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Reports from Asia-Pacific Theologians

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Dr. Agnes M. Brazal
St. Vincent School of Theology, Adamson University
Manila, Philippines

Professional Women Theologians in Asia: Opportunities and Challenges

By “professional women theologians,” I am referring to women who have obtained a doctorate in sacred theology (SThD) or a PhD in Theology/Religious Studies/ Christian Studies/Applied Theology or a Doctorate in Ministry. Based on a very rough estimate, there are more than 110 Catholic Asian women with these degrees.[1]   This is a highly tentative estimate as there are many who remain invisible even to theologians in their own country.

(1) In the last decade or so, what is one theological development in your region and/or country that you consider promising?

For professional women theologians, one significant development is the founding in 2002 of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia, an association of Catholic women doing theology in Asia. This has provided a venue for them to engage other women theologians within Asia, peer-review each other’s works, and publish to reach a broader audience. It is precisely the aim of EWA to encourage Asian Catholic women to engage in theological research, reflection and writing, and provide a support community for them.

Through its publication of six anthologies that were fruits of its biennial gatherings (2002-2011), EWA has given visibility to Asian women’s theologizing.[2] In addition to this, it has initiated videoconferencing some sessions of the past two conferences to five theological institutions in the US in 2011 and in Europe and Africa as well in 2013.

EWA facilitated the founding of the Myanmar Ecclesia of Women in Asia in 2005, and in coordination with EATWOT members in the Philippines, the informal forum of Bay-i Theologians of the Philippines (2011).[3] It has a synergistic relation with the Indian Women Theologians Forum (IWTF); all the active Indian members of EWA are active members too of the IWTF.[4] It has initiated contacts with the Association of Catholic Korean Women theologians. Like most of these other women theologian societies, EWA is not only composed of professional women theologians but includes also women doing theology in the pastoral and grassroot contexts. On the one hand, this membership policy of these various groups may have been conditioned by the limited number of professional women theologians[5] but on the other hand, the mixed membership helps mutually enrich the theologizing on various levels, as they draw from each other’s theological reflections.

(2) As you think about the coming decades, what do you foresee as a significant opportunity for the development of theology in your region and/or country?

The more dialogical approach of Pope Francis is an opportunity for Asian women theologians to push for a greater recognition of their role in the Church. In Evangelii Gaudium, he underlines, “I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church (EG 103).[6]

In Asian countries where Christians are a minority, it is very difficult for women with PhD in Theology and related studies to get a teaching and research employment in Catholic universities or theological institutions. We have heard personal stories of women theologians in some countries teaching without pay until they get tenured.[7] In the Philippines which is a predominantly Catholic country, those with theological degrees can be employed full-time, teaching mostly undergraduate students in the many Catholic universities. However, only a handful of women are employed full-time in seminaries/theological institutions.

It is thus understandable why relatively very few Asian women would opt to specialize in Theology or related studies. In India, Fr. Arulsevalm Rayappan notes that even if the religious sisters outnumber the priests four times, the number of those who have specialized in the ecclesiastical sciences is almost insignificant, especially when compared to sisters (and laity in general) who specialized in other fields even including higher mathematics.[8]

On the part of the future clergy, the 2004 Benchmark Survey of Philippine Seminaries show that though seminarians no longer believe in the natural inequality of women and men, “[a]lmost half of respondents (44.8%) are undecided or gave no response when asked to describe their relations with females who are involved in their training,” and are likewise “undecided” or “gave no response” when queried about equality of men and women in assuming leadership position in church organizations. They ranked women and gender issues as among the least of their concerns.[9]

If the Pope is serious about expanding the role of women, he must institute gender mainstreaming[10] in the Church on all levels. With regards the role of academic women theologians, the following can be proposed. First, seminaries/theological institutions should employ at least one full-time woman theology professor (and much better if she also assumes an administrative role). A gender perspective should likewise be integrated in all theological subjects taught, though this may require in the beginning the offering of a separate but required subject on Women in Theology. Secondly, in the past decade, a few individual women have been tapped to be members of the International and Asian Theological Commissions, but there have been little fora where the voice of women theologians groups has been heard. In the FABC conference in Korea in 2006, representatives from EWA and other groups of the laity participated. This has not been replicated since then. The presence of representatives from theologians’ associations as consultants in national and regional episcopal conferences or as participants in dialogues with bishops, would be a significant step toward systematically providing a space for conversation between women’s theological societies and the hierarchy.

(3) As you think about the coming decades, what do you foresee as a significant threat to the development of theology in your region and/or country?

Religious fundamentalism which has gained strength in the last decade partly due to a backlash on feminism, poses a threat to the development of women theologians today and the coming generation.[11] It has a negative impact on the rights of women; severely restricting women’s mobility, opportunities and space in the public sphere. Even fundamentalism in dominant non-Christian religions in other Asian countries, can also have the effect of reinforcing clericalism within the Church.

Clericalism, though not necessarily arising from religious fundamentalism, confines the role of leadership and theologizing in the Church to the “all boys club.” While Pope Francis had preached against clericalism (EG 102), Fr. Thomas Reese, sj, a senior analyst of the National Catholic Reporter is right to ask: “…but is this catching on?” He cited reports on how some seminarians dislike the new Pope as their vocation has been nurtured in a different view of the clergy and the church.

