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

Entries in Stellenbosch (33)

Friday
Sep232016

Why the 'loss of faith' in heroes like Mandela may not be such a bad thing

Why the 'loss of faith' in heroes like Mandela may not be such a bad thing

Dion Forster, Stellenbosch University

The legacy of anti-apartheid activists no longer has currency for many of today’s youth. They believe that they have been failed by the older generation of political leaders, including Nelson Mandela.

A recent Facebook post by the controversial Oxford University student and Mandela Rhodes scholar, Ntokozo Sbo Qwabe reflects this.

Older black people who want to silence us on the basis that they fought against apartheid need to shut the fuck up!!! We are here because you failed us! So please!

Qwabe is expressing a sentiment that is fairly common among contemporary South African student activists associated with the country’s “fallist” movements - including #RhodesMustFall #FeesMustFall .

One could say that they have “lost faith” in the legacy of anti-apartheid heroes of yesteryear and the supposed freedoms they have won.

Some may be unsettled, or even angered, by this loss of confidence in the liberation struggle heroes. But I am of the opinion that this loss of faith may not be such a terrible thing in the end. Losing a naïve and untrue “religious conviction” might actually be a sign of the emergence of a more honest and mature commitment to an ethics of responsibility.

South Africa is not unique in this. North American activist and philosopher, Cornel West, recently made a radical statement at a “Keep Ferguson Alive!” event. He said:

I come from a school of thought that believes that a certain kind of atheism is always healthy… Because what atheism does is that it at least cleans the deck because it claims that all gods are idols… We live in a society in which idolatry is so ubiquitous… So, for a lot of people who have lost faith in god it is probably a healthy thing! Because the god they have lost faith in was probably an idol anyway…

Losing faith in a false god is not such a bad thing. Many South Africans are losing faith in a very subtle and deceptive form of civil religion that held many in thrall during the last 22 years of democracy. As shocking as it may be, perhaps Qwabe and West are not far from the truth.

Civil religion

After the euphoria of the peaceful transition to democratic political rule in South Africa in 1994, this subtle civil religion emerged in popular culture.

Sociologist Robert Bellah suggests that religion in the civil sphere is possible when citizens begin to shape a belief into a transcendent narrative of about their social and political reality. They begin to use religious or theological symbolism to describe social, political or economic systems and processes. The purpose of the “civil religion” is to work towards the project of an alternative social reality.

The birth of the South African post-apartheid civil religion took place 27 April 1994 – the day of first South African democratic elections. This event was lauded across the world, as a “miracle” of peaceful transition in the midst of a hostile and precarious social and political situation.

Many doomsday prophets had predicted the eruption of a civil war in the lead to up the elections. Instead, post-election media reports reflected a widespread sense of euphoria and joy. It was framed in the dense and symbolic theological and religious language of peace, reconciliation and even “God’s blessing”. This is not surprising in a country where [around 84% ]of its population profess religious beliefs of one kind or another. Such language is familiar. It has meaning and currency.

Mandela the ‘messiah’

Of course, every religion requires a saviour, and the Messiah of this civil religion was Nelson Mandela. He embodied in his person a capacity to envision a new future for the divided people of South Africa. He was widely regarded as a leader who displayed great courage, grace and a reconciling nature.

His virtuous character was presented as an example to be followed by all persons who strive to be good citizens. Today many wonder about the negotiated compromises he entered into during his presidency and the transition to democratic rule. Perhaps, he was only human after all. Even if he was a remarkable human, he is not divine.

The high priest of the newly democratic South Africa’s civil religion was Desmond Tutu, who coined the primary discourse of the (civil) religion in the language of the “rainbow nation”. The character of the religion, and its doctrinal centre was an eschatological harmony based on national reconciliation.

This miracle was to be ushered in through a social event – a ritual. The ritual that served as a moral and psychological symbol of the civil religion was the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Sadly, the legacy of the TRC is contested. Perpetrators walked free while victims remained uncompensated.

 

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Mike Hutchings/Reuters

 

 

The civil religion’s sacred text was the 1996 South African Constitution (1996) and the Bill of Rights. The hymn for the civil religion was national anthem, Nkosi sikele’iAfrika(God bless Africa]). But some worry that the constitution protects the rights of the privileged and does not go far enough in allowing for restorative justice for the poor.

