Search
  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
Pages
Social networking
Sunday
Mar102019

Why South Africans are prone to falling prey to charlatans in the Church

An article that my colleague, Pastor Simbarashe Pondani and I wrote for The Conversation Africa has been published.

It is entitled: ‘Why South Africans are prone to falling for charlatans in the church’.

You can read it here: http://theconversation.com/why-south-africans-are-prone-to-…

Pastor Simba recently graduated from the Master of Theology, Gender and Health Program at Stellenbosch University. His thesis focused on these opportunistic ‘Pastors of Doom’. When the editors approached me to write an article on this topic I asked if I could write it with Simba. I am so pleased to have been able to draw on his expertise and research in writing the article.

Why South Africans are prone to falling for charlatans in the church

File 20190306 48444 15x2ykw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Pastor Alph Lukau - his “resurrection” of a man made world news. Alph Lukau/Facebook
Dion Forster, Stellenbosch University

South Africans – like millions of people across the world – are seriously susceptible to religious abuse.

The local media has once again been abuzz with a litany of shocking stories about manipulation, abuse and fraud by pastors. The latest one, a fake “resurrection” made headlines around the world. A video of Pastor Alph Lukau “raising” a man from the dead went viral and even sparked the #ResurrectionChallenge.

Why do South Africans fall for these religious snakeskin oil salesmen (and women)?

One possible reason is that faith continues to play a very significant role in South Africa. In the last household survey over 84% of South Africans indicated that they are Christians. And a 2010 Pew Report found that 74% of South Africans said that religion played an important role in their daily decisions, values and shaping of their morals.

In addition, churches and religious leaders enjoy higher levels of public trust in South African society than either the government or private sector. This is unlike many other modern democracies in the 21st century.

Some suggest that this susceptibility to religious belief is due to the moral and political failures of the state and politicians. Religious leaders and institutions gain trust in situations where the population faces high levels of economic and social vulnerability, as is the daily reality for many South Africans. Religious groups are often the only sources of basic care and hope in many communities.

We believe that South Africans allow charlatan pastors to win their trust, take their money and get them to engage in frightening, and even comical, quasi-religious acts because of a combination of two factors. Many South Africans have high levels of trust in religious leaders. At the same time there’s a great deal of economic need. In situations like this people look to “supernatural” means to solve basic problems. Research on these phenomena in countries such as Brazil and Nigeria shows similar tendencies.

Some answers

People are drawn to what are known as prosperity gospel pastors because they are offered the opportunity of getting out of poverty and becoming rich by means of God’s blessings. South Africans who are losing hope of gaining adequate employment, or dealing with rising debt, see the lavish lifestyles of prosperity gospel pastors is appealing.

The message is that: obedience and sacrificial giving (to the pastor and their church) is the road to wealth.

Second, in a situation in which there is inadequate health care, it isn’t surprising that people turn to “miraculous” healers to find relief from suffering. This phenomenon is not unique to South Africa - it happens in other countries around the world where religion is important and social systems are weak.

How are these unethical leaders and their sectarian communities spotted?

Tell-tale signs

One of the most telling characteristics is an overt and gaudy display of personal wealth. The intention is to extravagantly display the super-abundance of supposed “divine blessing”.

Sadly, the wealth on display is derived by manipulation, even criminality, or excessive and unsustainable debt.

Next, is the tendency towards the supernatural and the spectacular – miracle healings, raising people from the dead, prophesying and sharing visions.

These “miracles” are frequently staged, using actors, psychological tools or technologies. They serve to attract members, and also to establish a hierarchical religious power structure with the pastor at the top.

The veneration and deification of the pastor is another common characteristic. They are presented as a “spiritual elite”, having direct access to God, a special measure of God’s blessing, and particularly powerful spiritual gifts. As God’s “chosen one” these aspects serve both to give the pastors power over their members, but also to shroud them in mystery.

In contemporary religious sociology this is referred to as “religious exceptionalism”. The laws of nature, culture, the religious tradition, the state and morality do not apply to them since they are an “exception”, supposedly by God’s divine choice.

In some instances, these leaders and their communities display cult like tendencies, seeking to isolate their members from regular life and their friends and families, who are portrayed as sinful and evil. It is under such conditions of deep trust, sincere faith, great need, facing spiritual manipulation and isolation, that many of the abuses take place.

Rights and freedom

What should be done to curtail such abuses?

The South African government has sought to regulate religious leaders and communities through the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights, Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. The commission is attempting to set up standards for conduct, registration and qualification of religious groupings and leaders.