  • [1] The breakdown is estimated to be as follows: 34 percent are from/in India; 32 percent are from/in the Philippines and 21 percent are from/in Korea. The remaining 13 percent are from/in other countries like China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam. There are however many more Catholic Asian women who are theologically trained on the MA level.
  • [2] Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced, ed. Evelyn Monteiro and Antoinette Gutzler (ISPCK, 2004); Body and Sexuality: Theological-Pastoral Perspectives of Women in Asia, ed. Agnes M. Brazal and Andrea Lizares-Si (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2007); finalist in the 2007 [Philippine] National Book Award; Re-imagining Marriage and Family in Asia: Asian Christian Women’s Perspectives, ed. Sharon A. Bong and Pushpa Joseph (SIRD, 2008); Practicing Peace: Feminist Theology of Liberation Asian Perspectives, ed. Judette A. Gallares and Astrid Lobo-Gajiwala (Claretian Publications, 2011) and Feminist Cyberethics in Asia: Religious Discourses on Human Connectivity, ed. Agnes M. Brazal and   Kochurani Abraham (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
  • [3] The group, initially composed of Filipino women theologians from EWA and EATWOT first referred to itself as the “Circle of Catholic Feminist Theologians in the Philippines.” At the end of their inaugural conference in 2011, the group decided to change its name and use the vernacular term Bay-i which means “woman leader”. The forum’s forthcoming publication is Roots and Routes: Catholic Feminism in the Philippines, ed. Virginia Fabella, mm and Agnes M. Brazal, which is a collection of essays discussing the sources, development, and impact of Catholic feminism and feminist theologizing in the Philippines.
  • [4] For an overview of the development of feminist theology in India, see Pearl Drego, Birthing a New Vision, Streevani Publication, Indian Feminist Theology and Women’s Concerns: Reviews, Resources and Remembrance, http://www.streevani.org/pdf/newsletter_december2013.pdf.
  • [5] At the moment, as far as we know, the EWA is the only continental-wide Catholic organization of women theologians in the world.
  • [6] See also “A Big Heart Open to God,” interview with Pope Francis, America: The National Catholic Review, 2014, http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview. While the Pope has shelved the issue on women ordination, there remain a lot of other areas where the role of women in the Church can be strengthened, including “a woman theologian heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” Sabine Demel, “Women in the Lead: Even in the Roman Curia,” Concilium 5 (2013): 83.
  • [7] See Pope Francis, “Women called to service, not servitude,”
  • http://en.radiovaticana.va/storico/2013/10/12/pope_francis_women_called_to_service,_not_servitude/en1-736720
  • [8] Fr. Arulselvam Rayappan, “Contextualising and Excellency: Challenges for Theological Formation in Today’s India,” file:///C:/Users/Agnes/Downloads/Arulselvam%20Rayappan%20-%20Challenges%20for%20Theological%20Formation%20in%20Today%E2%80%99s%20India%20-%20The%20Level%20of%20Research%20and%20Publications.pdf
  • [9] Episcopal Commission on Seminary Formation and the Office on Women of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Benchmark Survey of Philippine Seminaries 2004, Profiles of Theology Seminarians: Values and Relationships vis-à-vis Women Perspective and Ecclesial Concerns.
  • Included in the survey are 10 major seminaries administered by the diocesan clergy, 2 by religious and 3 theological institutions managed by religious. Aloysius Cartagenas, “Farewell to ‘The Club’? A Theological-Ethical Reading of the Sexual Violence Against Women by the Roman Catholic Clergy,” in forthcoming, God-Talk and Sexual Violence, ed. Agnes M. Brazal and Daniel Franklin Pilario, vol. 3, Sexual Violence Against Women: Interdisciplinary Theological Research.
  • [10] Gender mainstreaming is a strategy toward gender equality, by giving due consideration to the experiences, perspectives, and interests of both women and men in the planning, policy-making, processes and decision-making of an institution. United Nation, Gender Mainstreaming: An Overview (New York: United Nations, 2002), http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/e65237.pdf, v.
  • [11] Cassandra Balchin, ed. Deepa Shankaran and Shareen Gokal, Religious Fundamentalism on the Rise (AWID, 2008), http://www.awid.org/Media/Files/RFs-on-the-Rise-A-case-for-action.

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Dr. Emmanuel S. de Guzman
St. Vincent School of Theology, Adamson University
Manila, Philippines

Philippine Report on the State of Theology

DaKaTeo stands for Damdaming Katoliko sa Teolohiya or the Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines. Informally set up in 2001 as a forum for theological exchanges among professionally trained theologians (with STD, PhD, and STL degrees) and formally founded in 2013, DaKaTeo is an association of Catholic theologians in the Philippines which promotes theologies for a just and inclusive Church and society. To achieve the vision, DaKaTeo (a) supports creative and scholarly theological research and its dissemination, (b) promotes theological reflection and discussion on current issues and questions in society, and (c) fosters fellowship among its members, as well as, solidarity with the oppressed and excluded. At present, the association has 38 members, 32 of whom are males and 6 are women, 20 are ordained ministers, 14 are lay persons, 2 are women-religious, and 2 bishops as co-founders. Most of the members are holders of PhD and STD degrees in Theology and allied disciplines.[1]

Since the 2011 INSeCT Conference, two relevant developments have taken place in the association. The first was a conference on “Theology and Power: An Intercontinental Conversation” in July 19 and 20, 2013. This was conducted jointly by DaKaTeo and the European Society in Catholic Theology (ESCT). The project is an offshoot of the 2011 conference of INSeCT to form collaborative relationships among theological associations, especially on “the nature, function and location of theology.” In this conference, particular attention was given to the power of theology to overcome power abuse in Church and Society. The two-day symposium was hosted by St. Vincent School of Theology and Loyola School of Theology, both in Metro-Manila, Philippines. It was attended by around 200 participants, including theologians, teachers, students, formators of religious communities, and lay pastoral leaders.[2]

The second pertinent updates are three conferences that were held for the association members since 2011. The themes were: “Art and Theology at the Crossroads?” (2011; Baguio City, Northern Luzon); “Cast your Net into the Cyber-Sea” (2012; Cagayan de Oro City, Mindanao); and “Vatican II After Fifty Years: Philippine Experience” (2013; Agusan del Sur, Mindanao, southern Philippines).[3] Since its founding, the conference has held 11 conferences and the papers are published in refereed journals of theology.[4] This coming October 24 to 26, DaKaTeo will meet again, with the theme of “Doing Filipino Theology in a Globalized World.” Ten theologians have signified their commitment to deliver and publish papers on the theme.