So, what has become clear in recent years is that there is significant loss of confidence in the discourses of the new South Africa - the rainbow nation, and all of the saints, heroes, and rituals. People are losing faith in this civil religion. This disenchantment is most clearly expressed in the words and actions of the “born free” activists, such as Qwabe.

They believe that we find ourselves in a more deeply divided, more economically unjust and politically corrupt nation because of our beliefs in these persons, in their legacies, and in the institutions they established.

While many may struggle to agree with the methods of the ‘fallist’ youth, perhaps they are pointing us in the right direction? Yes, Mandela did something remarkable. But he is not our saviour. Tutu and the TRC are inspiring and important. But now we need something for this time. Yes, democracy is an opportunity for transformation. But the 1994 elections were not the end of our process. That was only the beginning.

And so, I am of the mind that we should lose our false civil religion and exchange it for an ethics of responsibility. The poet June Jordan said it most aptly, reflecting on the women’s march to the Union Buildings in 1956:

And who will join this standing up … We are the ones we have been waiting for.

The Conversation

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

----

You may find these two videos (related to Nelson Mandela, and the end of Civil Religion) interesting.

'Losing my religion (in Basel)'

Nelson Mandela and the Methodists - faith, fact and fallacy

Thursday
Aug182016

John Mbiti and the de-colonization of African / Western knowledge systems - Stellenbosch University

Dr Henry Mbaya opening the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University (@theologystudents_maties on Instagram and @theologystel on Twitter) conference on De-colonising African/Western Knowledge systems conference by reflecting upon, and celebrating, the person and work of Prof John Mbiti.

Prof Mbiti spoke later in the day. Here is a video of him speaking about Africa, Christianity and the Bible.

Other contributors are Prof Rothney Tshaka (UNISA), Dr Ntozake Cezula (Stellenbosch), Dr Humphrey Waweru (Kenyatta), Prof Fidelis Nkomazana (Botswana), Dr Paddy Musana (Makerere), and student panels from North West University, the University of Pretoria, the University of the Free State, and Stellenbosch University.

These are important discussions in the current South African and broader African context. If you are interesting in reading a helpful perspective in the importance and complexity of this discourse please see this paper from Achile Mbembe:

 

Mbembe, A. 2015. Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive. Transcription of talk series.

 

 

Wednesday
Jun152016

The classroom - a room of class? On Theological education and justice

What is the purpose of learning and knowledge? Does it hold value in the world today? In what ways do we learn, and should we learn, for appropriate discipleship as Christians? What is the relationship between education and justice?
In this VLOG we talk about the different ways in which persons are formed for Christian life and consider some different approaches to theological learning. We look at the traditional knowledge, values and skills approaches (head, heart and hands) and discuss how each holds value. Moreover, we consider the different ways in which the discourse and discussion around Higher Education is shaped by the metaphor of geography (the models of the University as Athens, Berlin and Calcutta).

The papers that I mentioned in the show are:
Olivier, B. 2011. Ethical Challenges Regarding Globalization of Higher Education. US-China Education Review, 6(B):816–823.

Kinsler, F.R. 1978. Theological Education by Extension: Service or Subversion? Missiology: An International Review, 6(2):181–196.

This book by Stanley Hauerwas is a helpful resource on education and the ethical considerations, ‘The state of the University: Academic knowledges and the knowledge of God
And, this book ('Doing Ethics from the margins') gives a wonderful insight into how the two-thirds world thinks about education and justice, as De La Torre points out, the classroom is indeed a room of class (one can very quickly, and sadly, see how class impacts and plays itself out in contemporary higher education. Who gets to study, when they study under what conditions do they do so, what is their previous educational background etc.).

Find out more about Stellenbosch University (where I teach) at:

I'd love to hear your take on these thoughts! Leave a comment here, or on youtube.
Tuesday
May242016

An ethics of care? Gender, politics, justice and care


Is care tied to gender? What is an ethics of care? What are the political implications of care?

Today's VLOG is Part 1 of an interview with Prof Frits de Lange from the Protestant Theological University, Groningen on the Ethics of Care.

He introduces the topic for us, suggests some wonderful reading and we also get to see a bit of Groningen in the video.

