Breaking ground with partners on teaching religion and sustainable development

Posted on August 04, 2020

While much of the world was in a reactive state of pandemic recovery, Dr Tanya van Wyk, from the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria, was proactively investing in the lives of students both at home and abroad.  From 20 to 30 July, Dr van Wyk, as co-ordinator and representative of the Faculty’s collaboration with the Research Programme on Religious Communities and Sustainable Development (RCSD) at Humboldt University (Berlin), participated in a digital intensive course on Religion and Development for students from African and German universities.  During this intensive course, Dr Van Wyk was invited to present lectures and seminars on Gender Justice and Research Ethics.  The course would have taken place at the University of the Western Cape (the co-host), but the COVID-19 pandemic required innovation and a different approach. Therefore, the course was completely digital and in this regard it pioneered courses of this nature for the future.

In this course, MA students and PhD candidates from six different countries collaborated virtually to explore empirical research methods in theory and practice, related to subthemes of religion and sustainable development. The main aim of the course was the examination of the relations of religion with decolonial development, ecology, politics, gender equality and peace through high-profile lectures and methodology courses related to participatory observation, research ethics, grant application writing and academic networking etc.

The applications from four students from the Faculty of Theology and Religion were accepted and they had the opportunity to learn and collaborate in this way:  Charel du Toit, Phenyo Montsho, Ninnaku Oberholzer and Jeanette de Wet. About this opportunity, they have remarked that “The wide spectrum of difference including, geographic, discipline and faith manifested itself in the eager opinions expressed and critical contributions” (Phenyo); “The Humboldt Summer Program in Religion and Development gave me in depth access to the intersection between religion and development and how the two areas can impact each other… and I loved how diverse the group of participants were, with people from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Germany” (Ninnaku); “The advanced research course granted me the opportunity to learn so much from a global, but also largely African perspective’ (Charel) and “It was good to learn that it is no longer contested that religion can, and already does, play a vital role in sustainable development” (Jeanette).

The course is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Faculty of Theology and Religion and the Research Programme on RCSD at Humboldt University, which has resulted in a number of conferences, student and staff exchanges, teaching and learning engagements and research collaboration since the start of 2018.  A subsequent development of this collaboration was that Dr Van Wyk presented a virtual lecture during the International Week of the Free University of Berlin, at the invitation of Prof Almut Barbara-Renger, one of the collaboration partners.  Dr van Wyk offered a virtual lecture on the topic of the Christian Church and Sexual Ethics.  This collaboration will intensify over the next 3 years, with more research and teaching activities being planned.

- Author Tanya van Wyk and Dana Mahan

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