Keeping Body and Soul Together
“Keeping Body and Soul Together: Theological Reflection on Social Transformation”, was the title of the fourth annual Steve de Gruchy Memorial Lecture presented on the Pietermaritzburg campus by Senior Research Associate at the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC), Professor Beverley Haddad.
Addressing the audience on de Gruchy’s theological work on social transformation, Haddad said: ‘Keeping Body and Soul Together is the title Steve himself chose to give to a proposed book on his writings on Theology and Development. It resonated with what he had read in fictional and non-fictional theological work. I surmise that he wanted to communicate that all theological reflection should resist a dualist understanding of the body and the soul.
‘In order for our theological work to be socially transformative, we need to see that all of life, that all of our current material reality, matters to theological reflection. We cannot do theology without being socially engaged with our context. The needs of the “body” and “soul” intersect and so are one and the same. Thus, to be socially engaged and transformative scholars, our work needs to be informed by our activism, by actual work in communities. We need to be what I have termed “activist-intellectuals”.’
Haddad attempted to answer questions pertaining to theological reflection such as methodology, generative themes and the implications of theological reflection for theological education. She noted that the way in which one does theology, the methodology, was central to answering the question: ‘Is the social transformation of society still at the heart of our theological project?’
Haddad further highlighted that one of the greatest challenges today for the theological project of social transformation was the theological theme of sexuality and particularly the implications for the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Intersex (LGBTI)) community.
She also noted that it was not just society that needed to be transformed, but the church itself. ‘Church leaders, ministers, clergy all too often become demi-gods as soon as hands are laid upon them and the collar is placed around their neck. But the truth be told, we cannot transform society, if we, the church, are not transformed away from power to stand in inclusive solidarity with those who are powerless.
‘The theological project will never be an instrument of social transformation unless the church itself is transformed. And this transformation can only come about if church leaders, ministers and clergy are people who themselves are willing to be leaders who enable social transformation.’
In her lecture, she drew on the work of the Centre for Biblical Studies (CEBI) in Brazil, documented by Latin American Theologian, Carlos Dreher in a book titled, The Road to Emmaus, which Haddad claimed was helpful in thinking through what it meant to be a leader who enabled social transformation and so built redemptive communities.
Haddad mentioned that within the text Luke 24: 13-35 where Jesus meets his disciples after his resurrection, Dreher identifies seven steps key to what he terms popular education’.
‘This liberation perspective to education fundamentally presupposes that we engage with people where they are, work with them to analyse their situation, together apply the Biblical text to their context, and so enable social transformation,’ said Haddad.
In her concluding remarks, she said: ‘The needs of the world are so great. The needs of people in our communities are so great. The task is enormous. But as Jesus walked the road to Emmaus, listening, discerning, sharing biblical texts appropriately and allowing others to become active subjects of their history, so too can we. And as we do this, we play a part in building redemptive communities that offer hope where there is despair and allow for a vision of a future that is truly transformed.’