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  • 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.
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Entries in Phd (7)

Thursday
Oct122017

So grateful! A celebration! Defending my PHD - sharing the experience with Megie!

Yesterday was a truly amazing day! At exactly 16.30 (11 October 2017) I defended my PHD (which you can read about here) at Radboud University, Nijmegen. It was a wonderful joy to share it with my wife Megan. At Dutch Universities the defence and graduation takes place at the same time. Your dissertation (once completed) gets examined, and then you have to publish it as a book (which I did - see the previous link for details). Then you defend it in public, and the degree gets awarded at the same event! It was exciting, but also rather scary at the same time! I am so grateful that it is done and the degree of ‘Doctor’ has been awarded (which means that I now hold two PHD’s, one in Systematic Theology and one in New Testament studies).

You can watch a little video about the build up to the defence below. And here are a few pictures from the event (with the ‘pedel’ / ‘beadle’) who was a great sport! My thanks to Radboud University, my supervisors, Prof Jan van der Watt and Prof Chris Hermans, to the communities that participated in the research (they matter most in this project!) and to my wonderful family for their love and support.

 

Friday
Oct062017

Graduating with a 2nd PHD in Holland - the possibility of the (im)possibility of forgiveness!

I am so grateful to be traveling to the Netherlands tomorrow (with my wife Megan!) to graduate with my 2nd PHD at Radboud University, Nijmegen in Holland.

The graduation ceremony (and defence) will take place at 16.30 on Wednesday 11 October 2017 - if you read this beforehand you can watch the ceremony online via this link.

I started my research at Radboud University in December 2013. I worked on the project, and spent some wonderful months, at Radboud University between then and May 2017 when I completed the manuscript / dissertation. You can read all of my posts from Radboud and about this research (in reverse order!) via this link.

The research project is entitled:

The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading Matthew 18:15-39.(Click the title to read an excerpt from the book and see the table of contents).

In Holland it is required that the dissertation is published as a book. It has been published by African SUN Media in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology series on public theology.

Here is the full reference:

Forster, D.A. 2017. The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18:15-35. 1st ed. Vol. XI. (Beyers Naudé Centre Series on Public Theology). Stellenbosch, South Africa: SUN Press.

 

You can read the abstract below, and see copies of the cover of the book and the commendations in the attached images. If you would like to purchase a copy you can do so via African SUN Media.

I have some sections of the book under review for publication, and have already published the following article which is a shortened section of the Biblical exegetical component of the study:

 

Forster, D.A. 2017. A public theological approach to the (im) possibility of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35: Reading the text through the lens of integral theory. In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi. 51(3):1–10.
In this article I also discuss (in summary) the other theoretical component of my study - namely integral All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) theory.

 

 

I made one or two short videos of some of the central concepts (see the bottom of this post for a discussion of the empirical qualitative aspects of the study, and a discussion of one of the primary theoretical components).

I am truly grateful to my promoters, Prof dr dr Jan van der Watt and Prof dr Chris Hermans. They were encouraging, supportive, and wonderful guides along the journey. I learned so much and I am so grateful for the findings of the research and the fruit that it will bear for the participating communities.

Here is a video I recorded at my home University (Stellenbosch University) where I discuss how I worked with the participants to gather and analyse the theological (qualitative empirical) data on forgiveness.

In this video (recorded in Nijmegen at Radboud University) I discuss one of the primary theories that I used in the study, namely inter-group contact theory.

Here is the abstract from the dissertation:

This project engages the complexity of understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 within the context of an intercultural Bible reading process. The study shows that concepts of forgiveness among South African Bible readers are diverse, containing nuanced, and even conflicting, expressions and expectations - a politics of forgiveness. Some have suggested since such entrenched differences in understandings of forgiveness exist in South Africa, that forgiveness may be impossible. However, in spite of this complexity it is suggested that South Africans, and South Africa, could benefit from a rigorous academic engagement with the theologically and culturally diverse understandings of forgiveness that emerge from reading Matthew 18.15-35 in an intercultural Bible reading setting. The knowledge gained from this study may help persons from diverse histories, cultural identities, racial identities, and economic classes, to gain more integral, shared, understandings of forgiveness. In this sense, at least, the possibility of forgiveness may emerge. 