(1) Promising theological development in the last decade. A significant development in the Philippine Catholic theological landscape has been the increasing number of lay people taking up academic graduate and postgraduate studies particularly in theological schools in the country. This has been challenging schools of theology to re-vision or recast theology in general and the theology curriculum in particular in terms of educational and theological assumptions, content, pedagogy, and teaching staff to seriously take into account the contextual and larger arena of life-experiences of lay people in the church and society.[5] A major challenge however is still the lack of scholarship funds for lay people. Since most lay students are teachers and pastoral workers, the theological schools have to find external funding to support them, often from overseas sources. Another challenge is still the small number of lay people with postgraduate degrees who teach in theological schools. Moreover, with a few exceptions, most theological schools are exclusively taught by the ordained ministers and there is little room for trained lay theologians, particularly women.[6]

Another important development in the last decade is in the area of inter-faith dialogue, particularly with Islam, the indigenous religions, and within Christianity the transparochial charismatic renewal and pentecostal movements. The grinding poverty all over the country, the armed conflicts especially between government forces and separatist movements, organized banditry, and tribal-based political forces, as well as climate-change and human factored environmental calamities such as earthquakes, floodings due to typhoons, and illegal logging and mining– all of which are burdening the poor communities to suffer most – have become points for collaboration, assistance, and solidarity among various organized faith-organizations. The articles published in theological journals on these themes indicate that theologians are taking these social issues as locus theologicus.

(2) Significant opportunities for the development of theology in the coming decades. One opportunity relates to the ecological and environmental concerns and the increasing awareness of people to care for the natural world. Catholic theology particularly has to move out of its purely intra-ecclesial concerns in order to deal with the challenges posed by the effects of climate change and human’s abuse or misuse of nature. Theologians are moving to a direction to seek the intrinsic relationship between theology and spirituality, prophecy and mysticism, holiness and sociopolitical action.

A second opportunity is the so-called “ASEAN Integration” starting 2015, whereby member-nations in the Southeast Asian economic community will open up their borders and liberalize their laws for free flow of goods, services, investment capital, and skilled labor. This will tremendously affect also education, particularly theological education where outcome-based education is demanded. The integration will also facilitate greater exchanges of students, teachers, and researches. Another foreseen challenge for theology is in intercultural relationships. Right now, there are already questions about the search for (regional) cultural identity and how this identity will be crafted among the Filipinos, Bruneis, Cambodians, Lao, Malaysians, Burmese, Singaporeans, Thais, and Vietnamese.

Another opportunity for theology is the increasing use of computer-mediated communication technologies, particularly the Internet and various social media. It has already changed the landscape of social relations with greater connectivity and has in fact been a valuable tool in generating involvement and collaboration on national, regional, and global issues and concerns. The experience of computer-mediated communications across social classes and cultures is raising questions about the meaning of life, the world, relationships, ethics, community, church, culture, and religion.

A fourth opportunity may be added: the fresh air of openness and trust under the papacy of Francis is encouraging again theologians to develop reflections, researches and studies that were stalled a bit during the cautious terms of Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II. The accents of Pope Francis on public witnessing of Christians and his critique of global capitalism, among many others, may be traditional themes but their retrieval or reappropriation are welcomed by theologians today where the Church’s credibility is being put into question.

(3) Lastly, the significant threats to the development of theology in the Philippines. My students in graduate studies, as well as friends in cyberspace identified clericalism still as a significant threat to theological enterprise in the country. As lay people become capable in doing theology, there are ecclesiastical authorities who are threatened and are reinforcing hierarchical control. The threat is experienced not only in parishes and schools, but also in the public or civil society. As lay people voice out their views and sentiments on faith and morals, for instance in the case of the controversial bill now a law on reproductive health care, they are also experiencing marginalization if not demonization by hierarchical authorities and lay people who support the church’s positions. A “church of dialogue” that listens to reasons and respects differences is still in want.

Lastly, there is a directive to schools of theology to acquire pontifical status or to be attached to pontifical universities. On the bright side, this can give ecclesiastical recognition to small theological schools and theologians can be guided in their undertakings. On the fearful side, there are theologians who feel that such move is an attempt to control theologians and their theological researches and publications. It remains to be seen where and how this “pontificalization” of schools of theology will lead.

