Thursday, July 16, 2015

valuing empirical research in the study of fresh expressions

This is a section I wrote today, part of Part 3 of the Sustainability and fresh expressions book project

Third, the argument – as to the presence of both sect and mystic types – emerges from a study of one community. In so doing, the value of empirical research is evident. The experience of Matthew Guest, gained by the repetition inherent in ethnography, the repeated experiences of engaging Visions, generate the insights regarding the social boundaries, unseen but present. His interviews provide a depth of insight, probing the complexity of participant experience (Evangelical Identity and Contemporary Culture: A Congregational Study in Innovation). Such data can only be generated by the fine-grained studies characteristic of qualitative research into the lived experience of being in community.

Yet every move toward such depth comes at the expense of breadth. It is an inevitable limitation. We gain insight into Visions, but are left needing to contrast with other comparable communities. This becomes possible by comparison with other empirical studies. The researchers might be different, but the data can be examined, probed for evidence of internal identity and the manner in which relationships with culture are being mediated. This returns us to my data presented earlier, the ten fresh expressions presented in Part 1.

Posted by steve at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

I’ve spent much of the week, between various work meetings, working on a conference paper on innovation in teaching for the ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools) in Sydney. The original abstract proposal, which was accepted back in March, is here. I’ve re-worked the title from:

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

to:

A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

The first title fitted the conference theme, but only worked “in-conference.” So the second title was written with an eye to finding a receptive journal down the track. It was composed as part of an exercise during a Flinders University professional development workshop Publish and flourish on Tuesday.

Tuesday and Wednesday mornings I drafted the methodology section, pulled from notes generated during early morning coffee meetings with my Community of Practice cohort last year.

Today I edited in some of the results. These were originally written at the Tel Aviv airport in September last year, stuck in baggage claim, waiting for a baggage collectors strike to end!

Then, in emailing a colleague asking if they could provide a critical read of a complete first draft, I found myself having a first attempt at the conclusion.

My main argument is that the learning shifts implemented in the Theology of Jesus class resulted in a significant shift in student experience, from an anticipation of content, to considered reflection on the process of how learning happens. In that shift, the class dynamic and the diversity among the student cohort became much more appreciated by the student cohort as factors in their learning. In other words, students became essential to the learning processes. If the call of Jesus to “come follow” is a call to transformation that is set in the context of relationships of learning, then the use of technologies, when underpinned by explicit pedagogical care, are essential elements in “re-humanising” learning. They can turn the entire student cohort into teachers, inhabiting different roles in the “conditions” of learning.

It is amazing where one finds oneself writing – desks at home, cafe tables, University lecture rooms, work desks once the corridor goes quiet, polished floors in the no-mans land that is baggage claim. (And no doubt the hotel accomodation in Sydney the night prior to paper delivery on 1 July).

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Monday, May 25, 2015

Activist research: an examination of lived practices Conference paper accepted

Delighted that my conference paper for the 2015 Ethnography and Ecclesiology Conference, September 15-17 has been accepted.

In this paper, I will be trying to unpick some of the complexity around studying the living church. Picture this – Augustine withdrawing his approval for you to use his Confessions in your research, because the letter belongs to him. The Ethiopian Enuch shuffling into your sermon on Acts 8, and putting up his hand at the end to ask a question of your exegesis of his community. Such is the complexity that surrounds doing ethnographic research on the church today – when our participants are still shaping the research process. I want to explore the limits and opportunities that result.

It will be my 3rd conference visit to Durham, having been there in 2010 (for the Fresh Expressions Research conference) and 2011 (for the first ever Ethnography and Ecclesiology Conference) and I’m looking forward to being in that beautiful, historic and compact city again.

Here’s the full abstract –

Activist research: an examination of lived practices in ethnography and ecclesiology

Implicit in the project known as ethnography and ecclesiology is a reconceived epistemology. The turn toward lived experience, along with a commitment to both empirical and theological understandings, ushers in a set of ambiguities. These tensions, while disturbing Enlightenment notions of objectivity, hard facts and replicability, if conceived accurately, can become a rich source of data.

One set of tensions is between researched and researcher. To focus on these interactions is consistent with the argument by Paul Fiddes that empirical-ecclesiological study is a shared habitus characterised by relationships in which Christ can be embodied (Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography (Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography)). It is also consistent with the particular complexities of empirical-ecclesiological study, in which, unlike historical-ecclesiological study, the researched are active agents.

