Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ecclesiology and Ethnography: a “down under” perspective

News today that my academic paper for the ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association Theological Schools) combined conference 29 June-2 July, in Auckland, New Zealand, has been accepted. The conference theme is Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities.

Ecclesiology and Ethnography: a “down under” perspective

The aim of this paper is to introduce a new area of theological investigation and offer a “down under” response. It will be argued that a new Eerdmans Studies series, launched with paired volumes, Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, provides a new way of understanding theology, and the theologian, as a participant with communities in the missio Dei.

The first section of this paper will outline this new Studies series and a number of theoretical moves, including the use of empirical research as a theological necessity, appreciating knowledge as a perichoretic practice and valuing ecclesial situatedness.

The second section of the paper will offer a “down under” response to what has initially been a trans-Atlantic conversation. This will include a methodological engagement with indigenous perspectives on qualitative research. It will demonstrate similarities between the Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series and themes articulated by Linda Tuhiwai Smith (recently honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit), including valuing qualitative research, seeking community transformation and encouraging research situated in communities of tradition.

However Smith also identifies ways in which research has been an instrument of colonization. Hence a third section of this paper will employ Smith’s “Community up” framework for researcher conduct to analyse a number of case studies present in the Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series. It will be argued that a pivotal point exists in the work of Paul Murray and Matthew Guest, in which the ethnographer is freed to offer the marginalized a new voice and consequently bring change to ecclesial communities.

Dr Steve Taylor
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University
Principal, Uniting College

Posted by steve at 10:47 PM


  1. I’d love to chat about this sometime. How to frame a “downunder” response? It’s a very impressive proposal.

    Comment by Craig Mitchell — May 10, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

  2. You wait till you hear the paper! a liberationist hermeneutic applied to research, which suggests a radical revision of the role of theologian and theology,


    Comment by steve — May 10, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

  3. interested to hear how this compares with my drawing on work of feminist researchers in looking at how they engage teachers in participating in research on their own work/world. you come up with a radical revision of theologian/theology and I’ll buy you a dozen of SA’s best!

    Comment by Craig Mitchell — May 11, 2013 @ 12:11 am

  4. Fascinating. In the Postgraduate practical theology research seminar I presented at in Aberdeen Uni in February, I argued that one of the key shifts in practical theology is because of feminist insights, their work on embodiment that challenges how to consider faith and ecclesiology


    Comment by steve taylor — May 11, 2013 @ 12:18 am

  5. Hi Steve. Would be interested in “teasing out” the notion of “liberationist hermeneutic” a little further. Any suggestions as to where might be a good place to begin?

    Comment by Bruce Grindlay — May 11, 2013 @ 9:00 am

  6. Pleased to see it’s [note the apostrophe] under way. Good stuff! Ian

    Comment by Ian — May 16, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

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