Considering the above, the aim of this study is to produce rigorous, textured, and credible theological insight into the complexity of differing understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 from 'ordinary' Bible readers of different cultures who are members of the same Christian denomination - the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit. This is achieved through structuring the study as a practice oriented research project in empirical intercultural Biblical hermeneutics.

Three theories informed the research design. First, Ken Wilber’s All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) integral theory is used as a philosophical framework that provides language and structure to ‘plot’ the theological understandings of forgiveness in the text, and in the reading of the text. Second, intergroup contact theory is used to identify the mechanisms and processes for positive intergroup contact that inform the intercultural Bible reading sessions. Third, the Biblical text is engaged in a scholarly exegetical process so as to avoid collapsing the thought world of the text into the contemporary context. This is a critical aspect of a credible engagement with the Biblical text. This process allows for the construction of a hermeneutic bridge to link aspects of the text to aspects of the interpretive insights of the contemporary readers engaged in this study.

As anticipated, the findings of the research process agreed with some aspects of the research hypotheses and varied from others. The findings of the post intervention research data and analysis shows that to a large extent (except for minor variations which are discussed in the study) the participants of the intercultural Bible reading intervention developed more integral understandings of forgiveness. This means that participants were far more open to accepting understandings of forgiveness that were not held within their in-group, but were more common among members of the out-group.

The primary conclusion of this study is that more integral theological understandings of forgiveness are evidenced among the majority participants in this intercultural Bible reading process which was conducted under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. Moreover, this study shows that one can give credible empirical content to, and explicate, the theological perspectives, and the hermeneutic informants, of readers of the Biblical text. This helps the ‘problem owner’, (i.e., the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit), to understand what some of the barriers to shared understandings of forgiveness may be. Moreover, it allows for the design of intercultural Bible reading interventions under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. The data shows that in this case, the participants of this study mostly became more open to a more integral theological understanding of forgiveness with the ‘other’.

This project makes the following novel contributions to scholarly knowledge and the construction of theory: In New Testament studies the research contributes towards a number of new hermeneutic opportunities that arise from reading the Biblical text from a social identity complexity perspective (informed by Ken Wilber’s integral AQAL theory). Moreover, in relation to intercultural Bible reading, the project provides new insights into how persons who hold different socially informed views of forgiveness may encounter one another constructively under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. In terms of empirical cultural Biblical hermeneutics this study is the first of its kind to provide insights into how Black and White South African Christians understand the concepts and processes of forgiveness in relation to Matthew 18.15-35. The findings show that there is a logic behind the socially informed theological understandings of forgiveness that are expressed by the participants. This holds value not only for Biblical Studies, but also for Systematic Theology in general, and South African Public Theology in particular. Then, from a methodological point of view, the interdisciplinarity of the theoretical approach that is employed in this research stimulates new avenues for scholarly theological study in relation to problems in practice.

Thanks for checking in and sharing in my joy! I appreciate it.

Monday
Jul272015

Heading home! The end of a research visit to Nijmegen, July 2015

In a few hours I will be boarding a bus from the Heygensgebouw just near my flat, it will take me to Nijmegen station from where I will catch a train to Schipol airport and then head back to Cape Town via Dubai.

I have had the privilege of spending another month in the beautiful city of Nijmegen working on my PhD research.  I am pleased to say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel with this project! I have a meeting with my supervisor this morning, and if all goes as planned I will have some corrections on the work I have handed in already, and then just one more chapter to write before I work through my whole thesis again and hand it in for examination.

The process from there is that it goes to a 'reading team' who evaluate the research, if it is approved I have to have it published in a book, and then come back in 2016 for a public defence and the award of the degree.

It is a little different from how the process worked with my first PhD (which I completed in 2005, defended and graduated with in 2006).  That seems like a lifetime ago!

This project focuses on the reading of the Biblical text under certain conditions (called intergroup contact theory) to facilitate engagement and reconciliation between racially diverse Christian groups in South Africa.  I was privileged to work with two Methodist Churches in my home town, Somerset West on the intercultural Bible reading project.

