Discovering Practical Theology: Exploring Boundaries (Louvain Theological & Pastoral Monographs) 9789042941069, 9789042941076, 9042941065

Religion takes different shapes in late-modern society. Pastoral care, church and religion are also in transition. Pract

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Table of contents :
Preface to the English Edition
Exploring Boundaries: Introduction
Part I
Individualization and Religion, the Church, and Pastoral Ministry
Part II
 What Is Practical Theology?
 Methodological Questions in Practical Theology
Part III
 Children at the Center? Practical Theology by, about, and with Children
Chaplains as Frontier Workers in Prisons
The Boundaries and Possibilities of Power in Pastoral Care
Hope, the Motor of Life and of Faith
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Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs aims to provide those involved in theological research and pastoral ministry throughout the world with studies inspired by Louvain’s long tradition of theological excellence within the Roman Catholic tradition. e volumes selected for publication in the series are subjected to peer review by the editorial board and international scholars, and are expected to express some of today’s finest reflection on current theology and pastoral practice. Members of the Editorial Board The Executive Committee: Yves De Maeseneer, Professor of eological Ethics, KU Leuven, editor Annemie Dillen, Professor of Pastoral and Empirical eology, KU Leuven Anthony Dupont, Professor of Church History, KU Leuven Annemarie C. Mayer, Professor of Systematic eology and the Study of Religions, KU Leuven, editor-in-chief Pierre Van Hecke, Professor of Biblical Studies, KU Leuven International Advisory Board: Raymond F. Collins, e Catholic University of America, Washington DC, chair José M. de Mesa, East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila, Philippines Gabriel Flynn, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland Mary Grey, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, England James J. Kelly, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland Ronald Rolheiser, Oblate School of eology, San Antonio, TX Donald P. Senior, Catholic eological Union, Chicago, IL James J. Walter, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA




Annemie Dillen and Stefan Gärtner


Cover illustration: Valerio Vincenzo, Portugal Spain Border (2010), from: ‘Borderline, Frontiers of Peace’

A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

© 2020, Peeters, Bondgenotenlaan 153, 3000 Leuven, Belgium ISBN 978-90-429-4106-9 eISBN 978-90-429-4107-6 D/2020/0602/27 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.

Contents Preface to the English Edition ...............................................................


Exploring Boundaries: Introduction .................................................... Annemie Dillen and Stefan Gärtner


Part I Border Posts: Social and Religious Contexts 1. New Boundaries: e Late Modern Context of Practical eology, the Church, and Pastoral Ministry.................................................. Stefan Gärtner


2. Individualization and Religion, the Church, and Pastoral Ministry ................................................................................................ Stefan Gärtner


Part II Cross-border Work: Practical Theology as a Craft 3. What Is Practical eology? ............................................................. Annemie Dillen


4. Methodological Questions in Practical eology ......................... Annemie Dillen


Part III Frontier Workers: Subjects of Practical Theology 5. Children at the Center? Practical eology by, about, and with Children ............................................................................................... Annemie Dillen 6. Chaplains as Frontier Workers in Prisons ..................................... Stefan Gärtner

127 157



Part IV Frontier Zones: Practical Theological Perspectives 7. e Boundaries and Possibilities of Power in Pastoral Care ......... Stefan Gärtner


8. Hope, the Motor of Life and of Faith.............................................. Annemie Dillen


Preface to the English Edition Practical theology deals with boundaries, because life in late modernity is confronted with boundaries. ese can be positive or negative: old boundaries are becoming blurred, and for many people this creates new possibilities. On the other hand, this is not true for everyone, and there is always the danger of transgressive behavior; moreover, the new freedoms are proving too much for some people. Of course these things are also the case in the fields of religion and the church. is basic insight is the starting point for the current introduction to practical theology. is is itself the result of cross-border cooperation between two practical theologians, one from Belgium and the other from the Netherlands. On both sides of the border, the need was felt for a thorough introduction to the discipline, for students and people who work in pastoral ministry, but also for anyone interested in current religious developments in the church and in society. Translating a book is itself also an exercise in crossing borders. at was the challenge in translating these discoveries in practical theology, a discipline that is always bound to a particular time and a particular place because theologians reflect on the actions and experiences of specific people. is introduction to practical theology is bound, then, to the Western European context, and more specifically to the situation of religion, the church, and pastoral ministry in Belgium and the Netherlands. Having said this, it is a feature of our time that fixed borders between countries have become fluid. People are looking across borders and are establishing contacts with people from other continents through, for instance, migration, social media, or travel. e encounter with the other, who is sometimes alien to us, can both inspire and irritate us, and this in turn teaches us a lot about ourselves. Readers of the English edition of this book will understand it from their own specific context. We have thoroughly revised the text for translation to ensure that it does justice to the contextual nature of practical theology, but at the same time is also able to offer insights to readers from other countries. eir exploration of practical theology will take place within their own specific context. Contact with religions, the church, and pastoral ministry in another country will allow them to expand their boundaries. ey will discover similarities and differences, which of course also exist