Emmanuel S. de Guzman, PhD

President, Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines

  • [1] DaKaTeo is an intra-disciplinary network with its members working in various fields of specialization, including systematic theology, theological ethics, scriptures, liturgy and sacraments, missiology, spiritual theology, and others. The members are engaged in teaching, administrative, formation, and pastoral ministries in universities, schools of theology, formation communities, and national and diocesan offices. There are also “itinerant theologians” in the association who are not attached to any institution (due to retirement) but travel around the country and overseas giving lectures, seminars, and short courses.
  • [2] Papers that were presented in the conference include: Vatican II and abuses in the Church: ‘A community composed of men’ that is ‘always in need of being purified’ (Gaudium et Spes 1; Lumen Gentium 8), by Stephen Bullivant (St Mary’s University College, UK); Challenging Prometheus: A Theology of Disability, by Pia Matthews (St Mary’s University College, UK); In But Not of the World: Filipino Christianity and its Powers, by Jose Mario Francisco (Loyola School of Theology, Philippines); A Kenotic Use of Power on Theology: Dangerous or Not, by Machteld Reynaert (KU Leuven, Belgium);How Can Humility Tame Power and Prevent Its Ideological Entrapment?, by Dennis Gonzalez (Ateneo de Manila, Philippines);Church Power and People Power: Hegemonies and Resistances, Randy Odchigue (Father Saturnino Urios University, Philippines); Elements in the Barrel that Produce Rotten Apples by Ramon Echica (San Carlos Major Seminary, Philippines); El Shaddai: God Almighty by Esmeralda Sanchez (University of Sto. Tomas, Philippines). Selected papers will be published together with additional papers from the US, Europe and the Philippines in an anthology provisionally titled as Power, Ethics, and Theology: International Perspectives, and to be edited by Stephen Bullivant, Eric Marcelo Genilo, Daniel Franklin Pilario, and Agnes M. Brazal. The additional papers are as follows: From the Power of Pharaoh to the power of God: The Journey of Israel from Egypt to Sinai’, by Anicia Co RVM (Institute of Formation and Religious Studies, Philippines); Women in Filipino Basic Ecclesial Communities: ‘Body Wisdom’ as Power; Power and Church Reform: A Jesuit Named Francis, by Angela Senander (University of St Thomas, USA); ‘Things Hidden, Now Revealed’: Mimetic Theory and the Child Sex Abuse Crisis, by Michael Kirwan and Sheelah Treflé Hidden (Heythrop College, UK); Ecclesial Obedience: An Ethical Assessment in the Light of Sexual Violence against Minors in the Roman Catholic Church, by Kurt Remele (University of Graz, Austria);Excuse: The Clerical Abuse Scandal and the Reception of Revelation, by Terrance W. Klein (Diocese of Dodge City, USA).
  • [3] The other conferences of DaKaTeo had these themes: “Reimaging Christianity for a Green World” (2010, held in Davao City, Mindanao); “Politics and Christian Tradition” (2009 in Bohol Island, Central Visayas); “Sexual Violence Against Women” (2008 in Tagaytay City, Southern Luzon); “Marginalization, Exclusion and Suffering” (2007 in Lipa City, Southern Luzon); “Interdisciplinarity in Theology” (2006 in Cebu City, Central Visayas); “Theological Conversations in Post-colonial and Global Contexts” (2005 in Tagaytay City, Southern Luzon); “Culture, Praxis and Theology: Interdisciplinary  Conversations (2004 in Quezon City, Metro Manila);  “Fundamentalism and Pluralism in the Church” (2002 in Manila). The papers in these conferences were subsequently refereed and published in Hapag Journal of Theology and Culture (St. Vincent School of Theology, Philippines). The 2012 conference was published in Landas (Loyola School of Theology, Philippines).
  • [4] See, Emmanuel S. de Guzman, “Theologians commemorate Vatican II in the Philippines,” at http://www.dakateo. webs.com/
  • [5] Among the educational institutions where the members of DaKaTeo work, at least 5 theological schools have academic theological programs, as well as pastoral training modules for lay people integrated in their curricula. These schools are: the St. Vincent School of Theology, run by the Congregation of the Missions; Loyola School of Theology and the Center for Family Ministries of the Jesuits; the Maryhill School of Theology managed by the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia of the Carmelites; San Carlos Mayor Seminary of Cebu Archdiocese; and De La Salle University of the Christian Brothers. The increase of lay people taking up theology courses is due to the directive of the Commission of Higher Education of the Philippines for the undergraduate/college teachers to obtain degrees in Master of Arts. However, more and more lay people working in parishes, dioceses, and pastoral organizations are now earning academic credit units in theology that can equip them intellectually and professionally in their various ministries. In the near future, more parishes and dioceses will be led by lay people who are not only pastorally skilled but also, and more importantly, theologically capable to help co-lay people in their formation and training. Last academic year, St. Vincent School of Theology (SVST) opened a PhD in Theology program; there are now 12 doctoral students taking up classroom and online courses on Systematic Theology and Theological Ethics. SVST joins the Loyola School of Theology (of the Jesuits) and the University of Santo Tomas (of the Dominicans) in Metro Manila that offer doctoral degree programs in theology for lay people and women-religious.
  • [6] Even the list of Philippine-based theologians in the book of Dindo Rei M. Tesoro and Joselito Alviar Jose (The Rise of Filipino Theology, Manila: Daughters of St. Paul, 2004), mentions no women theologians, neither lay or religious. There is only one woman cited in the book but she is a sociologist. Whether this is a limitation of the authors to scout around for more names or reflects the authors’ screening qualifications, the omission of women theologians is very noticeable. As regards women teaching in theological schools, there is a pattern that the major courses on doctrines, moral theology, and Scriptures are still taught by priests, while the minor courses, often in the area of pastoral theology or ministry are assigned to lay teachers even if they have doctoral degrees and specialize in major theological disciplines. It is more limiting for women-theologians; not all 13 theological schools and seminaries in the country are open to women to teach theology to seminarians.

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Prof. Antony Kalliath
President, Indian Theological Association
Dharmaram Vidhyakshetram University
Coimbatore, India

Scenario of Theological Conversations in India/Asia

I would like to figure out the main theological thrusts happening on four domains which are interactive and are verily part of the unfolding Indian theological scenario.

  1. Doing theology in Public
  2. Normative to Narrative Theology
  3. Faith as Inter-Faith!
  4. Non-Conclusive Church & Unfolding Christology

1.   Doing Theology in Public

The statements of Indian Theological Association, which is a well-recognized fellowship of renowned 150 plus theologians in India, are a theological source while we reflect the current theological flows and processes. If we surf through the diverse themes which have been taken for deliberation in the yearly conferences over the past few years we do not fail to see a defining shift in the theological conversations happening in the theological domains. Look at the themes in the previous conferences: “Church’s Engagement in Civil Society,” “Theology of Economics in the Globalized World,” “Indian Secularism,” “Violence in Today’s Society”, “Corruption in Public Life”, “Inclusive Development” and “Theology of Culture”.

A perceptive mind will discern a hermeneutical continuum among these themes that the theological discourses must henceforth go beyond the ecclesial domains and exclusive academic conclaves to “secular space” in the present era of people’s movements, modern media, informatics, participative democracies, and interactive pluralism. To further this argument, the Parliament of World’s Religions (Melbourne, Dec 2009),   took its theme: Make a World of Difference: Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth.   The plethora of themes discussed in this gala religious meeting of 150 plus religious representatives, scholars and leaders coming from world-over: Healing the Earth with Care and Concern; Indigenous People; Overcoming Poverty in an Unequal World; Securing Food and Water for All People, Building Peace in the Pursuit of Justice, Creating Social Cohesion in Village and City; Sharing Wisdom in the Search of Inner Peace. These subjects are not religious concerns per se. These themes and issues speak of themselves that religions are no more seen as ‘private talk’ or ‘private walk’ but are seen as constituents of public domain, to be interpreted as social, cultural and even political agencies for the transformation of societies.

In today’s ethos, if religious truths do not embody public meaning, and religions are not responsive to the concerns as well as claims of “Civil Society” which is now has become the matrix of vital movements of social changes and identity constructions of the collectives, relevance and testimony of religions will increasingly be challenged. It entails that a credible theology has to embody a social and cultural process so that our theology becomes a vital agency in our personal journey as well as the social transformation. The Pope Francis in the recent address in the World Youth Day (July, 2013) in Brazil challenges us:   “I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. We need to get out [the comfort zones]!”

