Monday, November 21, 2016

Festival participation: ethnographic research

Ethics approval from Flinders University gained on 17 November 2016 for

Festival participation: Engagement of church and community in light of secularisation thesis

The Project:

To interview participants at the Bothwell Spin and Fibre Festival (BSFF), Tasmania. Members of the Uniting Church began this bi-annual community festival and continue to be active participants, including a blessing of the fleece liturgy, the providing of wool for festival participants to craft during the Festival and the holding of a Church service on Sunday as the Festival concludes. The festival has grown over the years, attracting international attention. It is considered a success both by the community and by the church.

This project will explore the meanings attached to this event. It will consider a set of ecclesial foci: Why is the church involved, in particular in the gift of liturgy and craft? What specific theologies shape their involvement? Have those theologies changed over time?

It will consider a set of community foci: What does the community think of the involvement of the church? How do they respond to the gifts being offered? What meanings are attached? How do these two foci connect with theorising regarding the secularisation thesis, which predicts that in modern society, religious participation will decline and religious institutions will weaken.

Significance:

There is widespread literature noting the decline of religious participation and institutions in Western society. This is loosely organised around a secularising thesis, which is generally posited to be more advanced in modernity, and thus by implication in urban areas. The BSFF is a rural event.

A festival is a fluid event, interleaving together a range of interests, behind which lie a range of narratives. Research of the BSFF can be theorised in relation to the secularisation thesis, given it is located in a rural context and runs as a festival.

Charles Taylor (A Secular Age, 2007) argues that in a secular age, festivals will be conducted in ways that eliminate the tension between the demands of everyday life and hopes of eternal benefit, most commonly by dropping the expectations of eternity and instead framing ultimate purpose as this worldly. Paul Heelas (Spiritualities of Life: New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism, 2008) argues for the rise of spirituality practised not by discipline, nor by ecstatic experience but through the practices of everyday life. This resonates with the work of Taylor and provides a framework by which to analyse the data.

This research will test the secularisation thesis in regard to the narratives constructed around the participation of the church. Why might the church might be involved? Does their involvement, and in particular their focus on craft, promote a spirituality that is this-worldly? How do participants understand their involvement and the involvement of the church?

The research thus has implications for understanding the motivations behind the general social benefits attributed to festivals. It provides understanding of how the church positions itself within a community and how community participate in such events.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

researching at Te Papa: another research and the rabbit hole

Happy dance – researching in the Pacific collection at Te Papa! Another research and rabbit hole.

Greetings,

My name is Dr Steve Taylor. I am Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.

I am doing research on indigenous Christologies in Papua New Guinea, through the lens of Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain, which has a focus on the Omie people of PNG and their art. I presented a conference paper on my work a few weeks ago in Korea, at the International Association for Mission Studies and continue to do work in preparation for a journal article.

I am aware, through Balai, Sana and Judith Ryan (2009) Wisdom of the Mountain: Art of the Omie that Omie art has been obtained by galleries outside PNG, including Te Papa.

I am aware, after a search of your catalogue, using “Omie, Papua New Guinea” that there are 4 items of Omie art in your collection. They are listed as:

FE012819
FE012822
FE012821
FE012820

I happen to be visiting Wellington next week – Wednesday afternoon, 7th September and Thursday morning, 8th September – and wonder if I could see these items. I am wanting to actually see with my real eyes what is described in The Mountain, in terms of seeking to understand this art as embodied.

If it was possible to see these objects, I would be grateful.

With thanks

Steve Taylor

Email of confirmation today, including an appointment time. Happy dance.

Posted by steve at 03:10 PM

Friday, August 26, 2016

Contribution to Research Environments

pbrf Part of being an academic researcher involves contribution to the Research Environment. It is one of 3 factors listed in the New Zealand Performance Based Research criteria; alongside research outputs and peer esteem. Contribution to the Research Environment involves the contribution to vital, high-quality research environment. It involves factors like membership of research collaborations and consortia, contributions to the research discipline and environment, facilitating discipline-based and research networks; generation of externally funded research; supervision of student research and assisting student publishing, exhibiting or performance.