between Belgium and the Netherlands. Our aim is to invite our readers to undertake a cross-border voyage of discovery, as they explore the fascinating discipline that is practical theology.

Annemie Dillen & Stefan Gärtner

Exploring Boundaries: Introduction Annemie Dillen and Stefan Gärtner

e title Discovering Practical Theology: Exploring Boundaries summarizes the program of this book in a nutshell. Practical theology is a discipline whose aim is to explore boundaries. Practical theologians are not border protection agents, but they might be called cross-border workers.1 eir position is not an easy one. Anyone who straddles a border will receive criticisms from both sides: why don’t you come to our side, or why don’t you choose one side or the other? But such unequivocal choices are impossible at a border. Borders evoke various associations: the theologian as a person who crosses borders, the courage to look beyond one’s own boundaries, the borderland that exists between two opposite poles, the in-between phase in a transition to a new identity, the evolution of old boundaries in the religious field, positive or negative boundary transgressions, the fading away of borders in late modern society, stimulating practical theological border traffic. ese and other associations arise from the title of the book. e border appears as an ambiguous place where people are oen ill at ease. Nevertheless, we have good reasons for preferring this to any alternative easy, unambiguous, or central place. Borders as the Place of Practical Theology Practical theology moves between different poles, without any fixed certainties. is is partly due to the topic that it deals with: the actions, thoughts, and experiences of people from a theological perspective. is object of practical theology cannot be interpreted in unambiguous terms. e religious field no longer has much of a center in many Western countries, as the mainstream churches used to be. It has fallen apart into different islands, with the Catholic church as a relatively large island, but still just one island among many. Religion, the church, and pastoral ministry are in transition, and are being confronted with new boundaries. A core

1 Cf. Tjeu van Knippenberg, Grenzen: Werkplaats van pastoraaltheologen: Rede in verkorte vorm uitgesproken bij de aanvaarding van het ambt van hoogleraar in de pastoraaltheologie aan de theologische faculteit Tilburg (Kampen: Kok, 1989).



feature of contemporary culture is that it permanently stands at a border, and this is also true for spiritual practices and individual religious beliefs, as well as for religious communities and organizations. e church and pastoral ministry are currently facing new and shiing boundaries. For practical theologians, these boundaries are the places where their thinking and acting take shape, and in relation to which they position themselves.2 Generally speaking, people are inclined to view the world as binary. us, there are the distinctions between man and woman, between day and night, between good and evil, or between theory and practice. e religious field contains similar polarities, such as that between church and society, between God and man, between church teaching and people’s spirituality, between theological reflection and lived religion. Other examples could be added to the list. Many people who bear pastoral responsibility, active church members, and theologians will answer the question how the church relates to the world, or how the Christian message can be brought to society, by saying that a gulf separates the two poles in question. e task at hand then is to bridge the gap, either by bringing the experiences of people closer to the teaching of the church, or by adjusting the teaching of the church to current society. But things are not as simple as that. A third option, to simply accept the opposition between the poles, to renounce the attempt to bridge the divide, is hardly any more subtle; it commits the church to simply withdrawing from the world — but that is ultimately impossible. In terms of practical theology, it is important to avoid dualism.3 It is unconvincing to regard the two aspects, the church and the world, or faith and society, in their extremes, because there is more overlap between these poles than people oen realize. Moreover, there is a lot of internal diversity. e teaching of the church, for instance, is itself much more equivocal than it might seem at first sight. What the magisterium in Rome says is not always identical to what local episcopal conferences say. is is a good thing, because the church and the faith have their own aspect in each culture or region. e religious activity of many people nowadays is very diverse. Some people attach great value to traditions; others seek their own way and create their own blend of religiosity, influenced by contemporaries, religious institutes, and trends in late modern society. It is no surprise that 2 Cf.  Stefan Gärtner, “Borders and Migration in Practical eology: e Example of Post-World War II German Refugees and the Inter-generational Transfer of eir Experiences,” Practical Theology 11 (2018): 141-152. 3 Cf. Jaap Firet, “Op weg naar theologische existentie,” in Spreken als een leerling: Praktisch-theologische opstellen, ed. Jaap Firet (Kampen: Kok, 1987), 19-27.