The interaction between researcher and researched will be examined through the lens of activist research. Charles Hale defines activist research as distinct from pure and applied research, with implications at every stage of the research process.

This category of activist research as it applies to the interaction between researched and researcher will be examined in four different sites. The sites will include practices of both research and teaching, since both are essential to the academic “habitus.”

First, the research by Paul Bramadat of the activities of an Evangelical Christian Group on a Canadian University campus (The Church on the World’s Turf: An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Life)). His theoretical commitments are disturbed as Bramadat realises that the community has welcomed him because of their desire to convert him.

Second, the research by Steve Taylor of an emerging church in New Zealand. During the research, the attempt to locate the researcher as objective and detached was challenged in a focus group as unhelpful for this community.

Third, the research by Robert Orsi of contemporary Catholic religious practices in USA (Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them). He finds himself questioned by a participant. How can he as a researcher understand the researched unless he shares their beliefs regarding the practices (of prayer) being studied? In each study, the researcher is challenged by the “activism” of the researched.

Fourth, the teaching of an undergraduate University topic, reshaped in light of the epistemological demands inherent in ethnography and ecclesiology. Changes included bringing activists into the classroom to present their research in a case study format and expecting students to engage in the class as “activist researchers.” Feedback demonstrated increased levels of student engagement and a redefinition of their understandings of ecclesiology. However it also indicated that the “activist” shift resulted in a more contested space between individuals within the classroom.

What becomes evident in each of these four studies is that activist research is a helpful lens by which to understand ecclesiology and ethnography. Categories of pure and applied are contested as the researched asks fundamental questions in the research of the researcher.

This provides a way to theorise the relationship between social science methods and theology. The turn toward ethnography and ecclesiology is based on a reconceived epistemology, in which research is relocated as a set of “activist” practices in, with and among communities.

Dr Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer Flinders University and Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology

Posted by steve at 08:32 AM

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trinity worship, breath prayers and researching Lonergan

I led chapel today and had the sense that it worked brilliantly, offering a space that for many, provided a deep sense of connection with God. It connected with a range of senses, including seeing (contemplating the icon), touching (choosing a symbol of vocation), hearing (each others breathing), tasting (the communion elements). Let me explain.

After referencing Pentecost Sunday and inviting a call to worship, I introduced the icon, “Holy Theologian Bernard Lonergan in the Mystery of the Eternal Processions of the Most Blessed Trinity,” painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols.

Lonergan Icon

I gave folk a few minutes in silence to consider it.

I then offered some explanation. I introduced a quote from Fred Crowe’s biography of Lonergan.

. . . in the welter of words that with other theologians it was his vocation to utter, Lonergan never lost [the insight] that theology can be done, must be done, that when it is done, we are confronted with mystery and bow our heads in adoration. Fred Crowe

I noted that I have been reading Bernard Lonergan as part of my missiology research in recent weeks. I described how research involves lots of reading and how as part of my research, I had discovered the icon. Which I have pinned to my desk. And how it then provided another dimension to my research, inviting prayer along with my reading.

I noted a few features of the icon. It references a painting by Lawren Harris, with Canadian landscape in the background. The light around the pine trees expresses a sense of God’s encounter with Lonergan’s vocation.

On the floor of the chapel I had placed books, pens, pads, name tag holders, white board markers, Bibles. I noted how in the icon, Lonergan was bent down in front of a book, a symbol of his vocation. I invited folk to pick up something from the floor that expressed their current vocation – as student, as lecturer, as administrator. Once collected, I invited folk to return to their seat and lay it down at their feet, much like Lonergan had. I then invited us, as Lonergan was, to look up, expectantly, attentively.

Suddenly each of us were engaging with the icon not just as something visual that we were looking at, but as something we were physically participating with. Our bodies were becoming more deeply connected.

I noted how in the icon, the Spirit spoke as Lonergan looked up. So what one word might the Spirit be wanting to speak to us, as we looked up from our vocations? Which meant that we all as a group had now moved into a time of lectio divina. We had move from sermon to prayer, from explanation to worship.

I maintained this space by introducing a series of breath prayers. We breathed in strength, freedom, hope and love; and breathed out exhaustion, self-doubt, distrust and hate. That sense of looking up, expectantly, attentively, was maintained through the in and out of our breathing. There was by now a palpable sense of God in the air as together, looking up from our individual and diverse vocations, we continued to connect with God.

A seque into communion then occurred, by inviting folk to place their symbol on the communion table. Our vocations were recentered by bread and wine. We continued to breath together as we encountered grace in the sacraments.

