Research Focus Areas

The Faculty is in the process of establishing a Faculty Research Theme (FRT) that will provide an umbrella under which important aspects of the Faculty’s research are clustered. It is entitled Oikodome – Life in its fullness. This FRT is aligned with the national and 2025 UP strategies and policies. The theme intends to address issues of ethical thinking and ethical decision making on various societal issues and spheres of life, while taking religious world views, values and norms into consideration. The project is furthermore indispensable for the building of leadership (human capital) and the processes of ethical thinking and ethical decision making in both the tertiary environment and the society at large. Important foci include aspects of social justice, human dignity, reconciliation, moral formation and responsible citizenship. In short, these aspects direct towards a theme like 'Life in its fullness' with keywords like Oikodome (household) i.e. the well-being of the household, economy, ecology, theology, religion, life-giving and impoverishment.

Approach in clusters

The FRT is approached in three clusters in order to combine interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives in Theology and Religion. Other disciplines from Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, Education and Natural Sciences will similarly be involved. The clusters which are identified are the so-called basics (Old and New Testament Studies), beliefs (Dogmatics and Christian Ethics with Church History and Church Polity), and practices (Science of Religion and Missiology with Practical Theology). Obviously, the borders are not clearly defined and both horizontal and vertical interaction will take place. Not only will this FRT seek avenues to support other Institutional and Faculty Research Themes, but it will develop its own identity in relation to Theology and Religion.

  • Basics: Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures, and New Testament and Related Literature

Research in this cluster focuses particularly on the analysis, description and relevance of Ancient Near Eastern and Judaeo-Christian identities. It is conducted on the nexus of the Hebrew Scriptures,Hellenistic Judaism and Early Christianity as situated within the broader contexts of late antiquity. Research projects in this field are dovetailed into several areas: (a) Studies on the documents of the Ancient Near East and the Old Testament; (b) Studies on the earliest versions of the Jewish Scriptures used by early Christian societies; (c) Social-scientific studies on the New Testament; (d) Identity formation and social transformation in Hebrew Antiquity and early Christianity; and (e) Biblical hermeneutics in the context of African societies. These areas feed into current investigations on the responsible use of Scripture in a socio-political and religiously volatile world. It provides cornerstones in the foundation of critical biblical scholarship which makes it contextually relevant for both African and international religious societies. These foci will dovetail into the contextual themes of the FRT as contribution to build the well-being (life in its fullness) of society.

  • Beliefs: Systematic and Historical Theology 

Research in this cluster focuses on Africa: life leadership and poverty. Focus will be on life in Africa 2015, and specifically in South Africa from three specific disciplinary angles and to integrate these angles into an overarching perspective. The three respective perspectives will be from Dogmatics on personhood and ecclesiology (to be a person in Africa today / to be a person in a church in Africa today) and from Ethics and Church History on the context (in which one is a person, and in which we are churches and what are we to do!) that are characterised for many by extreme poverty.

For Dogmatics and Christian Ethics it implies fundamental reflection on contemporary views on being human, on personhood, on models for being church and of taking responsibility for our lives, values and society from a Christian perspective. The former will be done within the theology-science discourses, and the latter from the best current ethical approaches to leadership and values.

For Church History, it implies historical research from different angles on the role of the church in the history of humanity.  Studying the role of the worldwide church in the past will make it possible to seek solutions for the present and the future. With that in mind research can be narrowed down to focus on the problems of Africa and more specifically South Africa. According to the latest statistics of the World Bank, unemployment and poverty is Africa’s two largest problems. The church played a major part in the history of South Africa in fighting poverty. By studying the role of the church in the past in the struggle against poverty, solutions for the present and future may come to light.

The integration of these respective perspectives can provide as Faculty Research Theme a powerful message for our time and will transcend not only Departmental boundaries, but also Faculty boundaries by engaging with other disciplines such as education, law, agriculture, engineering, medicine etc. Such a research undertaking is also in line with the new Development Plan adopted by the South African government.

  • Practices: Religion Studies and Practical Theology

Research in this cluster focuses on promoting life in fullness by emphasising the following aspects of the well-being of the household (Oikodome):

Reconciliation and social cohesion: the theme of "Reconciliation and social cohesion" is approached from the perspectives of ritual, shifting identities and the relationship between "forgiveness", "reconciliation" and “restitution". The formation, development and impact of faith communities on society, leadership and intercultural communication are investigated.

Poverty and the integrity of creation: the theme of "Poverty and the integrity of creation" includes studies on preaching and poverty and on the diverse approaches of different religions to creation. It also includes reflection on how the Christian faith contributes to shaping everyday life and how everyday life can be understood and transformed by means of a theological mode of thinking. The research initiates, develops, promotes and implements ways (models, products, technologies and practices) to improve the quality of life of households.

Building cohesive, caring, ethical and sustainable communities: this theme links up with one of the ten strategic priorities of government, namely "Building cohesive, caring and sustainable communities", but adds "ethical" to that. Projects that focus on transdisciplinary research on faith in the urban context that link up with this are: "Faith in the city", "Doing urban public theology in Africa and "Capital cities: Space, justice and belonging".

Interreligious engagement and dialogue: the research in and dialogue with world religions includes theology of religion and theology of religions.

  • SAFE Centre and NOVA Institute

As part of the Practices cluster the Southern African Fair Environment (SAFE) Centre works closely with the Nova Institute, which focuses on promoting a healthy household culture in Southern Africa. Although Nova has grown out of the diaconal work of the church, it operates mostly in a secular context (with industries, government departments, etc.) and in a secular mode of thinking. The SAFE Centre would form a bridge between theological reflection and the work of Nova: not only to reflect on the way that the Christian faith can help to shape everyday life, but, as importantly, how everyday life can be understood within and transformed by a theological mode of thinking. And secondly, the theological reflection (e.g. the clusters on basics and beliefs) should not only guide and shape the practices of everyday life, but the opposite should happen at the same time, making it one process.

Independent, responsible decisions in everyday life behaviour often take place in the context of practices.  A practice is a well-established process formed over time by the combination of a variety of factors, including social values, knowledge and availability of technology, socio-economic and other conditions. Faith cannot be packaged, transferred and consumed like a fast food hamburger. Living faith is more like yeast that is kneaded into the dough and then acts as a life-giving and transforming agent, promoting responsible decisions embedded in life-giving practices through the whole of our lives. With technology it is not completely different. Technology, also, cannot be transferred as a package; the people who are to use it must conceive it and functionally integrate it into their own lives. In our effort to combat poverty both aspects, the contextualization of faith and the contextualization of technology, are necessary and should become one process.

Together with household residents Nova initiates, develops, promotes and implements ways (models, products, technologies and practices) to improve the quality of life of households.  Once developed and tested on a small scale, ways to improve the quality of life is taken to scale with partners such as industries, churches, authorities and NGO’s.

Nova’s work provides a meaningful solution to a concrete problem. It requires the application of scientific methods in the context of everyday life. Interacting with theoretical reflection will be mutually enriching and could stimulate, on top of the practical solutions, academic reflection and publications.

In sum, the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation between these clusters in the Faculty will contribute to establish the FRT, entitled Oikodome – Life in its fullness. This FRT is intended to support and interact with other FRT’s and IRT’s at UP.   


Published by Petronel Fourie

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