practical theology as a discipline is also a multiform endeavor: five theologians, six opinions. Practical theologians move between various poles. In addition to the polarities in the church and in society, there are also internal divisions within their discipline, such as that between theory and reality, between science and practice, between practical theological thinking and social scientific research, between the university and the church, or between practical theological views and other theological disciplines. As crossborder workers, practical theologians do not try to superficially reconcile these poles, but instead attempt to show that they sometimes have more in common than is oen thought. At the same time there are things that cannot be reconciled; there are differences and ruptures that cannot be streamlined. Differences, such as those created in society between the poor and the rich, are starting points for the cra of practical theology. Practical theology is especially sensitive to the experiences that people have with boundaries. In this book we will address power and the abuse of power. e latter involves clear transgressions of boundaries. Not everything which has to do with borders is automatically good. Some boundaries must be drawn very clearly. Crossing boundaries can be positive, negative or both. We do not control everything in our lives, things oen happen to us by chance (like the unexpected illness of a relative, or the experience of falling in love). Encountering a boundary means having an experience that is different from everyday experiences. e experience of contingency refers to something or someone that disrupts ordinary life. Some people see this as a trace of God, who “reveals himself more at the boundaries, than within the boundaries of knowledge.”4 Among the things that practical theologians do is to investigate what meaning these border experiences have for people’s actions and thinking, but also for theology, for the church, and for pastoral ministry. We want to invite the readers of this book to think in a practical theological way, not on the basis of supposed unambiguous certainties, but standing at various borders. We want to look for creative pathways in the borderland between poles, and also cherish the no man’s land. Some people find borderlands scary, because they involve uncertainty and because they challenge old certainties. But our perspective is to explore the borderland from a vision of hope. Our inspiration is the biblical story 4 Kees de Groot, “Fluïde vormen van kerk-zijn,” in Levend lichaam: Dynamiek van christelijke geloofsgemeenschappen in Nederland, ed.  Rein Brouwer et al. (Kampen: Kok, 2007), 240-280, at 261.



of the men sent by Moses to reconnoiter the promised land of Canaan aer many years of wandering through the desert (Numbers 13). ey returned with a large vine branch full of grapes, a sign of fertility. But then the Israelites began to doubt: Was it safe in Canaan? Would they be able to live there? ey preferred to go back to the certainties of Egypt. But others did not lose faith. eir trust was ultimately rewarded: they were given the promised land to live in. Places or periods in between two things are places or phases of uncertainty and transition, but they can also be places where creativity emerges, where new ideas are given scope to develop, where experiments can happen with other visions and practices. Cultural anthropology, a partner discipline of practical theology, calls this liminality. is term refers to limen, the Latin word for threshold. Liminality is the time or status in between two periods. In transition rituals in traditional African cultures, liminality refers to what happens when the adolescents are in separation, before they return with their new status of adults. ey undergo all kinds of rituals that mark the transition.5 Liminality is a concept that points to the possibility of a new existence and to the wisdom that can be found in in-between situations. We assign a positive value to boundaries in this book on the basis of Christian hope and trust. e life of Jesus was also a life in transition, which blurred boundaries, and overcame traditional divides. His attitude to women or children and to people regarded as sinners or his message of grace and solidarity involved boundary transgressions. e old boundaries had lost their absolute character; scope was created for renewal and for turning around. People can discover a glimpse of God’s presence precisely there where God’s activity is no longer expected to be confined to fixed patterns.6 Creating scope for new forms of thinking, for transformation, for other perspectives, by refusing to regard boundaries as absolute — that is what we want to do in this book. Our purpose in showing different perspectives when exploring the complexity of society or of the church is not to create confusion, or to ultimately arrive at a position that can be juxtaposed 5 Cf.  Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1960); Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and AntiStructure (Chicago, IL: Aldine, 1969). For an interpretation and application of this concept within practical theology, cf. Noelia Molina, “e Liminal Space in Motherhood: Spiritual Experiences of First-time Mothers,” in The Faith Lives of Women and Girls: Qualitative Research Perspectives, ed. Nicola Slee, Fran Porter, and Anne Phillips (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 207-220. 6 Cf.  Sang Hyun Lee, From a Liminal Space: An Asian American Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010).