Today, back at work after three days travel, I downloaded an email and collected the mail. It included

  1. notification that a journal article I had recently reviewed had been published (Religions 2016, 7(9)). Titled “Maintaining the Connection: Strategic Approaches to Keeping the Link between Initiating Congregations and Their Social Service Off-Spring” it provides empirical research on what it means for congregations to start community ministry.
  2. a post-graduate thesis I have agreed to examine on behalf of another academic institution
  3. a book to endorse, by a fellow academic, stepping into the world of publishing for the first time
  4. a book to review, on academic skills, in particular that of note-taking

Each of these are a contribution to research environment – marking to ensure quality, reviewing of journal articles and books and summarising so that others can engage.

My organisation is not eligible to be considered for New Zealand Performance Based Research. Nevertheless, we are Presbyterian and as such, believe in collaborative leadership, that we are better together. The Performance Based Research criteria provide a set of benchmarks by which we might consider our activities and where we put our energy.  Contribution to the Research Environment is an essential oil.  It is an important category, a reminder that part of being an academic includes not only researching and writing, but providing input into other academics in their writing. Theologically, it is a reminder of the need to do onto others as we would hope they would do unto us.

Posted by steve at 07:22 PM

Saturday, August 13, 2016

film and mission: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

I’m presenting today at International Association Mission Studies, Korea. My paper is titled “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change. With the historical novel, Silence: A Novel written by Shusako Endo (1923-1999), being made into a film (release date as yet unannounced), I want to explore the possibilities and pitfalls when conversion seems fruitless, which it does in the context of Japan in the 17th century.

In order to engage Silence as a film, I will use Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film to provide a theoretical frame. I will then place Silence as film alongside a number of other movies that explore the fruitlessness of mission; including The Mission and God lives in the Himalayas.

I’m looking forward to bringing together my research in film and in mission. My conclusion is as follows:

The gift of Silence is that it allows us to see the face of Christ as death on a cross. To represent the fullness of Christ, both Christologically and missiologically, we need the “face of Christ” giving inspiration to artists at every stage of the Philippians arc. When Christ is the Victor, the “conversion-transformation” narrative is one of triumph. We do not ask art images of Christ the Victor or Jesus the baptised to express a complete Christology, expressing every stage of the Philippians arc. We let them stand as Christological snapshots. In Silence, we are offered an artistic gift, that of obedience to the point of death. This is a truthful missiology which voices Christ’s silence. Such is the Christological gift of Silence to missiology. It provides an essential snapshot, ensuring our accounts of conversion and transformation include not only narratives of triumph, but also narratives of solidarity with Christ’s silence.

Posted by steve at 12:31 AM

Friday, August 05, 2016

Korea bound: Missional Conversation in Seoul

korea I am in Korea from 6-17 August doing a range of things, all work related. First, I am engaging with the partner churches of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. This will involve meeting with representatives from Presbyterian University Theological Seminary, the seminary of Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), the urban mission program of Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK), and the assembly office of PCK and PROK. I will be interviewed by Christian Broadcasting media.

In addition, I am meeting with two groups of ministers who have read the Korean translation of my “Out of Bounds Church?” book. This includes the person who translated my first book, The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change into Korean, back in 2006. This for me will be a highlight. (Yes, I’ve got a gift for him, a copy of my second book – hint! hint! :))

Second, I am presenting two academic papers at International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS). The theme is Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change. This conference happens every four years and I’m delighted to be able to present two papers: both on the implications for conversation of indigenous Pacific Rim Christologies.

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches. First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism. Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action. Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

And

Title: Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Stanley Skreslet (Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology, 2012) argues that missiology has been slow to examine historical fiction from outside the West. A way to respond to his challenge is presented in The Mountain (2012), a novel by acclaimed Australian writer, Drusilla Modjeska. Book One describes the five years leading up to independence in Papua New Guinea in 1973 and ends with a ‘gift child’: a hapkas boy. Book Two describes his return – the child of a black mother and white father – to the land of his birth.