There is some concern that the state-appointed commission will use laws and policies to infringe on the legitimate rights to freedom of religion, and possibly even silence critique of the state.

Also, many of the abuses are not primarily religious or theological in nature. They are covered by civil law that should simply be enacted to protect citizens.

South Africa remains a deeply religious nation. The state and religious leaders and their communities bear a shared responsibility to identify and expose corrupt religious leaders, as well as safeguard citizens against abuse, while maintaining their rights to religious freedom.

Simbarashe Pondani has contributed to this article.The Conversation

Dion Forster, Head of Department, Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Professor in Ethics and Public Theology, Director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology, Stellenbosch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday
Jan182019

Populism and Religion outside the US: Research and Reflections

It feels like a lifetime ago - in November 2018 I presented a paper on a Panel on Religion and Populism at the American Academy of Religion.

It was one of the 'Wildcard' sessions that was recorded.

The panel was hosted by Prof Marcia Pally (New York University, Humboldt University), Prof Torsten Meireis (Humboldt University), Luke Bretherton (Duke University), Michael Minkenberg (European University), and myself - Dion Forster (Stellenbosch University). You can watch the presentations here: https://youtu.be/7lZzbCQeXP8

My paper is currently under review for publication.

Friday
Dec212018

Adorno, the mystical and the Little Prince

I have been reading the work of the late Frankfurt Schule philosopher, Theodor Adorno, this week.

In his book 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' (written with Max Horkheimer) he makes an interesting point about how quickly, in 'modern' societies, rational progress can become irrational regress.

We fall into the trap of blind domination (domination of nature by human beings, domination of nature within human beings, the domination of human beings by other human beings). In a society where progress is held as the highest value, no matter what the cost, human beings, nature, and even the human self, are sacrificed.

Somehow, in our pursuit of enlightenment we become less and less enlightened and more and more totalitarian.

While Adorno would have appealed to the aesthetic (culture, the arts, philosophy), I would also appeal to the mystical and the spiritual. From Descartes, through Francis Bacon, to Isaac Newton, we seem to have lost touch with the sense of the sacred in creation (which includes both human and non-human creation).

Perhaps the Little Prince was on to something, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Sunday
Dec162018

A blessing - Reconciliation with Justice in South Africa

Today, 16 December 2018, is the commemoration of what is called 'The day of reconcilliation' in South Africa. In the current context of South African social, economic, political, and religious life, I realise just how important messages of reconciliation, and processes of reconciliation with justice, are.

This quote from Walter Wink's 'Engaging the Powers' spoke to me:

‘Any religious message that promises that we can win in the terms laid down by the Domination System is apostate. Any theology that promises success, national supremacy, or victory through redemptive violence is apostate. Any piety that equates the gospel with getting ahead, being number one, or salvation through patriotism is apostate.’

- Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers

I wish a blessed day of reconciliation to my sisters and brothers in South Africa. May we recognize each other’s humanity with love, engage each other’s failings with grace, find ways of unmasking our prejudices with truth, and may we live together in trust, with attentive care, while celebrating our diversity and sharing in our common humanity.

May the King of Peace reconcile us to one another and ourselves.

Tuesday
Dec042018

Call for Papers: Global Network for Public Theology, 23-26 September 2019, Bamberg Germany

The next meeting of the Global Network for Public Theology will take place form 23-26 September 2019 in the beautiful city of Bamberg in Germany. This event will be hosted by the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Centre for Public Theology at the University of Bamberg. 

I had the joy of visiting the centre, and doing a public lecture there, in May 2017.

You can download a PDF copy of the call for papers here.

The call for papers for the next meeting is now open. The closing date for abstracts is 31 December 2018. The title of the conference is:

“Place and Space: Theological perspectives on living in the world”

Here are some further details on the theme.

Public theologies reflect on the contextuality of the Christian religion. Much of this contextuality is dependent on place: place as the culture and the society in which religions are situated, place as the position from where a theologian speaks, place as the biographical contingencies that shape people’s lives. Moreover, public theologies ask for the contribution of Christian ethics to society, thereby shaping the social, cultural, and religious space to which they belong. The consultation analyses the categories of space and place to deepen the understanding of contextuality as well as to explore glocal problems.

