Faith in the Public Space: practical theology and the common good (2015)

July 14, 2015 - July 16, 2015

The keynote speakers were Prof. Tim Gorringe, Prof. Christopher Rowland, Jonathan Cox and Prof. Elaine Graham (see below). Throughout the conference, Keith Hebden’s reflections helped to guide us during our time together.

Keynote Speakers

Prof. Tim Gorringe
Practical Theology and the Common Good – why the Bible is essential
Tim Gorringe is Professor Emeritus of Theological Studies at the University of Exeter. Professor Gorringe worked in parishes for six years before going to South India to teach theology at the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary. On return to Britain he was for nine years Chaplain, Fellow and Tutor in Theology at St John’s College, Oxford. In 1995 he became Reader in Contextual Theology at St Andrew’s and in 1998 took up his present post as St Luke’s Professor of Theological Studies. His academic interests focus on the interrelation between theology, social science, art and politics. His most recent books are The Common Good and the Global Emergency (Cambridge University Press, 2011); and Earthly Visions: Theology and the Challenges of Art (Yale, 2011). He is at present working on a two-year AHRC funded research project on the values which underpin constructive social change, focusing on the Transition Town Movement.

Professor Christopher Rowland
Practical Theology and the Common Good – why the Bible is essential
Chris Rowland retired last year after twenty-three years as Dean Ireland’s Professor of Exegesis of Holy Scripture, at the University of Oxford. Chris has a wide range of research interests including Interpretation of the New Testament; the apocalyptic tradition in ancient Judaism and Christianity; the reception history of the Apocalypse; the biblical hermeneutics of William Blake; the theology of liberation; the radical tradition in Christianity; methods in grassroots readings of Scripture; group work and biblical study; and the interpretation of the Bible and developments in adult education. His publications include: with Jonathan Roberts, The Bible for Sinners (London: SPCK, 2008); with Christopher Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (Compendia Rerum Judaicarum ad Novum Testamentum 12) (Leiden: Brill, 2009); The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, revised edition 2007.); and with Andrew Bradstock, Radical Christian Writings: A Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).

Jonathan Cox
Contemplation and Action in Practice – a discussion of Christian engagement in Community Organising
Jonathan Cox is the Lead Organiser for Citizens Cymru Wales and the New Citizens Organising Team. He has nine years’ experience working as a Community Organiser and now trains aspiring professional community organisers at Queen Mary, University of London. At the 2010 election leaders trained by Jonathan secured Citizens UK’s first national campaign success – a commitment to end the detention of children in immigration removal centres such as Yarl’s Wood. Among the leaders of whom he is most proud are those who won the Living Wage at a leading university, those who convinced a multinational restaurant chain to offer the first mainstream provision for young people from different backgrounds to eat together in a major city, and those pioneered an innovative form of micro-organising on council estates in London. Jonathan holds a First Class degree in History and Politics from the University of Durham and an MA in Community Organising from Queen Mary, University of London. Over the past few years Jonathan has worked with civil society leaders to raise the seed funding for Citizens Cymru Wales and now lives there with his family.

Professor Elaine Graham
The Unquiet Frontier: Public Theology between the sacred and the secular
Professor Elaine Graham is the Grosvenor Research Professor of Practical Theology at Chester University. Elaine has contributed widely to the discipline of practical theology, and is a longstanding member of BIAPT. Many will be familiar with and indebted to her work with Heather Walton and Frances Ward on theological reflection. Elaine is also interested in the political and public dimensions of religion: her work in urban theology brings together traditions of Christian social thought to bear on the question, What Makes a Good City? More recently, her concerns have turned to how the Church can better communicate its contribution to society at a time when there is renewed interest in religion as a global cultural force but an enduring scepticism as to the legitimacy of religious voices in public. The solution? To rethink public theology as a form of Christian apologetics.
Elaine is Canon Theologian at Chester Cathedral, and President of Chester Theological Society, an ecumenical collaboration between the University and Chester Cathedral. Her publications include: Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Public Theology in a Post-Secular Age (London: SCM Press, September 2013); with Stephen R. Lowe, What Makes a Good City? Public Theology and the Urban Church (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2009); with Heather Walton and Frances Ward, Theological Reflection: Methods (London: SCM Press, 2005) and Theological Reflection: Sources (London: SCM Press, 2007).
Conference Rationale

Since the last BIAPT conference there have been significant events in the political and public life of our nations: the referendum over Scottish independence; the rise of UKIP as a significant voice; and, of course, closest in time to our 2015 Conference, the General Election in Britain.

At the same time there has been a growing awareness of the role of churches and other faith communities in society: the heavy involvement of faith communities in food banks, for example, has become a significant focus for greater reflection on how churches and the State work together – or not. As the economic challenges of our system seem set to continue, with all the potential for growing inequality, and increased material and relational impoverishment, the question of how faith is to speak prophetically and effectively into our society takes on a new sharpness.

It is with these matters in mind that our 2015 Conference seeks to reflect more deeply on the ways in which practical theology and practical theologians speak into political and societal realities. As theological practitioners committed to transformative action, shaped by our faith, this presents itself as a fruitful – if demanding – theme.
Specifics and questions for reflection

Given that we are in Wales for the 2015 conference, we are hoping to build into our programme a visit to the Senedd and an engagement with activists, practitioners and thinkers in the specifically Welsh context. More information about these aspects will appear here as it becomes available.

Our speakers will address a range of practical and theological questions: the biblical contribution to public theology; the practices of ‘speaking truth to power’; community organising; the theological underpinning of Christian action in society; and so forth. As ever, the short paper sessions will continue to be a major feature of our work together.

BIAPT’s unique membership and focus on firefly, open discourse provides us with a remarkable opportunity for making a contribution, not only to our thinking about theology and faith in society, but also to a more deeply authentic and effective action in and for our contexts. Let’s take this opportunity up, with our usual BIAPT warmth and commitment. Looking forward to seeing you in Cardiff!

Clare Watkins, BIAPT Chair