unequivocally and dualistically with some other practical theological position. We will explore the complexity of people’s religious experiences and practices, on the basis of the belief that living at an intersection, exploring boundaries, and standing between two opposite poles can become a source of new theological and pastoral insights. The Structure of This Book Just like the title, the structure of this book has something to say about what practical theology can be. We see it as a discipline that is sensitive to context. In the first place, there is the context of the practical theologian him- or herself. One such context7 might be that of teaching at university and conducting scientific research, but practical theological reflection also takes place for example in parish-level teams. e subject that is studied may be the same, for example, the judgments and prejudices that people have about ministers, but the way in which it is treated will be different. is is partly the case due to the context. A researcher at a university will look at religious practices from a somewhat greater distance than a pastor in a church setting, and he or she will try to analyze these practices using scholarly methods. Parish workers will carry out their reflection in direct dialogue with people’s activity, and will thus develop a different form of practical theology. ey will be less concerned about justifying how they arrived at their conclusions, and more inclined to reflect on the choices of their daily lives. eir understanding of what people think and expect of them will be much more direct than a scholar’s understanding. What is true for the various kinds of practical theologian is also true for the church and for pastoral ministry. e context is one of the determinants of how they manifest themselves at any given time or in any given setting. We have therefore decided to situate this book in the Low Countries, i.e. in the Netherlands and Belgium. Practical theology cannot be done without being embedded somewhere, because it is a discipline that reflects on people’s specific actions. At the same time, however, the book is also intended for readers in other countries. ey will read it with their own specific experiences in mind, experiences that will be in some ways identical to and in some ways different from the situation in the Netherlands and Belgium. 7 For a critical reflection on the meaning and the use of the term ‘context’, see Courtney Goto, Taking on Practical Theology: The Idolization of Context and the Hope of Community, eology in Practice 6 (Leiden: Brill, 2018).



e Christian faith refers to general truths, but its specific shape changes as people treat these truths differently and give individual meanings to them, for instance, when they pray together, or when someone seeks comfort in faith aer the death of their partner. Christians are different, because they live in different contexts: Nigerian Catholics belong to the same worldwide church as their Dutch sisters and brothers, but besides similarities there are also differences in the way they believe. A minister in Bolivia will preach in a different way than his colleague in Belgium does. Even within these countries there is diversity rather than homogeneity. ere is a range of ways in which to put the Gospel into practice and these ways reflect the different situations that people find themselves in. Migration for instance has brought Christians from Nigeria and ministers from Bolivia to Europe and their changing contexts cause their faith to change. Conversely, their spirituality can be an inspiration to Christians born in European countries, who themselves are not, and never were, uniform. A young female chaplain in a city hospital is likely to deal differently with rituals than a retired priest in a tradition-oriented local parish. Women believe differently than men, adolescents than elderly people, Catholics than Protestants, and people from higher social classes than people from lower social classes. Within these groups, again, there are differences with respect to insight, experience, and the way they put the faith into practice. us context is written into faith, religion, and spirituality. at is why we will not start this book by asking what late modern Christianity looks like, but by asking how the societies in Belgium and the Netherlands in which Christianity manifests itself can be viewed. Our approach to the religious landscape is not primarily internal: what does the Catholic church think about contemporary society? is might imply that the church is able to look at society from the outside. In fact we have already pointed out that the church is itself a part of society, and this colors the way it looks outward and inward, i.e. to itself. In part I we will put up a number of ‘border posts’ to understand the social and religious context of late modernity, a kind of funnel. Chapter 1 will present a broad outline of late modern society as the context of Christianity, viewed from a European perspective, and of course of practical theology. e funnel narrows in chapter 2, as we look at how religion, including the Catholic church, manifests itself in this context. We then focus the perspective further by looking at pastoral ministry and at characteristic issues that occur there. We have expressly chosen to start from a particular point: society in Belgium and the Netherlands, and primarily Roman Catholic practical