In the book an account of conversion and transformation in Papua New Guinea is offered. “Of all the applause, of all the cheers, the greatest is for the Christian missions, the priests who cross the stadium with their crucifixes and their bibles …. ‘Jesus,’ … ‘good’ man true” … ‘He die on a tree. Very good. He die for PNG.’” (The Mountain, 291). It is a surprisingly positive portrayal of conversion and transformation, referencing indigenous approval (“the greatest [applause] is for the Christian missions”) and indigenization (“He die for PNG.”)

The paper will take this notion of Jesus as good man true and analyse how this Christology interweaves with themes in The Mountain of ancestor, gift and hapkas. It will argue that The Mountain offers a distinct and creative Christology, one that offers post-colonial insight into the interplay between missiological notions of pilgrim and indigenizing and the complex journeys between there and here. Such a Christology is one result of religious change in PNG.

Best of all, I’m traveling with my partner. She also is presenting a paper at IAMS, which is just fantastic, showcasing her research:

Authentic Conversion: becoming who we are created to be

Conversion to Christianity in Australia today can be understood as resulting from non-Christians desiring, observing and experiencing genuine authenticity. Drawing on qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with recent converts to Christianity, this paper demonstrates first that religious conversion is fuelled by a desire for authenticity. Secondly, religious conversion is resourced by Christians who embrace and exhibit authenticity in their personal, social and spiritual lives. Thirdly, God enables authenticity to develop and flourish. Influenced by Charles Taylor and aspects of Trinitarian theology, the paper argues that this genuine authenticity is relational in nature: focusing not (just) on the self but also on relationship with God and significant connection with, and responsibility toward, others. This understanding rightly challenges the notion of authenticity as a narcissistic actualisation that prioritises the self over external relationships and responsibilities. When relational authenticity is sought and realised by converts, healthy transformation results. This transformation sees new converts ‘becoming’ the people they were created to be: unique persons who see their worth and their responsibilities in the light of their relationships with God and with others.

Lynne Taylor is a PhD candidate in theology at Flinders University of South Australia where she is using a methodology of grounded theory to investigate why people are becoming Christians in Australia today.

Posted by steve at 04:43 PM

Monday, July 04, 2016

Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under ANZATS Forum

“Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under.”
Tuesday, 5 July, ANZATS, 4-5:30 pm

Welcome to the Fieldwork in theology forum. This forum focuses on the place of qualitative research in theology. The intention is to share fieldwork notes, the realities encountered in using qualitative research in theology.

Why? The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend in theology. Each year since 2012, there has been an annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK. In 2012, Eerdmans launched two books: Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography edited by Chris Scharen and Pete Ward. (I have reviewed these in the International Journal of Practical Theology and United Church Studies.) There have been sessions on Ecclesiology and Ethnography at AAR since 2012. In 2014, a new journal was launched – Ecclesial Practices journal, edited by Pete Ward, Paul Fiddes, Henk de Roest.

So journal, books, conferences in UK and US all point to a growing trend in theology.

Downunder, the most internationally recognised writing from Australia comes from Catholic theologian, Neil Ormerod. He wrote a chapter for The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. At 684 pages, edited by Gerard Mannion and Lewis Mudge, The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church is one of the most impressive global summaries of contemporary ecclesiology.

Ormerod’s chapter was titled “Ecclesiology and the Social Sciences”. He wrote of a “major divide in ecclesiology, between those who study … an idealist Platonic form in some noetic heaven, and those who study it more as a realist Aristotelian form, grounded in the empirical data of historical ecclesial communities.” The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church, Routledge: London and New York, 2008, 639-654.

Ormerod develops this further in his 2005 paper for the Theological Studies journal. He notes that “attempts to engage with the social sciences have not been prominent among ecclesiologists.” (815) For Ormerod, this is a theological problem: “underlying these difficulties lies one of the most profound theological mysteries, that of the interrelationship of grace and nature.” (818)

Ormerod’s downunder perspective gives us some definition. Fieldwork in theology is about a focus on ecclesiology not as idealized, but as grounded in the lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The use of social sciences to clarify the shape of this lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The belief that qualitative research is theological: faith seeking understanding at the intersection of grace and nature.