There were many people expressing thanks at the end, for the richness and depth, for the dignity given to the practice of theology, for the space to breathe in God. In just over 20 minutes, we had worshipped, prayed, participated in the sacraments, in a way that connected our ordinary and everyday vocations with Divine presence.

Posted by steve at 11:31 PM

Friday, May 08, 2015

Creative research

Traditional research methods are used to “avoid creativity” (179) Such is the provocative challenge by Helen Kara, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. She argues that traditional research value hard facts and replicability. In so doing, it ignores contextual specificity and limits the knowledge, experience and skills that many sectors of society can bring to the table.

Kara is an independent social researcher. As a result the book is practical, filled with examples of research. The focus is on four methods of creative research: art-based, technology, mixed-method and transformative. Each are tracked through processes of ethics, data gathering, analysing and communicating. The bibliography, running at 19 pages, is a reassurance that creativity in research does not mean a decline in quality and rigour.

I really like the way she includes a chapter on writing and another chapter on presentation. This in itself is a reminder that an essential part of research is how we communicate our thinking. As Kara explores graphs, art, technology, I was struck again by how narrow is the world of thesis and journal articles.

colouring outside lines I’m encouraged to read Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide alongside Colouring Outside the Lines. Celebrating postgraduate work in mission and ministry from the Adelaide College of Divinity 2010-2014 (more here). Many of the essays from our Adelaide College of Divinity post-graduate students are creative in their research.

Reading Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide also brought to mind a recent post, in which I ponder activist research (one of the methods praised by Kara) and consider it theologically.

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.

Read more -

Overall, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide feels emancipatory. It wants to see all sorts of knowledge and experience woven into quality research, incorporated in ways that still value ethics, planning, analysing, communicating. Kara is aware that this requires risk, primarily for the status quo. But it does provide some intriguing possibilities, especially in seeking to integrate communities and leaders of communities into the real-life change possibilities that should be inherent in research.

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction Book review

“[H]ow remarkably easy it is for middle-class white Americans to be pacifist, since for many it need involve little beyond talking correctly.” So observes Healy, Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction (93) as he reads the version of Christianity being offered by Stanley Hauerwas.

Nicholas Healy is interested in what he calls the concrete church. What actually happens in churches and how can that enhance our theological study and method? In order to help him think through what he is doing, he engages with the prolific pen of Stanley Hauerwas. On the surface, both might seem friendly. They both care about the church, about the realities of being Christian in contemporary life.

But Healy’s Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction, in fact becomes a rigorous, sustained, yet respectful critique of theological project emerging from the prolific pen of Stanley Hauerwas. It’s worth reading for that reason alone, as an example of how to listen carefully and engage deeply with those with whom you find yourself disagreeing.

The book has five chapters. The first, an introduction, sets out how Healy plans to read Hauerwas. It is a methodology for theological critique, one that seeks a respectful, yet rigorous engagement. The second chapter works across 26 books written by Hauerwas, to argue that Hauerwas’s theology is church focused. The third chapter reads Hauerwas in conversation with Schlieirmacher. While at first an unlikely theological conversation partner, Healy argues that both have a turn toward the subjective and the church.

The fourth chapter reads Hauerwas in light of ecclesiology and ethnography. It argues that Hauerwas deals with ideals. The result is a set of distortions that ignore the complex and often rather messy realities of the churches’ actual existence, creates unrealistic patterns of discipleship that in fact unhinge from historic Christian understandings of salvation and grace. The fifth chapter develops in depth the impact of these theological distortions, mapping out the ways in which Hauerwas’s turn toward the ideal church is in fact deeply problematic, most particularly in relation to Scripture, authority and Christology.

I first came across Healy in my research into fresh expressions of church. I was looking for ways to develop ethnography to explore ecclesiology. (See Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography). I wanted to know whether insights from ethnographic and sociological views of the church can enhance ecclesiological method and substance. Healy becomes a helpful reading companion in my quest.