Shifting of theological discourses from private ecclesial conclaves to public square vibrates with Jesus’ praxis. He has figured out the economy of salvation through the ‘economy of life’. He secularized the salvation. He sought the Sacred in the secular. Jesus has de-privatized/de-spiritualized religion and converted religions into a social Gospel of justice, human rights, human dignity, gender equity and unveiled a praxis as well as vision of inclusive vision of God’s Reign where ‘fullness of life’ is the core which excludes nobody. The theological shift from ‘private talk’ to ‘public talk’ implies that the salvation is through the people of God rather than a private affair. It entails doing theology in public responding and absorbing the claims and challenges of the ethos and epoch and thus offering tools and perspectives to interpret the “hopes, griefs and anxieties” especially of the poor and the afflicted (LG #1).

Public theologies are increasingly occupying space in the theological conversations. The public theology (or rather theology in public) entertains an inter textual-hermeneutics, which re-cognizes and listens the other in a dialectical as well as an analogous relationality on the public domain. As one author put it, “it has a methodology, wherein ‘the other’ happens as an event of being in the ambience of deep sense of mutuality.

Indian political and cultural space is conducive to engender public theologies. Indian Secularism unlike the Western secularism which entails non-negotiable divide between religion and State is a proactive political, cultural and social space in which all religions are recognized and respected. It facilitates them to be always in dialogue to uphold the peace and harmony of the polity. It upholds the principle “sarva dharma samabhava” (all religions are equal). These public theologies come on diverse sites and domains in India, namely, Dalit Theology, Tribal Theology, Inculturation theologies, Theologies of interfaith dialogue.   India liberation theologies incorporate the prophetic dimensions of religions and transform them into vital agencies of social transformations. Asia entertains four-fold dialogue simultaneously, with the poor, the cultures, the religions and creation. Ours is a religious culture wherein exists a profound continuum between the sacred and secular. Asian space is a matrix of public theologies envisioned and constructed on the sociality of religious life.

2.   Normative to Narrative Faith

The first Asian Mission Congress which was held on 18-22 October, 2006, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, proposed a new vision and praxis for theologizing in Asia. Its theme “Telling the story of Jesus to the Religions of Asia” fosters a paradigm shift from the Western normativity to Asian narrativity. This option for the narrative engagement with Asian world recognizes and embodies the Asian ‘story culture’. In Asia, religion is a culture-thing and Asia’s is a religious culture in which a creative equity, continuum and simultaneity of all facets and layers, segments and zones of life are held together in harmony. Asia’s approach is holistic inclusiveness which is inconclusive, and ever open to new syntheses and permutations. It sees hallow around every bit and byte of Reality. Holy is wholly. The whole reality is a “burning bush” and the whole existence is “Holy Ground”. The perennial wisdom which is inclusive and all-embracing is still the sway in the Asian miscellanea of day to day life. It’s hermeneutic is profoundly of harmony of life. It intuits fullness (purnam) everywhere. Unlike Western Aristotelian principle of Non-contradiction which entails a dialectical exclusion while constructing identity, Asia delights in the narrative hermeneutics of inclusion upholding the fullness of life.

The call of Asian Mission Congress is to reconceive Christian identity in the ‘story culture’ of Asia. Surprisingly this call to Asian narrative culture is a return to Jesus’ practice of ‘story-telling’. Jewish culture is of stories, parables, and poetry. Jesus was not mere telling the story of the Patriarchal warrior God of Hosts of the OT but he was ‘retelling’ the story of the God of Sky through the Incarnate who has become ‘host’ and ‘hostage’ and Immanuel who pitches his tent among people.. God of Sky has become Mother God who can only absorb the brokenness of humanity and transforms it in the mystery of love into a New Life in the mystery of Resurrection.

This ‘retelling’ in Asia should be in tune with Asian sensibilities and is possible when the Gospel is retold through the stories of teeming millions of Asia who are caught in their never ending and daily struggles of social justice, human rights, gender equity etc. This ‘retelling’ entails a ‘reconception’ of the Gospel revelation in the Asian matrix. In Asia, religious experience is existential, and religious query because the quest of self. It means that it is experiential, existential and autobiographical as in the case of Jesus who envisioned the whole economy of salvation in his pilgrimage from the womb of the Father to the Abba Consciousness. But his personal journey was not a private and esoteric one but it is exercised in the sociality of the Gospel. The challenge of theologization in Asia is realizing a personal inquiry being enacted and experimented right in the secular space which is now exponential in Asia owing to numerous peoples’ movements, knowledge revolution, media, interactive pluralism, people participative democracies etc. Indian pursuit grounded in self-enquiry which is by and large, autobiographical whereas Christian is more communitarian and historiographical per se.   Christian theologization demands a mutually fostering hermeneutical equity and creativity between autobiography and historiography.   This can be realized if we take the following twine domains earnestly.

3.   Faith as Inter-Faith!

Asia/India is the mother of all mainstream religions and hundreds of folk religions and subaltern faiths. Asian reality is religious and all religions could flourish because of contextualized and inclusive Asian secularism which promotes and support inter-active pluralism and thus engendering mutations, syntheses, permutations and even marriage of religions to give birth hybrid religions like Sikhism, Bahai Faith, Sufism and the numerous faiths based on Yoga and Zen spiritualties. In Indian scenario, there is bewildering creative synthesis and harmony of religions happening in the sensus fidelium in whom faith is interfaith in their sundries of daily life. Here the religious borders turn out to be the bridges of understanding and ‘common sense rather than of division and dissent. What we see is a delightful interplay of faiths especially among people who live on the hedges and edges of the society.

In India it is a common sight especially in the spaces where the poor live together on the margins that the images of Hindu Goddesses and symbols are juxtaposed with Christian images of Christ, Virgin Mary, Infant Jesus, rosaries and crucifixes in one and the same site. In the evenings and festal occasions, people of diverse faith assemble together and pray rosaries and recite Hindu hymns. For them all these images become agencies of empowerment in their struggles of daily life. Thus this inter-faith fellowship becomes spontaneously the ‘orthopraxis’ of their faith which is inter-faith. The sensus fidei in such interactive interfaith locale what is primary is ‘liturgy of life’ rather than the ‘liturgy of the Church’. Here borders of faith become porous and indefinite, and an inter faith worship “in truth and spirit” right in the travails of life is groomed and celebrated. People unaware indulge and celebrate an interfaith religiousness. What is now needed is not a theological abstraction but an existential immersion in such ‘events’. We can postpone our notional theologization and allow the spirit work in its inscrutable ways in such ‘simple faiths’ for time being. Here the church can be inclusive only being inconclusive and non-conclusive and it demands a radical ‘surrender’ so that the presence of the Incarnate Word may have new translations and approximations in a multi religious contexts.