How and Who? In order to explore Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under, I have brought together a panel of four folk

  • Darren Cronshaw
  • Lynne Taylor
  • Kevin Ward
  • Steve Taylor

All have undertaken fieldwork in theology, using qualitative research in pursuing theological questions.

I have asked them each to share for around 10 minutes:

  • First, a summary of their fieldwork in theology research
  • Second, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology.
  • Third, the most complex issue generated by your use of fieldwork in theology.

The aim is not to present research results as such. Rather it is to explore methods, methodologies and theologies – the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology. We will do this by using our discussion time not to ask specific questions of each paper, but rather construct a mind map, asking what are issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology.

My hope is that this helps us focus on the realities of research and perhaps set a future research agenda.

Posted by steve at 11:39 PM

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Wanangha nai: a post-colonial indigenous atonement theology

I’m crossing the ditch this week. First stop is Melbourne, where I am part of ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Second stop is holidays (more on that later).

In Melbourne at ANZATS I’m doing a number of things. These include leading a Forum that I have initiated: Fieldwork in Theology: learnings down-under.

Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under
This forum will focus on the place of qualitative research in theology. The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend, as evident in the new Ecclesial Practices journal, the annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK and sessions at AAR since 2012. This forum will provide space to share fieldwork notes, including experiences of using qualitative research in theology, issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology and ways to network.”

This involves a panel of four (Dr Cronshaw, Dr Taylor, Lynne Taylor, Dr Ward). Each will address the question: first, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology; second the most complex issue generated by their use of fieldwork in theology. The aim is to allow discussion of the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology, in order to engage the topic focus: the place of qualitative research in theology.

Third, I am presenting a conference paper. It emerges from my experiences on Walking on Country last year and ongoing conversation, digitally and by long-distance telephone call, with Denise Champion.

alfie

Titled

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Here is the introduction …

Wanangha nai. Which means in Adnyamathanha, Where am I going? In this paper, where I am going is to share the story of Great Uncle Alf, honoured by the South Australian Police in 2004, who, I will argue embodies atonement: a knowledge of “this place” so deep that the lost are found and returned to home and community.

To do that I need to provide a methodology, which I do through James McClendon’s notion of biography as theology: that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology).

And a Biblical conversation, which I do in conversation with Kenneth Bailey, who argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament).

Wanangha nai: Where am I going in post-colonial missiology?

First, Missio Dei – God is active in the world. Hence in cultures there are God-bearers, in whom God is Incarnate. Not fully. But enough that God is revealed and cultures and communities are dignified as God-bearers.

Second, paying attention to “ordinary readers.” Gerard West, in the context of South Africa, argued that it was well past time for the academy to read Scripture not by educating the non-scholarly to read the Bible like the academy (Reading Other-wise: Socially Engaged Biblical Scholars Reading with Their Local Communities). Rather by nurturing communities of “intuitive and critical interpreters …[who].. come to the biblical texts from different perspectives that are equally valid.” I will explore what that means among an indigenous community in South Australia.

After 9 months immersed in Aotearoa New Zealand and the role at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, I am really looking forward to stepping off the dance floor/crossing the ditch, to see friends, to say hello to Melbourne and to pick up some research threads that remain important to me and my mission journey while in Australia.

Posted by steve at 12:19 PM

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The potential of micro-ecclesiologies: Or Who else, beside historians, should visit archives?