theological thinking. is choice entails considerable openness to other perspectives. Roman Catholic practical theology can be enriched by scholars from other denominations and other disciplines, whether they are theological or not. Although it is true that our argument begins in a specific place, practical theology does not exist without cross-border traffic with colleagues who work from other traditions, methods, and backgrounds. Part II contains what you might normally expect in an introduction to an academic discipline. We describe practical theology there as a cra, and the practical theologian as a cross-border worker. Chapter 3 gives an overview of the concept, the various approaches, the object, and the history of practical theology. We ask a number of methodological questions in chapter 4: how precisely is practical theology done, particularly its empirical side? We can obviously li only a corner of the veil, because there is a great diversity of methods. We will try to overcome this problem in the subsequent four chapters, where we focus in each on a specific practical theological method. In this way the reader gets a look behind the scenes of various representatives of the discipline. Our choice in this book is thus to discuss examples rather than to take an encyclopedic approach. We want to limit theoretical discussion of the discipline as much as possible, and instead show the reader what practical theologians actually do. We use specific cases and specific research results and examples to clarify the cra of this discipline, in the hope that this will root theory formation in specific practices. Practical theology, ultimately, is reflection on praxis: it is not divorced from reality, but is founded in reality. We will use the examples selected to demonstrate this. One consequence of this choice is that this book will not acquaint its readers with the full breadth of practical theology. One missing aspect is an overview of developments in the subdisciplines of practical theology. Instead of choosing breadth, we have chosen depth. We will give the reader insight into selected issues and contexts; a method that is proven to be more effective than bird’s eye surveys.8 Our choice is also inspired by the wish to make a point as to substance: as we have already observed, practical theology is not about the practices of people in general, but about very concrete actions, experiences, and convictions.

8 Cf. Stefan Gärtner, “Wie kann die Praktische eologie pastorale Professionals ausbilden? Ansatz und Methode,” Pastoraltheologische Informationen 35 (2015): 83-95.



In doing so we will use the three-step method that is a characteristic feature of this discipline: observation, evaluation, stimulation. Practical theologians begin by asking ‘what’: what is going on in the specific setting in which people act? is is the empirical approach: studying practices and people’s experiences. is is followed by asking ‘why’: this question seeks to understand the activity and interpret it within a theological framework. e third step is to ask ‘how’. is refers to the practical theologians’ pragmatic or strategic task: how could the practice be changed, improved, and what would people need to do to make this happen? ese three steps together form the basic structure of practical theological thinking, and therefore also of every chapter in the following parts. We are well aware that many practical theologians do not apply these steps in this sequence, or not even apply all of them in every case. But the image of the three steps can help to clarify things and provides structure to many subjects discussed in this book. Part III therefore addresses two sample topics of practical theology, in chapter 5 (children) and 6 (prison chaplains). Both groups are practical theological cross-border workers, each in their own way. Traditionally, practical theology comprised reflection on pastoral ministers and their preparation for their function in the church. Practical theology therefore looked particularly at pastoral professionals and the activity of the church. is corresponded to a form of pastoral practice in which the ordinary faithful were approached as objects of pastoral ministry rather than as subjects of their faith. is asymmetrical role division in the church also defined the image of practical theology. e Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and other developments caused this to change. Practical theology no longer exclusively looks at pastoral professionals, like, in our case, prison chaplains. e lived religion of ordinary people is equally important as a topic.9 It follows from this that children also engage in theology, at least if their parish or classroom gives them the opportunity to do so and if they are taken seriously as witnesses to and actors of the Gospel.