Proposals addressing one of the following dimensions are welcomed:

  •  place to live
Who belongs to a nation, society, or community? Who may belong? How does migration influence societies? What are the possibilities – globally and locally – to alleviate the drawbacks that may result from the chances of birthplace?
– keywords: migration, homelessness, new concepts of housing; trading citizenships; colonised and invaded space, work in a globalised world

  •  space to live
How is public space shaped and used? How do forms of aesthetic expression change the self-awareness of a society? How can public space be prevented from eroding? How do we deal with spaces of exclusion from society?
– keywords: civil society, urban development, architecture and aesthetics, memorials and monuments, perception of and public support for public space, private and public space

  •  sacred space
How is the distinction between “sacred” and “profane” drawn in different contexts? What is the public function of sacred places in religiously plural societies? Can spirituality encourage to move beyond existing borders? Which heterotopias, sacred and secular, can we discover?
– keywords: churches as space within space: encounter with God, space for retreat, place of commemoration, platform for intercultural exchange; church buildings and their secular use; the church within society: mechanisms of exclusion and paternalism of inclusion;

  •  space and speech
From where do we speak? How does religion affirm or challenge mechanisms of segregation?
– keywords: theologies of positionality and their limits: nationalism, theology of the land; populist movements;
lebensraum; space and perspective

The conference language will be English.
Accepted papers might be published in the conference proceedings.

  •  politics of space

Which borders regulate access to the public in a given society? Is there a hierarchy of spaces within society?

– keywords: the public and civil society; gender, race, and other ways of coding public space; othering and asymmetries of social construction, zones and milieus, criteria of access and marginalisation, permeability of social space(s); space and stage: self- presentation in public

  • God and space

How does the spatial turn influence our image of God? How to deal with God's presence and absence in biblical theology and contextual perception? How is our perception of God shaped by its context?

– keywords: contextual theology and the doctrine of God; instances of kenotic theology: creation theology, theology of liberation; divided obligations: to the state, to God

  • Deadline for proposals and submission guidelines

We invite theologians and scholars of neighbouring research areas to submit proposals of no more than 300 words by December 31st, 2018. These can be submitted electronically to dbfoet.fs-oet@uni-bamberg.de. Please add a (provisional) title to your proposal and send us your contact details.

Thursday
Nov152018

The anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ordination - Christians and power relations

Today is the anniversary of the Ordination of German pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (15 November 1931).

I spoke to Bradley Kirsten on 729 Cape Pulpit this morning about how Christians engage with 'power' - power in our nations, power in our communities, power in our families, power in our workplaces.

I chose this theme in reflection upon the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And then, in my morning devotional reading, this reflection by the South African theologian John Van De Laar challenged me deeply! It is well worth reading. I will place a link to John's daily devotions at the end of this post.

How do we respond to the ways of power and dominance in our world? The most natural response is to retaliate, using force to overcome force and violence to deal with violence. It’s tempting to place our faith in bigger guns, more money, and better power plays, but there is no peace or security to be found in that course. It doesn’t matter whether it’s conflict between nations or conflict between individuals, when we allow violence to beget more violence, we bring nothing but greater destruction, pain, and death into our world. It may feel good to dominate another, or to get revenge on an antagonist, but ultimately, when we make the quest for power the guiding force in our lives, we lose our souls.

Jesus had a very different way of living. When his disciples admired the grandeur of the temple, which had come to represent both political and spiritual power and wealth, Jesus warned them that such human power systems would not survive. The temple, and those who enjoyed power because of it, would be destroyed. Human attempts to claim power – whether through war or pretending to be great spiritual leaders (messiahs) – would ultimately bring nothing but destruction. What lasts is the way of powerless peace that Jesus lived and preached. As powerful as the Roman Empire was when it destroyed the temple (as Jesus had predicted), it could not withstand the power of the Gospel. It took a few hundred years, but ultimately love and peace remained and the Empire collapsed.

Most of us will have little to do with the power plays of governments and nations, except as we use our vote or our voice to engage in political processes. But, we all have to face power dynamics in our lives, our families, and our communities every day. Here is where we need to make the choice either to embrace the power games of the world, or to embody the “powerless” peace of Jesus, refusing to retaliate, being quick to forgive, and quick to share whatever power we have with others. This is the theme we will explore this week.


See John's daily worship resources at: http://sacredise.com/category/daily-worship/

 

Thursday
Nov082018

Should you do a PhD? Doing meaningful doctoral research - an introduction

This is a short introductory video to a series of videos that I am recording to answer basic questions that I frequently get asked in relation to Doctoral research. In these videos we focus on considering, and succeeding, at your Doctoral research. 
 