I delivered the Presbyterian Research Centre Network winter lecture tonight. It was my 4th talk, on my 4th different topic, in my 4th city, in the last 8 days. Tonight was a chance to try out something I’ve been thinking about for a while, to run a “research query” on the possibilities of what I defined as “micro-ecclesiologies” for practical theology.

archives1

Here’s my conclusion

In the first half of this talk, I embarked on an “inquisitive and chaotic … [journey] guided by … curiousity.” (quoting Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading). I described visits to the Presbyterian Research Centre, Alexander Turnbull, Hocken and Auckland Research Centre. I described their taonga – the richness possible from lectures on explosions, Parihaka ploughs and historic photos – and the value for childrens’ workers, Biblical scholars, those interested in indigenous use of Scripture, peace activists and those desiring to locate any local church within an ecology.

In the second half of the paper, I defined and described micro-histories. I coined a term which I think is unique – micro-ecclesiologies – and then examined it in light of the Creedal affirmation of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I argued that “micro-ecclesiologies” allow us to understand the church as particular (one), participating in God’s life of justice (holy), partnering (catholic) and pioneering (apostolic) – 4 P’s in a Presbyterian context, complete with engagement with the theology of the Presbyterian Book of Order.

In other words, while there is a physical, there need be no intellectual gap between KMCL (or the Department of Theology) and Presbyterian Research Archives. Such are the partnerships offered through the study of micro-ecclesiologies.

I really appreciated the opportunity. It was great to hole up in the library this morning and have a few hours of solitude to pursue a “research query” and see where it went.

Definition of query: A query is an inquiry into the database … [It] is used to extract data from the database in a readable format according to the user’s request. (Definition from here).

booksresearch Some of the books I had not picked up for quite a few years – Miroslav Volf After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity since my PhD; Graham Ward Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice since 2007 – and it felt like I was meeting old friends again. It was wonderful to then be able to test the “research query” with a group of thinking people at the lecture and sense the energy in the room. The result is a 5,100 word paper, pulled together yesterday afternoon and this morning, half of which is new words, taking forward some thinking I’ve wanted to do in relation to practical theology and ecclesiology and ethnography. It could well be either a journal article or the draft of a methodology section for a book project. We will see. For today, it was simply wonderful to be able to think, with friends both old (the books) and new (the Presbyterian Research Network).

Posted by steve at 08:08 PM

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

I’m delivering the NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK Winter Lecture Thursday, 16 June 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

Who else, beside historians, should visit archives? In the first part of this talk Steve Taylor will share some examples of how he has used archives in indigenous study, children’s talks, practical theology and missiology. The logic behind Parihaka ploughs, explosive lectures, building plans for A-frame churches and archival accounts of hitching lifts on passing boats demonstrate the value of archival research across a wide variety of ministerial and scholarly disciplines.

lecture

The second part of the talk will offer a frame by which to integrate these disparate archival examples into being church today. Micro-histories draw on a range of diverse research tools, including observation, interview, survey and archival research, to provide insight. What then, are the possibilities and limits when archives are understand as resourcing and illuminating micro-ecclesiologies? How might micro-ecclesiologies as a “theology of the unique” enrich the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic?

NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK
Winter Lecture, Thursday, 16 June 2016
5.30 to 6.45pm, Knox Centre

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sandpits. Why some papers write quicker than others.

I had an interesting experience over the last 48 hours. Back in October, I submitted two conference paper proposals (250 word abstracts) to International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) Korea conference. Both were accepted.

One was based on a film, Silence, which was at that time pegged for release in November, 2015. My proposal read as follows:

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches.

First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.

Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.

Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

Following acceptance of abstracts, IAMS then required 2000 word papers to be submitted by the end of May, 2016. By the end of May, Silence the movie had not been released! I had already written one paper for IAMS. So I wrote to the conference organisors, advising I was unable to provide a second paper, on Silence, due to the film not as yet having been released. They replied, indicating how keen they were to have the paper. They suggested I complete a draft, based on the book, which I could change if and when the movie appeared. They also offered a 12 day extension, to Sunday 12 June.

I had two other talks to give between the end of May and the 12th of June, both of which required significant preparation. I relayed this to IAMS. However, flying back on Saturday having completed the two presentations, I realised I had 90 minutes in the air. Often being locked in a plane can be highly productive. So I decided I’d spend the time writing and see what happened.