Cf.  Ruard R. Ganzevoort and Johan H. Roeland, “Lived Religion: e Praxis of Practical eology,” International Journal of Practical Theology 18 (2014): 91-101; Annemie Dillen, “Lived Religion and the Complex Relations between Practical eology, Empirical eology, and Religious Studies,” in Catholic Approaches in Practical Theology: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Claire E. Woleich and Annemie Dillen, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum eologicarum Lovaniensium 286 (Louvain: Peeters, 2016), 15-30.



Our sample-based approach continues in part IV, where we will explore two ‘borderlands’ of practical theology. We are referring to two perspectives on practice: power and hope. Again, this choice is inspired by a particular ‘anti-program’. Practical theology in the past not only focused one-sidedly on the person and tasks of pastoral ministers, but also on classical church domains (such as sacramental catechesis and the administration of the sacraments), or specific institutional settings (like hospital chaplaincy). Many practical theological books and articles deal specifically with these subjects, and rightly so. However, the problem can be that this paints a picture of reality that does not always correspond completely with people’s reality. Faith communication, for instance, occurs not only in sermons or preparation for first communion, but also in conversations between friends about existential issues, or more implicitly in the practical solidarity that Christians show with people on the margins of society. is is why in chapters 7 and 8 we have chosen perspectives that go beyond pastoral tasks, institutional settings, and ecclesiastical fields of action. Power and hope are essential features of our existence, they can be found in all human actions, including religious actions. Of course this is also true for other issues, but in this part, too, we have had to make choices. We could have focused on other borderlands, but this perspective-based approach to practical theology, rather than an approach that focuses on the work of professionals in the church, is also the result of a choice as to the substance of the discipline; one which has become the common standard across practical theology.10 Acknowledgements Everyone who writes a book makes choices. Scholars, unlike poets for instance, must be able to account for these choices. It has already become clear that the title and structure of this book say much about how we regard our discipline. We have tried to create a harmony between form and content. e way we have structured this book therefore shows how we want to practice practical theology in liminal spaces, and vice versa. As co-authors, we constantly challenged each other to do this, and complemented, corrected, and improved each other’s texts. e result is the work of cross-border cooperation. Every author owes a debt of gratitude to many people. We are particularly grateful to those who critically read parts of this book during its 10 Cf. Wilfried Engemann, Personen, Zeichen und das Evangelium: Argumentationsmuster der Praktischen Theologie (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2013), 216.



genesis: Kees de Groot, Jeroen de Wit, Eva Gelper, Sjaak Körver, Anne Vandenhoeck, Ryan van Eijk and Elke Van Hoof. Machteld Reynaert provided significant editorial support throughout the stages of writing this book, for which we thank her very particularly. We are also grateful to our students in Leuven and Tilburg, who studied the manuscript during their practical theology classes and who did the assignments. We have incorporated their feedback and comments. We thank Brian Heffernan for the translation of this book. Our special thanks also goes to Annie Bolger, Amy Casteel, Rita Corstjens, Armin Kummer, Patricia Santos and Dries Ver Elst who supported us in editing this English book. A special word of thanks is due, finally, to the editors of the Louvain eological and Pastoral Monographs series, particularly Leo Kenis and Annemarie C. Mayer and to Peeters Publishers.

Part I

Border Posts: Social and Religious Contexts

 New Boundaries: The Late Modern Context of Practical Theology, the Church, and Pastoral Ministry Stefan Gärtner


Try to imagine what the life of a child born next year will be like throughout its lifetime. How will it be different from your own life and that of your parents or grandparents? What choices do you imagine that this child will face and what boundaries will it encounter?

Our existence is characterized by boundaries. In our relationships, for instance, we learn to accept our partner’s boundaries — even if this is not always easy. People make plans for themselves about what they still want to achieve in their lives: with regard to their education, their favorite sport, their personal growth or the countries they still want to visit. Sometimes they are able to realize these plans; sometimes this just does not work out for a while. Everyone encounters boundaries: your own limitations or boundaries imposed by your surroundings. Your own identity emerges by setting boundaries and by accepting boundaries. Boundaries restrict, but they also make life easier. Boundaries give orientation on what is allowed and what is not. ey offer new challenges, because they can be changed or transgressed. ere is no such thing as a life without boundaries. All this is true not only at the individual but also at the social level. Society as a whole, including organizations such as the church, exists because of and on the basis of boundaries. ey determine who benefits from social services in a particular country and who does not, or who has access to certain jobs and who does not. In the religious field, there are boundaries between Catholics and non-Catholics, between Christians and Muslims, and between clergy and laity. ese boundaries give people a sense of belonging to a particular group. Others are excluded. e more thoroughly the difference between in-group and out-group is



