Brett notes the uniqueness of Australia (unlike New Zealand, South Africa or North America) it was settled with a mindset that which considered Australia “waste and unoccupied.” Social evolution was a huge driving factor in European colonisation, applying Darwin’s theory of evolution to suggest that white people were superior.

“[William] Ward’s prediction was based on the assumed superiority of European literature in general, of which he took the Bible to be a part – even though not a single line of it was first composed in the colonizing nations of Europe.” (Brett, 22).

Brett notes a variety of responses: from evangelical Anglicans like William Wilberforce advocating for indigenous peoples (influencing the thinking of the British Government in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi), through to the published opinions of Australian missionary clergy that Aborigines were “brutes” and “beasts.”

Genesis 1:28 was interpreted (for example by John Locke) to suggest an original empty creation. Land could be owned by no-one until the advent of agrarian labour (ie colonisation).

However, missionaries could not control the reception of the Scriptures once they were translated. “[B]iblical faith presented a form of sovereignity higher than government and it thus provided a foothold for Indigenous resistance.” (Brett, 26). Hence Gandhi drew on the Sermon on the Mount to shape his resistance to British rule, as did the Gikuyu tribe in Kenya in the 1920′s. In New Zealand, Te Kooti drew on the Bible in founding the Ringatu faith. Aboriginal leader David Burrumarra urged holding together both traditional and Christian life.

Despite this subversion, “the overall effect of most of the missions was cultural genocide.” (Brett, 29, quoting George Tinker, an Osage/Cherokee theologian). Ironically, “most biblical texts were produced by authors who were themselves subject to the shifting tides of ancient empires,” (Brett, 31) and this is the focus of Chapter Two.

For discussion: Does it worry you that the Bible might have been used to endorse colonisation? What does such knowledge do to your respect for, and reading of, the Bible?

For all the posts relating to this book/blog review go here

Posted by steve at 05:38 PM