90 minutes later, as the plane began to descend and the call came to turn off all electronic devices, I did a word count. 1750 words!

Wow. Another few hours the next evening, and I found myself with a complete draft. An edit from a competent, understanding academic colleague this morning, and I have just sent a 2,000 word paper, written in the space of 6 hours, over a 48 hour period.

Some papers write quicker than others. Why?

Location – as I said above, I often find myself highly productive when airborne at 30,000 feet. It means no email, office interruptions or phone calls. In addition, looking down provides a different sort of perspective. This becomes a gift, which becomes productive.

Limitation – Given the unavailability of the film, the conference organisers had suggested I provide a draft. This did something mentally. Instead of looking forward, wondering what else I needed to read, and in this case, what else I needed watch, I found myself looking back. What did I already have that I could make use of? Locked in a metal tube, with no new books to distract me, all I had was previous scraps of writing and my head. Searching my hard drive, I found a theoretical frame that I had used in a 2008 conference presentation on female Christ figures in film and realised it could be helpfully used. I remembered I had written in 2010 a film review, in my role as Touchstone film reviewer, that dealt with similar themes. Both opened up some helpful theorisation. Suddenly I had the basis for two sections. The initial work I had done in preparing the abstract became a useful third section. Limitation got me looking within.

Clarity of task – Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. The argument is that we use different parts of our brain to create than we do to correct. We need to play, and then, separately, to evaluate. We should never do these two tasks together. On Saturday, when I began to write, it was playful. “What the heck,” I thought as the plane took off, “I have 90 minutes, so let’s see what happens.” I doubted I would come up with anything, so there was certainly a risk free environment.

Surprised by my output on Saturday, I decided to have a second play on Sunday. “What the heck, I have a few evening hours free, I wonder if I can land this, write a complete draft before 10 pm tonight?” If I did, I could then sleep on it (sleep-in Monday actually), and then turn from play to edit, reading critically what I had playfully produced.

Sandpits – In a recent post on writing (from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life), I reflected on the difference between binge writing and snack writing. I talked about how the discipline of sixty minutes a day had enhanced my writing.

Reflecting on this past weekend, I did not feel like I was either snacking or binging. I wrote for two sessions, one 90 minutes, then other 150. Then it was an edit, once on the screen in response to feedback, the second on paper as a final edit.

sandpit A more helpful image for what I have experienced would be neither snacking, nor binging but sandpitting. Sandpits are places to play. Play happens because of structure – the physical structure of a bounded space, the social structure of watching parents. In the sandpit, results and outcomes are not the issue. Play is.

Location and limitation and clarity of task had produced a sandpit. A “no-outcomes-expected, have-a-go, draw-together-what-you-already-know” play. My play was further supported by that helpful colleague, able to offer quick, objective, time-bound advice. They knew I had time pressures and were able to feedback within those realities.

What I have written will undoubtedly need more work, including wider reading and a reconsideration when (if) the film appears. But I now have words. And some satisfaction, at producing a 2,000 word conference paper in 48 hour period. And respect for the possibilities and potential of being placed in a sandpit!

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

Behind Sunday’s sermon, on “women’s wealth” and Dorcas as a pioneering a fresh expression of justice, lay an academic research project I’ve been pottering away on for the last few weeks. As a result, I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions, Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. It is 9th-11th Sept 2016, University of Glasgow.

image It is just before the BERA conference, in Leeds, which I’ve had a paper accepted at and just after the Ecclesiology and Ethnograpy conference, in Durham, which I’ve already got a paper drafted for. So there is a nice confluence of conferences. The paper I’ve proposed for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions is in the Literature section. It is new terrain, and therefore I am taking a bit of a punt. But it is an attempt to think through some of my current reading, in particular, of Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain and the implications for gender and post-colonial ways of being.

The proposed paper is as follows:

“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

This paper argues that lines are verbs that engender lived experience (Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, 2013). The term “women’s wealth” (Goddard, Threads, 2011) is applied as a metaphor to analyze the arc, art and author of The Mountain.

