International Conference on Religion and Sustainable Development

Posted on July 26, 2019

Amid the curious minds of lectures and students from Humboldt University of Berlin came an invitation from faculty to faculty. The Faculty of Theology at the Humboldt University invited students and lecturers of the University of Pretoria to participate in collaborative research. In February 2019, a team from Humboldt University visited Pretoria, while UP students were invited to present research papers in Berlin during June 2019.

The interest of knowledge in the vast array of distinct churches in Africa extends beyond the continent in itself, and the whole world gathered in one place this winter (the European summer), not to run away from the cold but to share different views on the vital aspects of country to country such as ecology, cosmology, community, economy and equality. What happened at Humboldt University was more than just a theology conference, it was Africa united in Europe; a brave reflection of the past and a bright look to the future.

Following on the January visitation of lectures and collaborating students from Humboldt University with the students of UP’s Faculty of Theology and Religion, topics of interest to research have been chosen and the ground-breaking fieldwork research started, which included visiting various churches. Upon our arrival in Berlin, it came as a shock to have had the pleasure to meet some of the prestigious leaders of progressive churches in South Africa, like the great Bishop Lekganyane of the Zion Christian Church. The conference hosted a great deal of distinguished church leaders and keynote speakers such as from Redeemed Christian Church of God, Uganda), International Central Gospel Church, Ghana), National Independent Church of Africa, Kenya), Organisation of African Instituted Churches, Bread for the world), just to name a few. In addition to the church leaders, top academics who are experts in the field of religion and development were also present. These academics came from all over the continent of Africa, but also Europe and South and North America.

The research, which the UP students presented at the conference, incorporated almost all the larger Christian denominations in the country (South Africa), from main-line churches to AICs (African Independent/Indigenous Churches), to Pentecostal/charismatic churches. Most of the speeches promoted the spirit of humanity and theology/religion being a catalyst for sustainable development, but also looked very critically at the role of religion.

Some of the themes of the papers presented by representatives from UP included:

  • Keynote | Dr Tanya van Wyk: Examining South-African Population Policies at the Intersection of the SDGs of Gender Equality and Climate Action: Perspectives from Ecofeminist Spirituality and Theology.
  • Prof Cas Wepener & Prof Ignatius Swart: Between Cosmology and Community: A South African Exploration of the Practice of Sacrifice in the Context of Religion and Development.
  • Rev Anandie Greyling: Reconciliation Rituals: Racial Violence in an Agricultural Context
  • Rev Lindie Denny: Reimagining Pedagogy for Theological Education at a South African University: A Practical Theological Approach
  • Han Chang & Asanda Hlongwe: The Role of Women in St John’s Apostolic Faith Mission
  • Sydney Gololo: Empowerment in a Pentecostal church body 
  • Sarine Potgieter & Md Tawhid Hasan: Can Religion Help in Fighting Against the Most Pressing Environmental Problems in South Africa?

In addition to the academic work, there was also time to relax and make friends. The reception and hospitality from the hosts (Faculty of Theology at Humboldt University) was exceptional, and having lunches at the La Siesta restaurant each conference day was nothing less than mouth-watering. In as much as our guest houses were waiting for us every evening after the meetings, most of us could not control ourselves but to gallivant the beautiful and elegant city of Berlin and take pictures at almost every corner. Contrary to us here in South Africa, the sun takes its time to set on the other parts of the globe, as around 10pm is the time when the sun starts thinking of hiding. Two words that can describe Berlin would be simple and elegant, from fashion lifestyle to transportation, and the infrastructure as a collective.

It is through such spaces that ethnical presuppositions are corrected, friendships are made and of course, international connections are strengthened. The aim of this five-day course was not just to discuss social matters academically, but also to empower one another, to go back to our respective countries and instil and inspire change. I am both happy and proud to have been part of this exhilarating event, as it was also my very first time flying out of the country, a getaway holiday both educative and life inspiring!

- Author Sydney Gololo
Published by Petronel Fourie

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