Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Unity creates more diversity

The Theological Café draws inspiration also
from Latin America.
This one-liner was delivered by my friend and colleague Erik Berggren at the Theological Café at the University of KwaZulu-Natal earlier today. Erik was invited to share some thoughts with us based on his PhD project, which has the working title:
Ethnicity challenging Catholicity.
The theme for today’s Theological Café was:
The hegemony of English and the Catholicity of the church
It is a common thing that scholars share work in progress with students and other colleagues. We discuss both methodologies and content at these cafés.

Erik Berggren and Gerald West.
At one a clock we were only 5-6 people in room NAB 107 but five past one about 30 had arrived. After Prof Gerald West had opened the café and I had introduced our guest, Eric gave a brief overview of the theme. His starting points were interesting. He comes from the northern part of Sweden. I didn’t know that Erik has Sami ancestors. This was his first inspiration in studying ethnicity and catholicity. Another inspirational experience was one semester as student at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossay outside Geneva. And thirdly, of course, his four years in Kimberley as a Hospital Chaplain for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA).

After the short introduction many students and teachers were eager to contribute to the discussion. One student gave an interesting perspective from Tanzania, a country with 127 languages and kiSwahili as a unifying language. Very few are kiSwahili mother tongue speakers.

Another perspective came from Ethiopia and a few from South Africa. One English mother tongue speaker confessed that English as a lingua franca from the beginning was spread through the force of weapon.

Other interesting aspects were our heritage as Christians having a Bible written in at least three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek.

All the comments and questions dealt with the realities we face when it comes to language. If the church wants to be catholic, everyone must be given an opportunity to express herself/himself in his/her own language. This is a source of richness to the community but it can also create tensions. Thus the heading: Unity creates more diversity. If we try to allow more than one language in our liturgy some people will feel uncomfortable. How can we approach that challenge?

I know that Erik was more than satisfied with the outcome and personally I also felt happy. One of my roles is to bring new theological knowledge back to Sweden. This time Erik became the instrument. Of course I know that he already has a lot of experience from this context but not necessarily as a doctoral student. I know this will give him courage to go back and do more contextual theology at home.

One major difference – if I compare UKZN with the University of Uppsala – is that people this side freely engage with their own faith experience as well as with socio-political realities. In Uppsala no theologian dares to include own faith experiences in an academic discussion and most of the time the socio-political context is left outside the lecture room. (I know that I write under correction on this point, but if I am wrong, please do correct me!)

At the end of the Café Prof West advertised another three theological cafés coming up during the next few weeks. The themes were around the Israel-Apartheid week, Black Tax in the United States and the Fortress of Europe. Interesting topics and all of them dealt with from a theological point of view.

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