Moreover, in India, there is a massive movement of Kristabhaktas who are arch Hindus but they claim that they are devotees of Christ. They come together in the weekends and recite   hymns (keerthanas) to Christ, and then they go to their Hindu temples for their routine worship. They would reason out their ‘interfaith’ that they are Hindus by religion but devotees by faith. It would be very difficult for the western mind to comprehend this faith logic of interfaith harmony. Obviously, it is more of a faith heuristic, and of realizational and existential knowledge which is justified in virtue of itself and through self- referential.

Inter-faith harmony is beyond the idea of dialogue as conceived in the Western scholastics which finds its inception in the Socratic methodology. It is more an intellectual inquiry in a ‘Socratic Space’, as it is often called, which is inclusive, open and explorative in nature. It should not necessarily be ‘experiential’. Rather it is more scientific, academic, and rational. Socratic space of dialogue is more an experimental site inciting and evoking human pursuit further through interaction and fecundation. It does neither entail nor imply a religious intent or desire per se. If that is the case, dialogue of religions may not necessarily lead to harmony of religions, which is more experiential, and realizational in nature and in content.   The on-going exercise of dialogue of religions is conceived in the Western paradigm, and hence does not go beyond the range of academics. Maybe because of that the whole enterprise of dialogue of religions does not seem fruitful. People are silently losing faith in the ministry of dialogue of religions.

In Asia what is in vogue is harmony of religion.   Harmony of religions happens at the awakening level. It means, the encounter of religions is transmuted to a religious praxis and a ‘religious experience” in itself and has the potential of evolving deeper religious encounter leading to mutual appropriation and approximation. To phrase it poignantly, the inter-religious dialogue should grow into a new ‘liturgy’ of our faith experience, which should, in turn, become the mother of theological discourses in India. The ‘liturgies of life’ celebrated on the edges and hedges of society and the third spaces of the present liminal cultural scenario embody new promises and widen the horizons of hope.

4.   Non-Conclusive Church & Unfolding Christology

We are living in exponential times of cultural flows, dialogue of religions, knowledge revolution, participatory democracies, ubiquitous modern media and globalization. The ethos, pathos and logos of the present epoch are speed and paradigmatic changes on a day to day basis owing to the enormous influx of informatics in all disciplines of knowledge. Not ideologies but informatics begins to reign the common people. There are no more any credible absolute centres having sway over the people. Common man/woman has become adult and begins to stand on his or her feet. Life has become interplay of contextual micro narratives in the miscellanea of everyday events rather than overarching temporal macro-narratives of human abstractions or postulates. What is critical is ‘topias’, not utopias in the competitive and ever challenging contingencies of post-modern life.

Moreover modern diaspora populace due to massive migrations of people from end to the other end of the world under the demand of globalization and market forces make the demographic domain unpredictably fluid as well as challenging. People find themselves in the third spaces –liminal-borderline context. Creative uncertainties ridden with enormous promises are the character and substance of the present times. Context has become scenario; constant is now ‘change’, and text becomes the texture of texts. To take on this challenging scenario what are needed are a non-conclusive Ecclesiology and a proccessive, ever unfolding Christology in the ambit of the inscrutable pneumatics of the Spirit of the Risen Christ. The scope and promise of Theological discourse rely on a proactive shift from conclusive to inconclusive and open ecclesiology trusting the aposteriori revelations of the Spirit of the Risen One. In this context the Church should entertain the praxis of an “ecclesial humility” (Gerard Mannion). The Church should be made freed from its ‘donorsyndrome’ of salvation! It implies a bold recognition of the holy mystery within which we all are embedded and which relativizes every perspective. Karl Rahner would complement this view by stating that all human beings are incorporated in or related to “people of God” for nobody is outside the embrace of God’s “universal salvific will” (LG). This “holy optimism” (Rahner) permeates every bit and byte of reality. An “ecclesiology from below” – doing ecclesiology “from the trenches” is the need of the hour (Roger Haight). An ecclesiological approach “from below” nurtures and fosters both epistemological as well as existential humility—it is literally grounded (humus).

It demands a pivotal shift from Church’s gestalt of “ad gentes” to “inter-gentes” in its witness and testimony as we find in Jesus’ praxis. Jesus has become simultaneously both ‘host’ and ‘hostage’. Besides, an ecclesiology “from below’ can be constructed in a Christology “from below”. Today the Risen Christ is no more the private possession of the Church; it belongs to the patrimony of whole humanity. Father is revealing the Son “beyond flesh and blood” of the church. The uniqueness of Christ is to be sought in his ubiquitous presence through the mystery of resurrection. The crucial query is “Where is Jesus?” rather than “Who is Jesus/”. It is through the praxis of profound ‘listening” and ‘re-cognition’ of the presence of Christ outside the Catholicism that Church can become a welcoming space where a new humanity of harmony, peace, love and joy of the Spirit can be gestated and nurtured.   A Church which is non-conclusive and open will have the ‘mind-space’ to re-cognize the presence of the Risen in the interfaith fellowships especially on the margins, and among the Hindu devotees of Christ. An inconclusive can only engage in a profound listening so much so that the ‘other is treated as ‘event’ and is seen as the constituent of own identity construction. As Isaiah put it, we should “widen the tent” (Is 54:2) so that the Church becomes a hospitable and inclusive space through its attitudes of inconclusiveness,  dialogue, surrender to the aposteriori inscrutable ways of the Spirit, and thus by ‘reconstructing’ its identity in public.