Drusilla Modjeska is a writer of non-fiction accounts of women’s literature. The Mountain is a departure, a novel of love and loss set within Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) transition to independence and the conflicts surrounding the nation’s quest for economic viability in a globalising world. At the heart of The Mountain is “women’s wealth,” in the form of barkcloth made by the Omie women of PNG. Central to the narrative arc of The Mountain is indigenous agency, the Omie acting creatively in their search for economic sustainability.

The front cover of The Mountain is painted in the black lines distinctive of Omie art. Each chapter begins with a different piece of this art. These lines provide an invitation to read visually. Ingold argued for three types of lines: geometric, organic and abstract. The Omie consider their art is a visual alphabet in which lines are bridges not boundaries. Hence The Mountain invites a focus not on sola literature but on a visual reading that respects lines as organic and abstract.

While writing The Mountain, the author became part of her own fictional narrative arc. She founds a not-for-profit organisation that enables Omie artists to benefit from Western interaction. She writes of her struggle, an English woman living in Australia, to overcome her “internal post-colonial border policewoman” and cross the lines of either/or. She finds agency when recalling “women’s wealth”: the lives of women she has read, interviewed and observed painting lines-as-bridges.

Hence “women’s wealth” – in narrative arc, lined art and women’s lived experience – turns lines into bridges, enhances human agency and empowers creativity.

In working on my International Association of Mission Studies paper – Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain” – a set of questions had been generated, around the materiality of what I was researching. That led down a set of research rabbit holes around Pacifica weaving, which, given the numbers of Pacifica students at Knox Centre and the history of Presbyterian involvement, seemed worth pursuing. This proposed paper is a result.

Posted by steve at 06:48 AM

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory

There’s an interesting conference in Wellington, 9-10 June, 2016. It is sponsored by UNESCO and Victoria University. Titled Woven Together? Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific, it will examine Christianity as a development actor, investigating the roles that Christianity has played in influencing development and humanitarian practices, ideologies, rituals, networks and imaginations in the Pacific. It is a wide brief, interested in all aspects of the interweaving of Christianity and development in the Pacific.

Given the role of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteroa New Zealand in the Pacific, particularly Vanuatu, I contacted Phil King from Global Mission and suggested involvement. Phil King and I began work on a potential contribution. We have had excellent help from Archives, who have located some rich historical documents.

Abstracts are due 26 March, 2016, and here is what Phil and I have submitted.

The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of the relationship between Talua Ministry Training Centre and three denominations in Australia and New Zealand

Dr Steve Taylor and Rev Phil King

An essential dimension of Christianity in the Pacific is theological education. A common pattern involved denominations establishing a general school, to teach practical and theological topics. By paying close attention to local language and patterns, a contextualised and economically self-sustaining mode of training emerged.

Dramatic changes occurred in the 1960’s. New institutions emerged. These were centralised and ecumenical, teaching university level theological education in English. They relied on a different economic model and contextual approaches.

This becomes obvious when Talua Ministry Training Centre, Vanuatu, is examined. At Talua, three denominations from Australia and New Zealand are involved. Each can be theorised, drawing on archival research, as an actor, complexifying the development of Talua. Each is also being acted upon, facing internal tensions regarding gender and contextualisation, which in turn have impacted Talua. Being woven together requires paying attention to a shifting set of complexities, including economic dependency, partnership and contextuality.

For me, it is important that church-based mission agencies are present and thinking in these places. I consider it a sort of “public” missiology, in which activity and history is reflected upon in wider contexts. So I’ve also contacted Uniting World in Australia, suggesting they could be making a contribution.

Posted by steve at 08:13 AM

Monday, March 14, 2016

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology

My abstract for ANZATS 2016. The theme is atonement, which opens some space to reflect on indigenous Christology and develop a sermon I delivered at Port Augusta Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister last year.

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Steve Taylor and Denise Champion

James McClendon (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology) has argued that biography can remake theology. This methodology is applied to an indigenous Australian, to argue that a post-colonial atonement theology emerges in the biographical telling.