  • He helps me think theologically. “Church practices therefore require us to reflect upon who God is and how God acts toward us.” (119)
  • He allows me to consider the work of God missionally, with the Spirit’s activity inside and outside the church. “If our intentionality is Christian, we can bend almost any socially-sanctioned practice into a Christian practice, even if it is not such to most people.” (119)
  • He reminds me that apologetics has taken a particular shape in contemporary culture, one that risks losing the value of apologetics as helping the church understand its own faith better. “Only in the modern period, when theologians seemingly lost confidence … did they mount cross-traditional arguments for our beliefs. (107)”
  • He pushes me to consider not only faith practiced well, but faith practiced badly. This includes ways to allow for the differences between and within church communities, to be honest about the multiple communities and relationships humans experience and the need for a “theological understanding of failure and mediocrity” (107) as part of being honest about being church.
Posted by steve at 10:33 PM

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Colouring Outside the Lines: Celebrating postgraduate work in mission and ministry

colouring outside lines I’m delighted with the publication of Colouring Outside the Lines. Celebrating postgraduate work in mission and ministry from the Adelaide College of Divinity 2010-2014. It profiles the unique work of the postgraduate pathway of the Adelaide College of Divinity over the last five years. (Uniting College, as a member college of the ACD, provides the teaching and supervision input for the postgraduate programme).

Colouring Outside the Lines includes essays from eight students representing the ecumenical student body (five different denominations). They provide a snapshot of action-reflection at the coal face of misssion and ministry across Australasia today. Many of the insights come from “missional experiences occurring outside of church and Christian framed spaces” (Barney, 52). In other words, as these students have located themselves at an Easter community event, in a community garden, as an artist working with the stories of the silenced, storytelling at a Fringe Festival. It also includes an introduction from Rosemary Dewerse and myself, the two postgraduate coordinators during these years. This introduction, along with a short conclusion, provides an intellectual frame for what is the ‘Adelaide school’ of postgraduate mission and ministry.

For a number of years we have wanted to find ways to publish our students work. This year six of our students presented at Australian Association of Mission Studies, with three of their papers gaining publication in a book resulting from the conference. Another student was published earlier in the year in Mission Studies.

Colouring Outside the Lines, published by MediaCom, provides a lovely way to end the year. For those interested, here are the Contents: (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:40 AM

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Doctor of Ministry in Mainstreet chaplaincy

brucegraduation1

Today we graduated Bruce Grindlay Doctor of Ministry. He received his examiners reports a few weeks ago, on his thesis From Altar into the Agora: Toward a reframing of missional voice and posture of the Mainstreet. Normally we graduate annually in May, but specific circumstances meant an individual ceremony for Bruce was most appropriate.

We’re a small enough College, a flexible enough College, to be able to offer this sort of individualised approach. We crafted a 20 minute service, which include worship, prayer, Scripture, intercession, the presentation of the award and a response by Bruce. It was lovely, with some very poignant moments, including the thanking of Juan Luis Segundo, a liberation theologian who had mentored Bruce.

I was one of Bruce’s supervisors in what was a fascinating Doctor of Ministry project. (A minor supervisor, as Bruce made clear in his speech today, given that so much of the input into the project came from Dr Peter Gunn). Bruce had, in his final ministry placement before retiring, found himself a chaplain to his local business community. That led him on a fascinating journey, given that marketing phrases currently used in Mainstreet shopping environments use religious grammar and images, yet without God. So Bruce analyses whether a church should partnering with current community development strategies and the missional voice and posture that it might adopt.

In his own words:

This thesis analyses the missional identity and vocation of a church located in an open-air, retail, shopping environment and explores the interplay between this Mainstreet shopping environment and the life and mission of the ‘Mainstreet’ church. It explores how marketing phrases echo the theological and missional grammar of the church. In this post-secular environment it asks whether this rhetoric uses religious grammar and images, but without God. By means of an analysis of the images and activities associated with Mainstreet, and a consideration of the theology of shopping, it explores whether current community development strategies on Mainstreet offer new opportunities for congregations to move from the ‘altar’ into the ‘agora’ and to adopt new missional postures. It maps out navigational skills to guide congregations wishing to develop a contemporary missional identity and engagement. It concludes by asking whether the church on Mainstreet can, proleptically, be a sign in word and deed of the Kingdom of God.

Today was a day of great joy and celebration. Much hard work. Much!

Posted by steve at 06:17 PM

Thursday, June 12, 2014

people matter: collecting and collating stories in practical theology research

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people!

A Maori proverb that reminds us that people are essential. So what does that mean for research, in particular theology and ministry research? How do we ensure that people matter, from start to finish?

John Swinton and Harriet Mowat, in their excellent Practical Theology and Qualitative research, provide a rich range of examples of doing practical theology research. In Chapter 4, Researching Personal experience, they explore the impact of depression on spirituality. Because people matter, they begin with lived experience.

They interview six people, who have explored spirituality in the midst of depression. Following the interviews, they perform a fairly standard analysis of the data, drawing out themes from across the six interviews.