My thanks to Prof de Lange for hosting us for a wonderful conference on Compassion, and for his willingness to be interviewed on his research specialisation.

In Part 2 of the video that will be released later this week Prof de Lange speaks to us about 'Loving later life: An ethics of ageing' which is his recent book. So keep an eye out for that. 

Enjoy the video - Frits is wonderful to listen to! I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and feedback on this important topic!

Monday
May092016

The cry of freedom - happy 101st birthday Beyers Naudé

 

Tomorrow we will celebrate the 101st anniversary of the birth of Beyers Naudé.

He was a courageous prophet against injustice - living for a better future for all of South Africa's citizens.

The reality is that not much has changed for the majority of South Africans since 1994 - we still hear the cry for freedom in our land.

We are facing rising economic inequality, increasing enmity between the races, and the continued subjugation of the rights of the most needy and disenfranchised members of society by both the state and those who hold economic and social power.

Please can I invite you to watch this powerful documentary on the life of Beyers Naudé in celebration of his life and witness, but also to remind us of the important and critical task that we face at present?

Tomorrow we shall celebrate his legacy in the residence at Stellenbosch University where he was a student - Wilgenhof. My colleague and friend, Rev Jaco Botha will speak about the legacy and witness of Oom Bey and remind us that his work is not yet done.

We have so much work to do, and it is the work of citizens. We cannot wait for the state and political parties - we are the people we have been waiting for.

 

Thursday
Apr212016

The decline of religion and the rise of spirituality?

In today's VLOG I interview Professor Jan Jans from Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He was at Stellenbosch University to teach our Master of Divinity class and my third year Public Theology class on Secularism, Secularization and the decline of formal religion and the rise of spirituality in Europe. We learnt a lot of interesting things for our own context - you may find the same.
I apologize for my poor framing of the video in the first few minutes! I either need to learn to frame my camera better, or save up to get a camera that has a flip screen to see what my shots look like! It gets better and I am learning!
The books that are mentioned in today's VLOG are:
  • Linda Woodhead, 'Religions in the modern world: Traditions and Transformations' http://amzn.to/1Nm09tu
  • Diana Butler Bass 'Christianity after religion' http://amzn.to/1VlP7qH
  • Charles Taylor 'A secular age' http://amzn.to/2436WfS (This is a very important book! I get all my PhD students to read it). You can also read the following great 'introduction' and engagement with 'A secular age', entitled 'How not to be secular' by James K Smith http://amzn.to/1Wf43FZ
  • Peter Berger 'The Sacred Canopy' http://amzn.to/1VlPh1i and 'The desecularization of the world' http://amzn.to/1T0OxbU
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…
Please subscribe and like the video!
Thursday
Apr142016

Stellenbosch - The most unequal city in the world? Economics, inequality and justice

Is Stellenbosch really the most unequal city in the world?

Today I rode my Brompton through Stellenbosch - I had 25 minutes between meetings and wanted to get something for lunch. It was the first time I had been on the bike in more than a week. I came back form Johannesburg with a rather nasty flu and still wasn't feeling great. But it was awesome to be out in the sun and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful western Cape scenery!

As I was riding my bike I reflected on Stellenbosch, which is the most unequal city in South Africa (a country which is among the most economically unequal countries in the world).

Watch the VLOG for some beautiful scenery, and think with me about a better economic system in which no one has too much while anyone has too little.

I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts! Don’t you love my old folding bike? It goes with me when I travel.

Tuesday
Oct272015

Reading group in theology and philosophy - Slavoj Žižek, the death drive and zombies

On Thursday at lunch time our theology and philosophy reading at Stellenbosch University group has the honour of hosting Prof Ola Sigurdson from Gothenburg University. He is a well known Systematic Theology who is known for addressing important theological issues in a creative and rigorous manner.  

We will be reading his article: SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, THE DEATH DRIVE, AND ZOMBIES: A THEOLOGICAL ACCOUNT

If you have a chance to read the article and have some comments or questions that you would like me to feed into the discussion please drop me a line @digitaldion - You can download the article here.

Monday
Oct262015

The launch of 'Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity"

This evening we launched the book of my colleague and friend Prof L Juliana Claassens, "Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity" which she co-edited with Prof Bruce Birch.