Warrianha__Alfred_Ryan_-41134-51432 Warrianha (Alfred Ryan) was an Adnyamathanha man, born in the Flinders Ranges. He was honoured in 2004 for his contribution over many years in the Coonawarra area as a Police tracker, renowned for his ability to find people. This provides a way to read Psalm 23, in which the Lord is the shepherd who, like an indigenous animal tracker, finds those lost in the valley of death. This suggests atonement as the experience of being found and returned to home and community.

This reading of Psalm 23 is strengthened by the work of Kenneth Bailey (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), who listened to indigenous peoples in the Middle East. Bailey argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices.

This provides another category by which to engage Indigenous Australian stories. Biography as theology, as in the life of Warrianha, is a different type of story in contrast to indigenous dreaming stories. Further, it is the story of working across cultures, among the Buandig nation, rather than among his Adnyamathanha people. McClendon’s conviction is that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution. Warrianha’s life offers potential for those doing theology in a post-colonial age, as a place-specific indigenous Christology that crosses nations.

Note: It is hoped that the presentation at ANZATS will be done in partnership with Warrianha’s great niece, Rev Denise Champion, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister, Port Augusta, South Australia.

Posted by steve at 08:04 PM

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Acceptance: New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning

I’m delighted with the news, received yesterday, that my New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context paper has been accepted for BERA (British Educational Research Association). The BERA conference is in Leeds, in September 13-15, 2016. It is just after two other conferences I am hoping to present at. More importantly, it is a chance to take my research on flipped learning, which I undertook in 2014, as part of teaching Christology, into a context that is both international and educational.

christologyclass

It is important to research the impact on learners when we make changes, hence why I did the initial research. It is one thing to present that research to theologians (I have presented at ANZATS in 2015). It’s another to present that research to educators, to slip out of my discipline and engage with another. So I’m delighted that my paper was accepted and look forward, with some nervousness, to the opportunity to engage.

Here is the abstract:

New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context

Flipped learning, like any new kid in town, finds itself undergoing careful scrutiny. A Review of Flipped Learning (2013) identified the need for further qualitative research, including its potential to engage diverse learners across cultures and subgroups. This paper investigates the impact on learners when flipped learning is introduced into a higher education undergraduate theology topic. Traditionally, theology has privileged Western discourse. Can flipped learning be a useful ally in encouraging globalisation and personalisation?

A 2014 Flinders University Community of Practice research project implemented three pedagogical strategies. These included the introduction of indigenous voices to encourage personalised learning, the use of Blooms Taxonomy to scaffold activities in-class time and digital participation to cultivate the learning culture. These addressed all four pillars (Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional content, Professional educator) of flipped learning (The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™, (2014)).

Students completed a four question written survey at the start, middle and end of the topic. The results indicated a significant shift. Students had moved from an initial appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students perceived that the changes had enhanced their ability to communicate effectively and expressed a preference for choice, collaboration and diversity. However, feedback from Student Evaluation of Teaching responses, assignments and interaction with students was mixed. While overall people affirmed flipped learning, some expressed a desire to return to traditional lecture modes.

This data can be theorised using the notion of learning as a social act, shaped by learner agency. Preston (“Braided Learning,” 2008) observed that students fill different roles in an on-line learning community. Some act as e-facilitators, others as braiders or accomplished fellows. Each of these roles depend on agency being given to, and received by, fellow learners. Student assignments demonstrated that these roles were present during in class-time and further, that the pedagogical strategies implemented were essential in inviting students into these roles. In contrast, students who expressed concern about flipped learning indicated either a desire to preserve the percieved purity of an objective academic experience or a reluctance to trust student agency.

This suggests that the success of flipped learning depends not on the technological ability to produce videos. Rather it depends on pedagagical strategies, including those that help learners appreciate agency in their peers. In sum, the desire to learn from any new kid in the class remains at the core of the educative experience.

- Dr Steve Taylor, Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Flinders University, South Australia

Posted by steve at 04:08 PM