Because people matter, then then borrow from (the also excellent) Van Manen, Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, a method in which they seek to express these recurring themes, not in the words of the researchers, but in the words of the participants. They weave actual words from the interviews around the themes.

In doing so, we see two moments in which people matter, first in listening to human story, second in letting people tell their stories in their own words.

But people still matter. Lots. So Swinton and Mowat take a further step. They take the compiled stories back to the participants. Do these compiled narratives fully capture your story? Is there anything missing? Are there any misunderstandings or misinterpretation? In so doing, the participants become co-researchers. They get to actively shaping and re-shape the data. The result is a far richer data set, one more likely to truly name human experience.

Or to use another image, a way of letting those being researched look in the mirror that is their own data.

It is only then that Swinton and Mowat take a clearly theological turn. (Although I would argue that a research method in which people matter is a very fine way to do theology). They take themes – in this case including abandonment and the search for God in the abyss – and explore them in relation to Scripture, particularly the Psalms.

People matter. As a result, research begins with human story, tells human story in their own words, clarifies human story.

All because people matter.

And so, I said to the DMin student I was supervising today, why not let this shape your research into pioneers of fresh expressions? Why not not only interview, but take your interview data back to pioneers? Because I bet that as they see their stories, their approach to ministry reflected back, they will want to extend, clarify and nuance the data.

It will become richer, more likely to truly name the practices that shape pioneer ministry.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead

Delighted first with the news this week that my chapter “Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning” has been accepted to be published by Mosaic Press later this year. Edited by Les Ball, titled Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead, the book will publish papers delievered at the conference in Sydney last year on teaching and learning theology.

Delighted second that the chapter was accepted with no revisions needed. That’s a huge relief.

Delighted third to be able to find some space in a pretty busy life to have been able to reflect, over 6000 words, on so many of the changes we’re exploring here at Uniting College – in blended learning and in flipped classrooms. This chapter was my asking Why? Why are we doing this? Not why technically or economically but why theologically?

Delighted mainly, because the September conference was the first major conference I spoke at after Dad died. As I returned to finally edit the chapter last week, emotionally I was taken right back to Dad, to the days of his death. I was back writing in grief. So this chapter is dedicated to my Dad, a teacher who taught me so much.

Here’s the abstract of the chapter:
This chapter argues that e-learning is a theological necessity.

Four themes, of theological teaching as embodied in “living libraries,” as nurturing hospitable space, as verbal driven in pedagogy and as cultivating communities of inquiry are outlined. Within each of these themes, a dialogue is conducted between Luke 5:1-11, Transforming Theology and e-learning literature.

The argument is than applied specifically to the task of teaching and learning, with three categories of pedagogical design grounded in a case study of a recent Introduction to Theology class.

Finally, a theological note is made regarding the implications when the Incarnate One is read as the Ascended One. This suggests that the move, from face to face, to digital at distance, is actually a following of the trajectory of Jesus, the miracle of Resurrection and Ascension in which both place and space are redefined. Or in the words of this project, transformed theologically.

Posted by steve at 10:15 PM

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ecclesial practices proposals for American Academy of Religion

I was very excited to hear last week that American Academy of Religion, one of the largest academic conferences in the world, had added a new subject area – Ecclesial Practices.

While this is exactly in my area of current research, the deadline for papers was today, Monday 3 March. So I’ve been working most evenings, trying to knock something together. Each person is allowed to submit two papers for consideration. This involves a 150 word abstract, plus a 1000 word proposal, which if accepted need to be further developed for presentation (at the annual conference in San Diego in November). It’s a fair bit of work!

But I’ve been searching through my hard drive, and been pleasantly surprised to discover some bits and pieces of writing from a number of sources that can be massaged into something I think is cohesive.

For those interested:

Proposal for Ecclesial Practices and Practical Theology: Lost in translation: the priority of anecdotes in discerning embodied doctrine

This article explores one analytical method by which practical theology might attend to both the descriptive and the theological.

It applies the work of Van Manen (Researching Lived Experience), and his methodological categories of knots in the webs of experience and anecdotes, to an ethnographic study of an emerging church ten years on. The anecdotes present in the data will be catalogued and then a selection probed for evidence of their doctrinal content. This will demonstrate, both by presence and in function, that anecdotes as short stories connected to real life are a repeated source by which this community chooses to express their wisdom.

It will thus be argued that anecdotes uncovered in the descriptive mode that characterizes social sciences are equally a rich lode through which to uncover doctrine as it is embodied in ecclesial practices.

