Moving into the field of theology and development: revisiting and going beyond an initial study Ignatius Swart Research Institute for Theology and Religion

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  • Moving into the field of theology and development: revisiting and going beyond an initial study Ignatius Swart Research Institute for Theology and Religion University of South Africa Community Development Workshop & NETACT AGM Johannesburg, South Africa, 26-30 January 2015 1
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  • ` (1) INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS Approached to give broad orientation of theology and development as discipline. Where and how it fits in some of the meta-theories behind what is being/has been done in the field; current state of the discipline and the discourses within the discipline. Mouthful and not an easy challenge, as this is a discipline or rather a focus or field of study that has over a prolonged period of time become extremely broad and extensive in terms of its scope and the actors involved in it. Hopefully do some justice to this request through my aim to, as my title suggests, take as point of orientation my own study of some years ago and, with this as basis, offer a broader orientation of how the topical interest in development has from a theological and religious point of view evolved over the years. 2
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  • My own study of some years ago: The Churches and the Development Debate: Perspectives on a Fourth Generation Approach (SUN Press, 2006). Why is such an overview important? And why should I thus complement NetACT on recognising the need for some broad orientation? Because any deliberate new decision to focus on theology and development as a research and teaching focus such as by NetACT should recognise that its starting point is not an empty page, but one that should build on and can from an international point of view greatly benefit from a historical and present rich layer of knowledge, reflection, exploration and experience. As such, and even if one is open to learn from outside debates, a theological-ecclesial interest no longer has to display a sense of over- dependence on the secular field of development studies to learn about development, but can in its own right draw from a rich layer of knowledge, reflection, exploration and experience from its own ranks. (NOTE: something I believe a South African theological-ecclesial focus over the last two decades or so have not sufficiently done). 3
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  • However, a qualification again: Whilst I am making a claim that a theological-ecclesial focus on development can and should today drink from its own wells of engagement with development, I by no means want to claim that this is sufficient. Instead, I retain a position that an engagement with development challenges a theological-ecclesial focus on development towards a new level of social theoretical competence ; i.e. a new level of interdisciplinarity if not transdisciplinarity whereby it learns from, is enriched by but also participates in and contributes to larger normative debates on development across disciplines. 4
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  • Indeed, it should be recognised by theological actors that they are not the only ones committed to a normative cause in development, to a better world, to social change of a more radical kind. One of my favourite definitions of what development studies is: From Bjrn Hettne 1995. Development Theory and the Three Worlds. Halow: Longman. Development studies is explicitly normative, as teachers and researchers attracted to the field tend to see current reality as sickening, an outrage to morality They want to change the world, not only anlyse it . (p. 12) Development studies is explicitly normative, as teachers and researchers attracted to the field tend to see current reality as sickening, an outrage to morality They want to change the world, not only anlyse it . (p. 12) 5
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  • It [development studies] is a revival of a general interest in transformation and change which characterized classical social science, for instance political economy, but today is based on a broader, global, and culturally more complex empirical experience. Development is seen as a holistic issue, and development theory could pave the way for an integrated historical social science, thereby making itself dispensable (p. 13) development theory really took off only after the discovery that the problems in the Third World were specific and qualitatively different from the original transition. It is my contention that that this discovery (which was necessary for the rather trivial reason of excessive Eurocentrism) led to a gradual theoretical enrichment, and that, to take a step further, development theory will prove to be of relevance also in the industrial countries, where automatic 6
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  • growth can no longer be taken for granted, and development now presents itself as a problem to be tackled. Thus, in spite of the fact that development theory emerged from tentative attempts at understanding the problem of underdevelopment from the point of view of the developed, it gradually acquired an increasingly universal quality, i.e. an authentic universalism in contradistinction to the false universalism that characterized the Eurocentric phase of development thinking. (p. 15) In the course of its evolution development theory has consequently become increasingly complex and non- disciplinary. It is therefore necessary to elaborate further In the course of its evolution development theory has consequently become increasingly complex and non- disciplinary. It is therefore necessary to elaborate further 7
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  • on the problem of definition, although the reader may feel reluctant to digest another definition of a clearly overdefined phenomenon. My intention, however, is not to propose new definitions but merely to stress one important point: There can be no fixed and final definition of development, only suggestions of what development should imply in particular contexts... (p. 15) Under the concept of development theory I shall subsume theories (there exists no single, generally accepted, development theory) of societal change, which attempts to integrate different social science approaches to the development problem. Development theory is more concerned with change than is typically the case with conventional social science disciplines, such as economics, sociology or political science, trapped as they still are in Under the concept of development theory I shall subsume theories (there exists no single, generally accepted, development theory) of societal change, which attempts to integrate different social science approaches to the development problem. Development theory is more concerned with change than is typically the case with conventional social science disciplines, such as economics, sociology or political science, trapped as they still are in 8
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  • in functionalism and comparative statistics. Development involves structural transformation which implies cultural, political, social and economic changes. Development theory is therefore by definition interdisciplinary, drawing on, but also questioning, many theoretical and methodological assumptions in both Marxist and non-Marxist social science (pp. 15-16) Furthermore, development theory has from the start closely been related to development strategy, i.e. changes of economic structures and social institutions, undertaken in order to find consistent and enduring solutions to problems facing decision- makers in a society (pp.16) Furthermore, development theory has from the start closely been related to development strategy, i.e. changes of economic structures and social institutions, undertaken in order to find consistent and enduring solutions to problems facing decision- makers in a society (pp.16) 9
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  • (2) REVISITING AN INITIAL STUDY Background of my initial study: The churches and the development debate: Perspectives on a fourth generation approach. A deliberate decision one year after my formal theological studies in 1991 at SU to shift from a specialisation in Old Testament Studies to a focus on development from a theological and religious interest. A decision profoundly influenced by the changing South African context of the early 1990s I attended the Second Church and Conference of the EFSA Institute in Johannesburg in Nov 1993. A decision (despite my theological inclination for the social) for which I was ill equipped my theological studies prepared me with little basis / knowledge / language for such an undertaking (question of a theological professor a few years later). 10
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  • A study for which I had no orientation in terms of existing literature in the realm of theology and the churches and which only gradually led me to discover a single comprehensive body of literature that existed at the time: the ecumenical debate on development emanating from the World Council of Churches and its related settings. A study that as a result took me eight years to complete, partly due to a decision to in the process also enrol for a structured masters programme in development studies (The Politics of Alternative Development Strategies) at the Institute for Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague to strengthen my proficiency in the field of development studies given my lack of background. A study that I enrolled for in the Dept. of Religious Studies at SU it was only in 1999 that a focus on development was formally introduced in the Faculty of Theology at SU. 11
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  • A study (DPhil) that I completed in 2000 and that I managed to publish in 2006 through SUN Press. My recalling of the background of my study is not to boast or burden you with unnecessary information, but to illustrate something of my own toilsome jo