The theoretical components of the research focussed on a normative reading of Matthew 18.15-35 (locating a reading of the text within accepted academic Biblical scholarship, so I did a very detailed exegetical study of the passage).  Then, using an integrative All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) approach I 'mapped' possible readings of the text as an individual, collective, spiritual, political process (and a combination of these fields).  This exercise showed that Matthew 18 has a complex and textured view of forgiveness that involves faith (spirituality, belief, shared belief), polis / politics (recompense, social justice, human rights and dignity), and that it engages the individual person, as well as broader society.  Here is a diagram of Ken Wilber's AQAL theory that shows the different dimensions of identity, consciousness and meaning.

Next, I used a practice orientated research methodology to facilitate structured interviews with the reading group participants (this was to form a pre-intervention test of their understanding of forgiveness in relation to the chosen text).  I mapped their various understandings and saw that in large measure white South Africans have an individual and spiritual understanding of forgiveness, whereas black / brown South Africans have a more collective and social (political) understanding of forgiveness.  Each of the two Church groups then met separately to read the text and discuss it among themselves in a focus group setting - this also formed part of the pre-intervention testing and gave me more data to map the respective groups' understandings of forgiveness.  

Then, I facilitated a series of intercultural Bible reading engagements between the two groups, again in a focus group setting (in other words they met together to read and discuss the text).  We used the 'dwelling in the word' approach of Pat Keifert and Pat Taylor Ellison, see:  Ellison, P.T. & Keifert, P. 2011. Dwelling in the word: a pocket handbook. Minnesota: Church innovations).  

These intercultural Bible reading sessions were conducted according to strict protocols, employing mechanisms from intergroup contact theory to allow for a positive engagement between the participants that takes place within a safe space.  The intention was to minimize anxiety in the presence of 'the other' and to allow for an increased possibility for empathy for the person(s) and position(s) of 'the other'.  

Having completed those interventions, we then did a final post-intervention test to see if there has been any shifts in the understanding of forgiveness among the individual participants and the two groups.  This was done through a structured questionnaire on forgiveness, as well as a focus group discussion (both of these tools engaged understandings of forgiveness, as well as the intercultural Bible reading process).

The findings have been quite remarkable. I won't let the cat out of the bag yet, but I can say that some aspects of my hypothesis were proven, while other deviated from the expecation in some aspects, and other still did not turn out at all as I anticipated.  It makes for fascinating reading!

The hope is to provide two things out of this research, first an approach to using normative texts (in this case the Biblical text) as a reflective surface, and an engagement space, for intergroup contact among estranged or diverse groups.  Second, the mechanisms employed in the intergroup contact will be of use to Churches, businesses, and other communities that face challenges as a result of race, class, religious, gender or other distinctives - it allows for a positive engagement between 'in groups' and 'out groups' in a manner which can foster social cohesion, overcome prejudice and can facilitate positive engagement among the groups.

I have worked very hard on this project! It took quite effort to get back into the exceptionally technical work of dealing with a Biblical text in an academically appropriate manner - I had to dust off my old Greek exegetical skills, learn a whole lot of things about the culture and context of the Matthean community into which the text was written, and then develop a hermeneutic bridge (in the form of the AQAL theory) that could help us to see what contemporary understandings of the text may be appropriate.

The project also forced me to learn a great deal about empirical research methodologies, and particularly qualitative research methodologies (and the use of tools such as ATLAS.ti to do coding and interpretive work).  The new theoretical knowledge that I have gained on the Biblical text, forgiveness as a concept and process, the social and identity dynamics of South African communities, and of course I have learnt a great deal more about AQAL integrative theory and how it can be applied in these contexts (which is quite different form how I used it in my previous study in identity and cognitive neuroscience).  Among the most useful knowledge is what I have gained from reading and learning about intergroup contact theory and social identity theory.  This is a fascinating field.  I can see that I will use this, and my rekindled love for technical work in the Biblical text within my research in ethics and public theology.

For now, however, I have a few last meetings, some packing, and then the long trip home to my darlings! I can't wait to see them!

It has been great to have shared this time with friends, I have worked hard and learnt a great deal.  It is such a privilige!