Proposal for Ecclesial Practices – An ecclesiology of natality: an emerging church ten years on

This paper takes a longitudinal look at an emerging church, drawing on empirical research conducted in 2000 and again in 2010.

It will be argued that natality has emerged as a distinct ecclesial practice. Grace Jantzen argued for the importance of natality in theology, as a way to reference a symbolic in which lies the potential for new beginnings. She suggested it is characterized by embodiment, relationality, hopefulness and engenderment.

It will be argued that natality is more evident in the life of this emerging church in 2010 as demonstrated in demographic changes, gender differences and a shift of community creativity, from artistic reflections on Stations of the Cross to Advent in Art.

This allows an ecclesiological turn. An Advent narrative in the Lectionary cycle and the ecclesiology of Rowan Williams (Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin) seem to affirm ecclesial practices that offer embodiment, relationality, hopefulness and engenderment.

Posted by steve at 11:00 PM

Monday, December 23, 2013

postgraduate affirmation with TEQSA accreditation

Big news for us at ACD/Uniting College:  TEQSA (Tertiary Education Qualifications Standards Authority) in Australia has accredited our post-graduate courses for another 7 years, with no conditions attached.

That’s like getting A+ for an exam, the best result possible.

TEQSA ensure quality control for all universities and higher education providers in Australia. On a regular basis, they audit courses, asking for extensive evidence of what we are providing and the quality standards we are working toward.

This is followed by a site visit (ours was held in October) before review by an independent panel of academics from three other providers, before a report is provided to their Commission. It is an ardurous process, one that has taken a huge amount of time and energy over the 2013 year.

In making our application for ongoing accreditation, we also decided as a College to take the opportunity to innovate, proposing a number of significant changes. In no particular order

  • we created a Graduate Diploma in Ministry, a one year (full-time equivalent) offering, including an entry point for those who have not done theology study before. This arose out of a desire to provide pathways for lay training, particularly those who want to focus on ministry in all spheres of life
  • we standardised the former 1, 3 and 6 credit point structure of our post-graduate programmes into 4.5 credits. This makes our postgraduate offerings consistent with our undergraduate offerings and with Flinders University, allowing smoother cross-crediting pathways for students
  • we clarified the research focus of our Doctor of Ministry. Recently TEQSA announced changes to ensure that professional doctorates across all education spheres maintain a research focus. They wanted to see a professional doctorate as a research degree of excellence. We welcomed these changes, as they fit with our ethos, a practical theology that seeks a rigour of action and theory reflection. While other Christian theology providers have responded by moving out of the DMin arena, we argued to TEQSA that our existing structures, with a few modifications and clarifications, met these research standards. We’re delighted that TEQSA agree with us and that we can continue to offer a DMin with a high quality research focus on ministry practice
  • at the same time, we wanted to maintain and underline our collegial approach to post-graduate ministry. The student working alone on an extended project is in sharp contrast to the realities of ministry, which require peer learning. So in making our application to TEQSA, we proposed a pathway which will ensure all our post-graduate (Diploma, Master and Doctor) form a regular peer learning community, in which they gain encouragement and peer review. We believe this will lift standards, enhance the experience of participation in a learning community, in a way consistent with the collegial nature of ministry. In other words, degrees to serve the church in ministry and mission, through high quality, creatively rigorous practical theology.

The response by TEQSA – 7 years accreditation and no conditions – we take as a huge endorsement of our direction, our standards and the research community with the focus on a high quality practical theology we are creating.

And a great Christmas present to ACD, Uniting College and our post-graduate community.

Posted by steve at 08:04 AM

Saturday, December 21, 2013

An excellent writing week

I’ve had an excellent writing week, holed up in our shack/bach, no wireless, a flock of black swans for company and inspiration.

I’ve got my head back into the emerging 10 years on research project, which I’ve not been able to engage since Dad died. I’ve written three frames for analysing various aspects of the data. I’ve now got four almost complete chapters, with good work on another three. I’ve now written 40,000 words in relation to the 20 UK interviews.

Key moments this week included

  • Finding a way to link the local stories with the recent World Council of Churches statement on mission and evangelism
  • Finding five layers of church in Philippians
  • Framing the local stories around images of God, patterns of growth, understandings of mission
  • Realising again how rich the data set is
  • Loving the humanity of each fresh expression story – like the moment when one community moved the photo of Rowan Williams to make way for their data projector screen!

It feels like a book.

Posted by steve at 02:17 PM