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Rev. Sr. Patricia Santos
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Leuven, Belgium
(Pune, India)

Women Theologians in India: Awakened, Assertive and Active in academic theological and grassroots movements

Towards the latter half of the twentieth century a few women theologians in India began to be actively involved in the Church and society to bring about a renewed consciousness of women’s rights and equality. In June 2001 at a meeting of women theologians in Pune, there was a felt need to form a forum of women theologians in India having a distinct feminist vision to reflect and share on concerns of women and other marginalized groups. This led to the Indian Women Theologian’s Forum (IWTF) which though initially comprised of women theologians only, mainly religious women, began to include women working at grassroots level who could think and reflect theologically. One of the main strengths of the forum which meets annually is to gather the voices of women at the margins and reflect theologically on the experiences of these women. Some of the main themes taken up in the last decade include – the identity and mission of women in the Church and Society; the influence of patriarchy on Indian women; power as experienced and exercised by women; violence against women; women and leadership; feminist hermeneutics and methodology; food for the hungry. Women theologians are actively involved in inter-religious dialogue and networking with grassroots movements. Gender sensitivity, eco-theology, embodiment and power are areas of focus in terms of research and publications. With the increase in violence against women at all levels, women theologians have been reflecting particularly on the roots of violence in religion and to see how they can respond theologically to this grave situation through publications, conferences, and through networking with Catholic, Ecumenical and Secular Organizations across the country.

A few women theologians are part of the Indian Theological Association (ITA). In 2004, at its annual meeting held in Bangalore, the ITA focused on an Indian theological response to the concerns of women, during which women themselves presented most of the papers. This has enabled women and men theologians to collaborate in addressing humanitarian concerns as well as social and political issues of the country. A few women theologians are part of EWA (Ecclesia of Women in Asia) which is a forum of Asian Catholic women theologians, that meets bi-annually. Women theologians from different parts of Asia, and other countries, have been reflecting together on diverse issues such as – body and sexuality; women and family life; peace and liberation; human connectivity in cyberspace; and liberating power.

It is due to the persistent efforts of a few committed women theologians who actively resisted the unjust structures in the Church, that a new Gender Policy of the Catholic Church favoring women’s equal rights and participation in the church was formulated, officially accepted, and promulgated in December 2009. This Policy, an offshoot of the 28thPlenary Assembly of the CBCI (Catholic Bishops Conference of India), held on the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul, II, Mulieris Dignitatem, is the collaborative effort of women to bring in the voices of women from all the ecclesiastical regions of India.The Policy has three parts. The first part situates gender equality in the context of biblical and theological foundations and the teaching of the Church. It draws attention to the situation of women in India, and the efforts of the CBCI to empower women. The second part clarifies the vision, mission, objectives and guiding principles of the policy highlighting the need for partnership, collaboration and networking at all levels. The final part includes areas of implementation addressing the major concerns of women in health, education, family, and church and in social, political, economic and legal fields. While describing each area, it outlines the policy as well as strategies and concrete guidelines to be adopted. The Policy has led to many changes in the Church with more women being trained theologically, the introduction of feminist theology in most of the seminaries, engaging trained women as ‘spiritual mothers’ or women spiritual directors in the formation of seminarians; formulation of policies and norms to address sexual abuse in the church, and the initiation of grievance cells in the parishes and religious houses.

Streevani, Pune in collaboration with other movements working for the empowerment of women in India organized a number of national consultations as a follow up of the Gender Policy to bring together women and men to reflect on gender relations in the church and society. Some of the recent conferences organized on gender relations in the church and society include – A call to integrity and justice (2010); A call to wholeness and equal discipleship (2011); Building integral partnership for a prophetic mission (2011); Living Nirbhaya: Towards a violence free society(2013). In January 2014 a national conference on “Paradigm Shift in Vatican II and its Impact on Women in India,” was organized in Bangalore in which 113 religious and lay women participated along with seven influential men holding responsibilities at national level. One of the significant outcomes of the Conference was the launching of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) which aims at collaboration of Christian women working in solidarity to take up issues of justice and human rights and to be the voice of the poor and the marginalized at national level. This was because of a felt need to move from institution-centered to people centered activities and to network with religious and lay organizations and movements across denominations. At the Conference the results of a national scientific study undertaken by Streevani on the impact of the Gender Policy of the Catholic Church were released. In order to determine familiarity with the documents as well as to gather the perceptions and beliefs of the laity about gender and justice related issues and the involvement of the Church in promoting and implementing the vision and principles contained in the Policy, Parish council members in 95 dioceses across the country were given a self-administered questionnaire. There were one thousand respondents who participated in this study. It was observed that just a small percentage of people were familiar with the document of which the majority were religious. It was recommended that a systematic study of The Gender Policy of the Catholic Church of India be initiated and followed up at diocesan and parish levels focusing on the central concerns of the document, and that seminars and workshops be organized to evaluate and conscientize people of the prevailing social and cultural stereotypes that affect women and girls.

In December 2013, Streevani in their bulletin “Birthing a new Vision” produced a remarkably substantial work on “Indian Feminist Theology and Women’s Concerns: Reviews, Resources and Remembrance” authored by Dr. Pearl Drego, a certified psychotherapist and spiritual director, who ably put together the history of feminist theology and the publications and work of women theologians, academicians, women from the margins and women’s movements in India right from the 1950’s till date. Very often local developments and contributions of women are rarely recognized and acknowledged and so this is a positive step towards a more unified Indian feminist theological vision.

However, there is need for more voice, visibility and participation of women in the Church and society. There is also need for support and collaboration from ecclesiastical authorities and religious organizations. There are many trained womentheologians in India but most are involved with formation programs in their religious institutes. Collaboration and networking is crucial for further theological development and to make an impact on the Church and the Indian society.

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Rev. Dr. James McEvoy
Australian Catholic Theological Association
Australian Catholic University
Adelaide SA, Australia

The State of Theology in Australia

The Context

Australia has a population of almost 23.5 million people, on a continent with a landmass of 7.7 million kms2, a little smaller than the landmass of Brazil, and smaller again than the USA. In recent years, Catholics have grown to be the largest religious community (27%) in Australia, with a socio-economic status matching the broader population. Over more than a century, Catholics have developed: a school system which educates about 20% of Australian children, an extensive health care system, a multifaceted social welfare system, and, more recently, two Catholic universities. Yet, against this background of social and institutional strength, Australia, like other western societies, has been profoundly influenced by the process of secularization. The figures are challenging, even troubling. Although a greater percentage of the population than ever identify as Catholic, only about 14 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly, and the participation rate of those in their twenties is about half that. Yet, great caution is required in interpreting these statistics. I am persuaded by Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s argument, in his landmark A Secular Age, against “subtraction stories,” which see the process of secularization in terms of human beings having either lamentably lost of happily liberated themselves from earlier horizons of meaning. Taylor’s argument is that since the 1960s we are all—non-believers and the most fervent believers alike—caught up in a major cultural shift, which he names the “age of Authenticity,” and which shapes our lives equally. From this perspective, the church is challenged to find ways of proclaiming the gospel in the new culture.