On Wednesday I step back into class when I will be teaching a Masters module in Ethics of Pastoral Care, as well as my fourth and second year classes in ethics and Systematic Theology.

 

 

Tuesday
Mar312015

The (im)possibility of forgiveness

As I come closer to completing my second PhD which focuses on concepts (and processes) of forgiveness and reconciliation I have been thinking a great deal about the complexity of true forgiveness.

I often hear people saying "I cannot forgive that him (or her), what they did to me was simply too bad".  Indeed, forgiveness is difficult.  Is it ultimately about gaining my own freedom?  Or is it about giving freedom as a gift to the 'other'?  Or, is it an interplay of both of those?

I found this quote from Jacques Derrida on forgiveness quite challenging in the possibility, and impossibly, of forgiveness - I like to phrase it as the (im)possibility of forgiveness.

Forgiveness only becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible.

...

If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia which can be described in its dry and implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable. One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable. That is to say that forgiveness must announce itself as impossibility itself. It can only be possible in doing the impossible.

- Jacques Derrida

Have you ever forgiven someone for something that seems unforgivable?  How was it possible?  What helped you to do it?  Did you follow a process?

 

Wednesday
Oct102012

Holland to England - EXPOSED shining a light on corruption launch

I arrived in Holland on Monday morning and made my way through to Nijmegen where I am doing some work on my 2nd PhD at Radboud University.

Nijmegen is a beautiful city, and it is an immeasurable honour to be working with Professor van der Watt and Professor Hermans. We had dinner together that evening after our first meeting to discuss the progress in my research.

Yesterday I spent the day sorting out administration for my stay, connecting with the University and doing preparation for our EXPOSED launch in London.

You will see two pictures with this post. One is of my rental bike while in Holland. It is a great cruiser with 3 gears (plenty for the flat cycling lanes). Holla d is really geared for cycling! I love it! The other picture was taken in Central Nijmegen. It is a beautiful old city! I will have to write up some of the history when I am back at a computer. Safe to say that there has been a settlement here for over 2000 years.

As I write this post I am on a train from Nijmegen to Schipol airport via Utrecht. I fly to London today for some press interviews and final prep for our EXPOSED launch at Westminster Central Hall at 11am UK time on Thursday the 11th of October 2012. Please could I ask for your prayers for this very important and significant event?

You can see details about EXPOSED on http://www.exposed2013.com - at the time of writing this the site is being updated. So please do check back there if it is not up when you visit.

Please sign up for EXPOSED and shine a light on corruption!

You can read our press release on the launch of EXPOSED here http://gatewaynews.co.za/2012/10/04/exposed-will-shine-light-on-global-corruption/

Thanks to Gateway for supporting the campaign.

I appreciate your prayers for the campaign, our teams, my family and me!

Saturday
Sep032011

We cannot divorce service of God from the service of humanity - some changes ahead

Last month I read Eric Metaxas' great biography of Dietric Bonhoeffer 'Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy'.

It has served as a wonderful reminder to me that my calling is to be a servant of God first and foremost.  And, that my service of God is to find expression in service to humanity.  Bonhoeffer was carefuly to understand what he could do, and then to do his best to apply himself to those tasks faithfully and with courage.  There is a lesson for all of us in his life - try to spend your life doing the things that God has created and called you to do.  Life is too short to waste on other things!

The quote below expresses Bonhoeffer's understanding of this notion so succintly:

The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

To be human is to be 'incarnate' in the world where God has placed you.  There is work to be done in the community where you live, among the people that you see each day, and with the skills, ability and gifts that God has given you.

I will admit that I have been a little quiet on my blog for the last month or so.  

In part that is because I have been busy (every blogger's excuse!) However, that does not mean that I have not been posting! If you look to the left of this blog (at least the form it is in now, in September 2011, you will see my Tumblr feed listed in the first colum of your browser window).  I have simply found it much easier to post in the short and medium format that Tumblr allows and so I have shared brief thoughts, quotes, photographs and ideas there. So, look in on http://digitaldion.tumblr.com from time to time.

Yet, in part I have also been a little slower in posting to my blog since I have been taking time to pray and discern the way forward in my ministry and life.