Among the contributors are a foreword by Walter Brueggemann, and chapters by Charlene Van Der Walt, Esias Meyer, Gerald West, Ntozake Cezula, Douglas Lawrie, Jacqueline Lapsley, and Cheryl Anderson.

I was privileged to write a little piece on the Bible and Ethics as hospitable conversation at the end.

Julie very kindly included me in this project and has opened many doors for me since then.

I am so grateful to her and can highly recommend this important text for anyone who wishes to read about the Old Testament and engage issues of human dignity and ethics.

Read more about the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Restorative-Readings-Testament-Ethics-Dignity/dp/1625647212

Wednesday
Oct212015

#StelliesFeesMustFall - economic justice and the importance of the voice of our students

These are important times in our nation as students across the country express their voice on issues of economic justice - here the #StelliesFeesMustFall students are visiting the Faculty of Theology.

Our colleague and comrade Thando Joka made a challenging and strong statement as a student of the faculty concerning the steep increase in university fees for 2016 and access to education for all.

Our Dean, Hendrik Bosman, responded by expressing a word welcome to the students and colleagues.

I am convinced that transformation and equality are essential to secure a better future for us all. If we cannot change the current inequality in South Africa, it is unlikely that there will be any place for me or my children in the country's future - white power and white privilege cannot continue. It will not be tolerated. We have to find ways of to make this nation a better place for us all.

I am not sure exactly what the answer is to these complex issues - but I can identify some of the problems. That is not a bad place to start. There are probably many answers, and many solutions. But there are some things that I can do, and must do.

How is it possible that some of us can live with 'too much' when others do not even have enough to survive? If you are interested in reading something that I wrote on the Christian faith and economics you can download and read this chapter that I wrote in a book some years ago.  Here is the reference:  

Forster, D.A. 2007. Upon our Lord’s sermon the mount: Discourse 8: Economic justice., in Reisman, K.D. & Shier-Jones, A. (eds.). 44 Sermons to serve the present age. London: Epworth Press. 141–150.

 

Megan, Courtney, Liam and I have been a steady journey of 'downward mobility' in the last year or so. We have sold things like cars, computers, gadgets. We have cut off unnecessary things like DSTV (cable TV) and subscription services. We have limited our household budget and tried to support more worthy and important causes.

We are attempting the 'live more simply, so that others may simply live'.

Interestingly I was teaching a class on human dignity and economics which was disrupted and ended today as the protesting students arrived.

What is certain is that we have work to do in South Africa. I am grateful for the energy and hope that I see among students and colleagues.

Friday
Jun052015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 3

Today was the third and final day of the World Economic Forum that was held in Cape Town from 3-5 June 2015.

Once again I rode my trusty steed (a 2001 model BMW 650GS motorcycle) into the city for the meetings. It was surprisingly cold, although with clear blue skies as I drove into the beautiful Cape Town city bowl. I never grow tired of the beautiful view as one crests De Waal drive into the city.

Having parked just across the road from the CTICC (Cape Town Internation Convention Center) I made my way through security, now quite experienced at what beeps and what doesn't, and made my way upstairs for the first of my sessions.

I started the day with a session on agriculture, development and food security.  There were a few startling revelations in that session, notably that by 2050 the population of Africa will double, but our capacity to produce food will not.  In large measure this is because of too few commercial farmers, poor policy in agriculture and political instability and war threatens food security.  Water, of course, remains an additional challenge.  It was shocking to learn that there are 85 million malnourished persons in Africa, and that a large number of those are subsistence farmers and their families.  Again, the issue of gender inequality featured in this talk.  Women produce +- 80% of the food in Africa but only own 2% of the land.  Men tend to keep the best pockets of land for themselves and often don't utilize it fully.  What was also interesting to be reminded of is that Africa is the world's most resource laden continent - in other words, we are the richest continent on the planet when it comes to natural resources, but because of extractive injustice (where our minieral resources are extracted and sold elsewhere in the world) we are so poor that we have to import food to support our populations. Lastly, we discovered that rural women tend to be better managers of farms, food and finance (better than urban women, and better than all men).  So, what's the lesson?  Well, I think that if we had targeted projects to support and uplift rural women we could achieve a great deal for the common good in Africa.  Naturally we need to develop commercial farmers and technologies to drive efficient and healthy food production that is not destructive of the earth's resources and that can feed growing numbers of people.