These factors form the broad context for Catholic theology in Australia. In what follows, I offer an account of some developments in theology, along with the opportunities and threats that present themselves. I will address these issues under the headings of the academy, church, and society—David Tracy’s three “publics” for theology, although I use the terms in a slightly different way to Tracy.

The Academy

Over the past twenty years or so, there has been a major shift in the “locus” of theological education. Catholic theology has been moving from theologates, originally established to teach seminarians, into the university sector. Australian Catholic University (with campuses in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Ballarat, and Adelaide), Notre Dame University (Freemantle and Sydney), and the Broken Bay Institute’s link with the University of Newcastle now play a major role in theological education. Yet Catholic Theological College in Melbourne, and the Catholic Institute of Sydney, both formed for the theological education of seminarians, still provide possibly the strongest undergraduate theological programs in Australia, and attract more students at that level. The publicly-funded Catholic universities, however, have greater economic and cultural resources for the recruitment of staff and the development of national structures. If the trends of the last two decades continue, the Catholic university will increasingly provide the future direction of theology in Australia. However theology’s reliance on public funding is not without its own challenges, and raises the risk of what one Australian theologian calls “the Babylonian Captivity of theology,” which could take the form of a tacit subscription to a vision of education and research that is functional and tied to short term outcomes. It could encourage a theological education with a strong practical component, and neglect both a deep immersion into the depth of the theological tradition, and a philosophical analysis of the various assumptions out of which theologians work.

In a connected shift, lay students now dominate Catholic theology, with women taking a prominent place. Lay students tend to approach theology at mature-age, entering at graduate level through coursework Masters degrees, with some moving on to Higher Degree Research awards. Many do not envisage a career in ministry as such but seek personal enrichment through a deeper knowledge of the theological tradition, while a small number work toward careers in the academy. A number pursue theological education for professional qualifications in education, health care, social work, or pastoral involvement.

Despite the challenges it faces in Australia, the discipline of theology is brimming with life. Australian theologians have made a major contribution to the theology of the Trinity, to the dialogue between science and theology, to ecological theology, to a theological understanding of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, as well as other areas of theological exploration. The Australian Catholic Theological Association is more vibrant than ever, with a membership growth of more than 15% in the last few years. And some of our members seem to be publishing more than is humanly possible, while many others are “knocking out” important work.

The Church

Perhaps the greatest challenge to the future of theology in Australia is that of developing a theologically literate and credentialed laity. In this regard, the decreasing attendance at Eucharist especially amongst the young, and Catholics’ increasingly looser connections with the church, would seem to foreshadow a decreasing number of students in theology in the future, a laity detached from the church’s theological roots, and eventually a church in decline. But this is not necessarily so. Taylor’s cultural analysis points in another direction, arguing that in post-1960s western culture, people see their religious practice as not only of their own choosing, but as something that must make sense of their spiritual development as they see it. Now this is not necessarily a negative development; greater personal appropriation of faith is something which the church has been working at for centuries. Of course, such an approach to faith has its own traps. Yet in my view, the primary challenge here for theology, and for the church more broadly, is being able to give voice to the gospel in a way that will engage our contemporaries’ searching hearts and minds, and particularly those of the young. If this were to be achieved across the Australian church, it would require teachers of religion in our Catholic schools to be alive with faith in Jesus Christ, and competent and confident with the theological tradition. And here rests a major challenge. Current requirements for accreditation to teach religious education in Catholic schools are very low; the requirement is basically only a few introductory units in theology. And given the current tensions in the church, many of these teachers of religious education feel themselves distanced from church life and culture. An engaged approach to evangelization and theological education in this field is essential.

Society

The shifting Australian social context also challenges theologians to find new ways of bringing the Christian vision to bear on our common life. The dialogical view of the church’s mission and social relationships developed in Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes gives us a new way of approaching this theological task. Of course, some want the church to shore up institutional loyalty, and define itself over-against the changing culture. Yet Gaudium et spes envisages a church genuinely open to the pluralist social order, wanting to foster those aspects of that social order that are in harmony with the Gospel, including democracy, human rights, and equality, while at the same time working to transform those aspects that are a closing off to the gospel.

Yet the pluralist social order is not without its challenges. Some contemporary social and political dynamics have an adverse impact on the life of faith, and call for a theological response. The marriage of a cultural emphasis on the individual and an economic ideology that assumes that the purpose of government is to increase national wealth encourages an unreflective selfishness in society. This aspect of Australian culture cries out for theological reflection, with its emphasis on the communitarian dimension of faith. A further aspect of the practice of government in recent years, which also cries out for theological response, is that of understanding government in terms of power and “spin,” and not in terms of consultation and wise decision-making. Some of the results of this practice are: the withdrawal of policy from democratic oversight, the targeting of minorities, and the increasing jailing of offenders.

Perhaps the Australian Jesuits are the most prominent theological practitioners in this field, with their online magazine Eureka Street containing regular theological reflection by Andy Hamilton sj on, for example, refugees and inequality, and the theologically-informed Frank Brennan sj writing in the fields of law and public ethics. Besides these, other Australian theologians have made good contributions to the field of public theology.

Note: I am very grateful to Professors Tony Kelly CSsR, Anne Hunt, Robert Gascoigne, Denis Edwards, Gerald O’Collins sj, and Andy Hamilton sj for sharing their views on the state of theology in Australia. Their perspectives are included in this paper.

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1 Comment

  1. spitster0877 says:

    Reblogged this on The Paradoxes of Life and Faith and commented:
    I have participated in the survey of the first two reports. I consider these reports to be increasing relevant in today’s world particularly in the field of the faith-life which must be espoused by the aggiornamento of Vatican II. This is like Asia now after 50 years of Vatican II. Pls. take time to read this as this may very well have implications on the development of lay empowerment in the field of theology.

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