I have had three fairly 'distinct' phases to my ministry.

  • I was a minister who pastored various Methodist Churches for almost 15 years.
  • I was an academic who held posts at both Seminaries and Universities for some years.
  • Most recently I have held a corporate chaplaincy and spent a great deal of my time working among business people in the world of work.  Of course while doing this I have remained a minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and continued to hold a post at two South African Universities.

I am about to move into another phase of my ministry.  Not everything is in place, but I have permission from my Bishop, the blessing of my friends that I am currently serving, and some opportunities taking shape.

The last (almost) 4 years have been absolutely amazing! I have discovered a side to ministry that has been such a blessing to me, while I hope it has brought some joy to those among whom I have ministered. I have had the opportunity to travel the world, meet many wonderful people and experience so many new things as I have sought to faithfully serve Christ 'in the marketplace'.

This will not end.  I will continue to serve as the Chaplain to the Power Group of Companies, the Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical campaigns.  Although I shall give about 50% of my time to this wonderful work.

From January 2012 I shall be returning to a greater measure of Academic work.  

I have been invited to take up a post at the University of Stellenbosch in Ekklesia, a Unit of the Faculty of Theology at the University.  I cannot tell you how blessed I am to be able to transition into this new role of service and responsibility! To start with I will have responsibility for the Master of Theology courses that are run within the Unit, as well as some research output.

Together with this wonderful opportunity I was offered a scholarship to do a second PhD.  I have been working on a Doctorate in New Testament at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Holland, for part of this year.  Radboud is a distinguished research University - Edward Schillebeeckx was a Professor there, and Henri Nouwen did some of his studies there as well. From January I will devote a little more time and attention to this great opportunity.  It truly is a gift of a lifetime!  I am working under Professor Jan van der Watt, reading in the area of narratology in John's Gospel.  I shall apply some of the insights I developed in my first PhD in approaching the text - bringing an interdisciplinary perspective to reading the text of John (from integrative studies, neuroscience and African relational ontology).

Lastly, I shall do some consulting work - over the last few years I have found that I am approached more and more frequently to speak at conferences and gatherings on various subjects (most recently it has been on my book 'Transform your work life' (Amazon copy and Kindle Edition) which deals with developing spirituality, ministry and faith in the world of work).  

But I have also developed quite a strong base of friends and clients with whom I do spiritual guidance, counselling, life coaching and strategic development.  So I will continue to help individuals and teams (companies, churches, communities) to navigate complex challenges by drawing on my experience in ministry, spiritual direction and of course my studies in cognitive neuroscience and integrative theory.

So, I would appreciate your prayers as I move towards this change.  Please offer thanks with me that this space has been created by Graham Power and my friends in the Power Group.  They have been generous and gracious in allowing me to structure my time in this way. I am also grateful that my Bishop has so kindly supported this shift in ministry.  Also give thanks for these new opportunities that are arising at the Universities and with various friends and clients.  Please could I also ask that you pray for the practical matters that we shall need to manage, such as generating sufficient income and managing my time and resources wisely?

Indeed, these are exciting times ahead! My greatest desire is to serve God through service to humanity!

Do remember that if you are looking for someone to come and do something creative with a group at work or Church just drop me a line. Or if you are looking for someone to journey with you to solve a particular challenge you're facing, or simply for support, guidance and encouragement, please consider making use of my time.

Monday
Oct222007

What to do if your paper / report / portfolio / presentation exceeds the maximum limit.

Being of the verbose persuasion - as you may have been able to ascertain from my constant nonsensical posts to this blog... I have found on more than one occasion that my work exceeds the maximum number of pages, or words, allowable for publication. I have a paper that is currently under review, which I KNOW is going to be returned to be edited back to the word limit (hopefully for inclusion in a journal).

My doctoral Thesis was about 160 pages longer than most, my Theology masters was about 20 pages too long - and that excludes endnotes and glossaries and the bibliography... Heck, I like to write!

However, that is a problem, when like me, you are needing to develop that all important publications list!!!

So, here's some advice from our friends at PhD (a.k.a. Piled higher and Deeper) for getting your paper or thesis into the allowable word limit:

From PHDcomics.com

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