We will look at whether one should do doctoral studies. Should you do a PhD? How does one prepare a research proposal? What are some tips for successfully completing your doctoral dissertation / thesis? How do you prepare for your defense? And, what about publishing your PhD or parts of your research?

You can find all of these videos on http://www.youtube.com/dionforster - I will post them there as they are ready. I have already recorded some and just need to edit and upload them.

Please note that these videos, and the views expressed in them, are my own and are not formally associated with the University of Stellenbosch, or the University of Gothenberg (where they were recorded).

Feel free to leave me a comment or a question at:
Twitter or instagram: http://www.twitter.com/digitaldion or @digitaldion on Instagram
Find out more about my research and publications at: https://sun.academia.edu/DionForster

Thanks for watching! Please subscribe and share the videos.

 

Sunday
Oct282018

Pyrotheology - searching for certainty, and embracing our doubts

The Irish theologian, Peter Rollins, was part of a unique Church community in New York City called 'IconNYC'. If I understand it correctly, it was a year long experiment in Christian community that sought to consider the Christian journey, indeed the Christian community, in ways that held the tensions of doubts, uncertainties, and the realities of our struggles with belief.

Having some understanding of how the brain works, I realise how difficult it is for us, as human beings, to live with uncertainty. Our neuro-evolution has formed us to want patterns, to create certainty and predictability, for the sake of our survival. This can be seen in how we seek out communities of belonging that we understand (what in inter-group contact theory is called 'in-group' identity). We can understand how persons of a certain race, culture, economic class, religion, think and behave. So we seek sameness, and become afraid of difference. This leads to inter-group contact anxiety between the self and the other. It is not surprising to me that Americans want to build a wall, that European countries are trying to keep migrants out, and that racism and identity politics continue to thrive in South Africa. None of these things is just, right, or even desirable. Yet, we fall into the traps of self interest, and self protection. We are wired for it to a certain extent.

However, we soon find that even in the in-group there are differences. White protestant women in Chicago, IL see the world differently from white protestant men in Birmingham, AL. Not all South Africans see the world in the same way... You get the idea.

In my experience, the pursuit of certainty is painful, it is limiting, it binds us to our fears, instead of releasing us for freedom.

The 'IconNYC' community, and Peter Rollins' 'Pyrotheology' speak to me as I contemplate these issues. I am currently in Gothenburg in Sweden. Here I am the cultural, linguistic and geographical stranger (not to mention a stranger to the climate! I realised yesterday as it snowed, that my body was formed from the African soil, and baked in the African sun!) Yet, the difference, the strangeness, the doubts, can be OK. I can learn about others, and about myself. I can slow down and listen - paying a little more attention to unfamiliar people, places and experiences. And the difference becomes a gift. I don't have to collapse it into my world-view, or contain it in my understanding or experience. I can just participate, observe, experience, and know what I can.

It is a sacred experience. It reminds me that God is Swedish... And also African... And Asian... You get the idea? We are because of who God is. Our diversity is an expression of God's creativity.

Here is what Rollins had to say about uncertainties, doubts and pyrotheology:

 

The good news nestled in the heart of Christianity is not that which gives us certainty and satisfaction, but rather is that which helps us embrace our un-knowing, our doubts, and our dissatisfaction… Instead of seeking a burning bush, a place where God is, we will discover that every bush is burning, that everything is sacred and full of depth, if we only have eyes to see.
- Peter Rollins, Pyrotheology

If you have 3 minutes more, you may want to listen to him speaking about this in his wonderful Irish accent! See the video below, or at this link: https://youtu.be/gY-VITTf7k4

 

Thursday
Oct252018

#ThursdaysInBlack - towards a world without rape and violence for women

The sad reality is that women and girls continue to face the threats of physical and sexual violence as part of daily life. How is this possible in 2018?

The World Council of Churches started a campaign some years ago to bring awareness to this issue, it is called 'Thursdays in Black'. They encourage persons to wear black clothing on a Thursday, and if you have one, to wear a Thursdays in Black 'pin' (you will see an example in my little video). 

By doing so we show solidarity with women and girls, we commit ourselves to living in a different way, and we create some awareness and conversation around this crucial issue.

Please consider joining this movement at http://www.thursdaysinblack.co.za - this link will take you to the CABSA website. Here you can read about the history of this movement, get some resources and ideas, and even order your 'Thursdays in Black' pin.