Next, I attended a workshop that sought to find solutions to drive development and growth in Africa in the next 10 years.  I was fortunate to be seated at the table of Minister Naledi Pandor - what a remarkable woman!  I was bowled over by her gentleness, her amazing grasp of policy, investment, technology and the complex set of social, political and economic aspects that are necessary for development and growth.  How I wish she could be our President in South Africa!  The process of this workshop was superb using new technology where we wrote on the tables and it showed up on screens in the front of the room.  There were about 6 such tables participating around issues such as education, investment, technology, policy and governance etc.

My second to last session of the day was another remarkable one - I participated in a workshop on security in Africa.  The point of this grouping was to work out what some of the threats and opportunities were that Africa faced in terms of security in the next 10 years.  I was in a group with Minister Mohamed Beni Yonis of Somaliland - a great peace keeper on the continent and a truly remarkable and wise man! His insights into social, economic and technology opportunities and challenges were astounding.  He also appreciates the central role that religion plays in shaping societies in Africa (both negatively and positively).  The meeting agreed that we shall need to spend a great deal more time and energy working with faith based organisations and the religious groupings in our various countries to address social cohesion, service delivery, poverty alleviation and also to work against violence and extremism.  Then, the man whose name is signed on most of my South African money, Mr Tito Mboweni, was also in our group! He is such a kind (even fun!) person.  He spoke about the dangers of ambition (he reached the pinnacle of his career as governor of the Reserve Bank before he was 50 years old).  However, the group agreed that African society will need to acknowledge the place and importance of young leaders - one participant jokingly said that in Africa, presidency is something one 'retires into' at 65 after a working career!  I am attaching an image of the drawing that contains all of our discussions and thoughts on security in Africa.

The final session was about economics, investment and trade on the continent.  South Africa's finance Minister, Mr Nene, commented that "unless we deal with corruption all of our development plans will fail".  The rest of the panelists discussed the challenges of competition and distrust between neighbouring and regionally close countries in Africa, the expensive cost of travel, and the need to see much greater trade cooperation and support among African countries.

The highlight of the day, for me, was when Archbishop Tutu was invited onto the stage to close the WEF Africa meeting in prayer.  He was overwhelmingly warmly received.  He began his prayer, as I have heard him praying before, by saying that God is weeping at the way in which we treat one another and the earth.  Yet, he went on in his jovial and loving way to say how happy God was to see the participants of the WEF and all those they represented who were people of good-will whose desire it was to make this world a better place for all by working for the common good.  You can listen to his prayer (which I recorded on my phone) here.

Attending this form was a remarkable privilige.  I have learnt so many things at the WEF this week.  In particular I understand that we face a number of wicked problems that require partnership, cooperation, and even sacrifice to solve.  Water and the environment, poverty and inequality, gender imbalances, massive growth in our population and dwindling resources are huge challenges.  Yet, I am hopeful.  It was amazing to meet creative, intelligent, passionate and committed people from all sectors of society who were working for good! The investment of time, energy, resources and self into these problems is sure to make a difference, and in many cases solve the problems we discussed.

I realise that South Africa is fast falling behind.  Our political landscape and our own social context of poverty and inequality is vexing growth and cooperation.  We shall need to do a great deal more to foster trust and a willingness to give up some things (like white power and wealth) and take up some things (like hard work, good education, and uncompromising moral standards).  As I drove home I kept thinking that as Christians we must always ensure that our speech is peppered with hope, our hands are strengthened by justice and our hearts are filled with love as we work for a better future.  We do need a much higher calibre of leadership from both government and the private sector.  But what we need more than that is active citizens who are willing to be deeply involved in shaping a better world.

Wednesday
Jun032015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 1

I have just registered for the 2015 World Economic Forum meeting that is taking place in Cape Town.

I am honoured and excited to have been selected to be one of the 150 or so persons from civil society to participate.

I am looking forward to 3 days of learning and participating in the various sessions.

I have joined sessions on ethics and governance, economic stability and poverty, and the role of civil society as my primary points of participation. It is very exciting!

Security is super tight! I had to park about 2km from the CTICC and walk down. Registration was very efficient and simple.

I will tweet on @digitaldion and post some comments and reflections here throughout the next three days. So please do check back from time to time if you are interested.