This study explores the challenges and possibilities of using anthropological research methods in constructive systematic theology and ethics. This analysis is approached through a discussion of the methodological choices that the author has made in conducting her PhD research in an area that lacks the sources that are traditionally affiliated with systematic theology, written texts and documents. Aligning with a liberation theological call for listening to the voice of grassroots communities that may offer academia and society insights into promoting social justice, this study suggests that a gap that still exists between much of mainstream Western systematic theology and the liberation and postcolonial paradigms should be replaced by a critical, constructive dialogue. It is argued that as the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, Western academia needs to recognize the epistemological and methodological insights of theologians from the South. This analysis then continues to discuss the agency of a researcher who collects her or his data in the midst of a living community. In agreement with scholars such as Said and Appiah, this study highlights the subjective nature of any research and the need for the researcher to be aware of the factors that influence his or her perception. On a more practical level, the concepts of the Praxis Cycle and Grounded Theory as frameworks are introduced and demonstrated that these are of help in creating a functional way of combining anthropological and systematic theological approaches in order to do theology from below.
Contemporary academic discourse on social justice increasingly urges the elision of aspects of ‘charity’ from the concept. Writing in the context of liberation theology discourse in particular, the author agrees with the need to prioritize social-justice-centred frameworks but argues for an explicit theorization of (true) charity as a vital element within them. The argument is informed by ethnographic engagement with a group of young, low-income Zimbabwean migrants in Johannesburg. It is inspired in particular by attending to how charitable action features in their narratives as a source of dignity and motivation that enables them to work towards a bright future, as well as contributing towards their day-to-day survival.
Liberation Theology and the Concept of Humanity in Inner-City Johannesburg
This article makes a case for employing the concept of humanity as the core category in the struggle(s) for liberation in the context of the Central Methodist Mission (CMM) in inner-city Johannesburg. It does so through engaging with the praxis of the leader of the CMM and, in particular, analysing his theological reflection. The concept of humanity offers a flexible framework for an on-going liberationist ministry in a changing society; it also allows the ministry to retain a liberationist edge while it addresses the complex manifestations of inhumanity in actual communities. Moreover, the case of the CMM shows that the content and method of grassroots liberationist ministry overlap: as much as the concept of humanity defines the content, it also has methodological implications for reading the signs of the times.
Being Human in a Johannesburg Church
Winner of the 2014 Donner Institute Prize for Outstanding Research into Religion.