There is one additional element that has emerged from persons commenting on the video - some people have asked me about the idea that men can also be feminists. Prof Nico Norman Koopman wrote a beautiful article addressing men on this issue. I am trying my best to be an ally to women. Some would say that when one embodies these values, even men can be feminists. See Nico Koopman's article here: http://scriptura.journals.ac.za/pub/a...

Thanks for watching! As always, I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas, feedback and questions!

Monday
Oct012018

Inviting applications for a PhD Bursary and Post Doctoral Fellowship in Scriptures, Religions, and Hermeneutics

Stellenbosch University is inviting applicants for a PhD Bursary and a Post Doctoral Fellowship in Scriptures, Religions, and Hermeneutics for 2019.

Area of PhD research project: 

Any topic related to the hermeneutical dynamics operative in the interpretation of the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The study must be situated in either Old Testament, New Testament, or Missiology/Religion Studies in the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University.

Background and Context:

A project is presently based at Stellenbosch University to investigate the viability and theoretical basis for establishing a Centre for the Interpretation of Authoritative Scriptures (in ancient and contemporary contexts) [shortly, CIAS] at the said university. The project is jointly funded for the period 2018-2020 by the National Research Foundation (NRF) as well as the office of the Vice-Rector (Research & Innovation) of Stellenbosch University. During 2018 some consultations were held to develop the theoretical basis for the proposed centre, and to establish contact with local South African and international scholars having an interest in the hermeneutics of the three scriptural traditions. During 2019 some pilot research projects (through a Master’s study, this PhD project, and a postdoctoral project) will be started, while the project team will continue developing the research and physical infrastructure for the proposed centre. The focus in the centre will eventually be on the academic analysis of the hermeneutical processes that brought about the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, that facilitated their transmission processes and (in some cases) canonization, that regulated the history of interpretation in each tradition, and that determine contemporary interpretations of these scriptures in the South African society. This research wants to contribute to developing a hermeneutical basis for dialogue between the three traditions on the intepretation of their scriptures. As a further spin-off, the project could also contribute to social cohesion in South Africa, in contrast to social conflict. 

Please don’t contact me for details. I am just sharing the information. Please download and follow the instructions in the two documents linked below.

PhD Bursary: https://www.dropbox.com/s/j7jc18a7vv8tq1z/PhD%20Advert%202019%20Final.pdf?dl=0

 

Post Doctoral Fellowship: https://www.dropbox.com/s/i17d64l15b7j2b9/Postdoc%20Advert%202019%20Final.pdf?dl=0


Tuesday
Sep252018

Rediscovering Thomas Merton through the Paul Schrader film, 'First Reformed'

"You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope." - Thomas Merton

I am dwelling in the work of Thomas Merton at the moment. Listen to this:

"Do not think that you can show your love for Christ by hating those who seem to be His enemies on earth. Suppose they really do hate Him: nevertheless He loves them, and you cannot be united with Him unless you love them too…. Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels that you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy. Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weaknesses of men." - Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

And this was my post on facebook on Heritage Day in South Africa (24 Septemeber 2018):

"Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts." - Thomas Merton

A blessed heritage day to all of my South African sisters and brothers. May we engage the very worst of our past with honesty, and the very best of our future with love.

I first started reading Merton when I was a graduate student in Theology at Rhodes University in the early 1990's. I was introduced to Merton's work by my friend and professor, Larry Kaufmann and by friends Kevin Snyman, George Marchinkowski.

This weekend I watched the excellent Paul Schrader film, 'First Reformed'. I highly recommend this film. My friend Robert Vosloo was the first persons to speak to me about this remarkable film. It is well worth watching. Merton's work runs through sections of the narrative.
So, I went back to my books and notes and have found a few very meaningful and powerful quotations that I have been sharing on facebook and twitter this weekend.

 

Sunday
Aug192018

Discussing theology, class, economics, and the labour movement with Prof Joerg Rieger in Oxford

In this video I have the joy of speaking with Prof Joerg Rieger, the Cal Turner Professor of Wesleyan Studies and Theology at Vanderbilt University.

Joerg is a great example of an engaged scholar who is deeply committed to justice and deep scholarship that serves communities for transformation, renewal and flourishing.

In this interview Joerg and I talk about a theology of justice, class, economics, gender, race and the task of organizing communities for change and transformation.

You can find out more about Joerg at: http://www.joergrieger.com

The books that we discuss in this interview are:

 

 

Thanks for watching!

As always, I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas, feedback and questions!

Please subscribe and like the video and feel free to re-post and share it.

You can follow me on: Academia (research profile): https://sun.academia.edu/DionForster

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/digitaldion

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/dionforster