policed, the more tight-knit the community, and the more difficult it is to join or to leave.1 In the past, such boundaries were clear and solid. Catholics, for instance, formed tight-knit and relatively homogeneous communities in the Netherlands and Belgium. ey organized themselves in a religious ‘pillar’ or ‘milieu’.2 roughout their lives, their contacts were mainly with people like themselves. And Catholics were more like each other, both as regards lifestyle and religious convictions, than they are today. Sociologists have seen this as a typically modern formation of religion, where the community to a large extent determined the choices that people made or were able to make. ese old boundaries have long begun to shi. at is why in some parts of the world, people have started to speak about a new era, which they call late modernity or postmodernity. We are living in a society with shiing and rapidly changing boundaries. Sometimes boundaries disappear altogether. On the other hand, new boundaries are being drawn, and some old boundaries are being retained. is is the case in all fields of life, not only in the religious field. In this chapter, our purpose is to analyze how people have dealt with this challenge of changing and new boundaries. Sometimes these boundaries can be viewed positively, but in other cases the divisions are open to criticism. We will use a modified concept of individualization as a key to analyzing life in late modernity (section I), and will then zoom in on a number of aspects that are characteristic of life in this era (section II).

I. Individualized Existence in Late Modernity ere is a lot of debate about the precise meaning of the concepts of late modernity or postmodernity, and the pros and cons of the terminology. ere is no need to rehearse the arguments here at length; suffice it to point to a number of changes that have taken place. ese concepts refer to accelerated processes of modernization that have occurred in Western European countries since the 1960s.3


Cf. Norbert Elias and John Lloyd Scotson, The Established and the Outsiders: A Sociological Enquiry into Community Problems (London: Sage, 1994). 2 Cf.  Karl Gabriel, Christentum zwischen Tradition und Postmoderne (Freiburg i.Br.: Herder, 2000). 3 Cf. Staf Hellemans, Het tijdperk van de wereldreligies: Religie in agrarische civilisaties en in moderne samenlevingen (Zoetermeer: Meinema; Kapellen: Pelckmans, 2007), 38-41.



1. What Is Late Modernity? Following the majority of sociologists and philosophers, our assumption is that late modernity does not mean the end of modernity. Instead, it denotes a radicalization of modernity, a process which has made modernity more dynamic. People are more conscious of living in a phase of permanent change. Major changes are no longer occurring at the transition from one generation to the next, but within generations themselves. In late modernity, almost everything happens more quickly and more radically than in the past. Moreover, people are encountering new boundaries that are created by advanced modernization.4 Many experiences demonstrate that it is impossible to fulfil the promises of modernity, such as the emancipation of people, the realization of a good society, or permanent technological and economic progress. ese promises are proving to be empty, because emancipation is not realized to the same degree for all people, because traditional social contracts are no longer functioning, or because technological and economic progress also results in environmental pollution and the depletion of natural resources. All these things constitute new boundaries. At the same time, there are unprecedented freedoms, because old structures, convictions, patterns of behavior, communities and obligations have fallen away. However, there is no longer any single vantage point from which it is possible to survey the world, because we live in a polycentric world. ere are alternatives for almost everything and everyone. Nothing in principle is self-evident any longer. e argument, ‘is is how we have always done this’, is still used within specific groups, such as parish teams, sport clubs, or businesses. Change is not always the obvious policy, but ultimately there is nothing that is immune to questioning.5 is is why those who want to exude authority or who promise that they can show the way forward, such as institutions or leaders, must permanently account for themselves and call their own position into question. Late modernity is therefore also called reflexive modernity. It involves a new awareness and a putting into perspective of one’s own boundaries.6 2. Individualization as a Feature of Life with New Boundaries is structural necessity to engage in permanent self-reflection also affects the individual. e so-called Western societies are characterized 4

Cf. Hellemans, Het tijdperk van de wereldreligies, 145-149. Cf. Edmund Arens, “Was heißt in der entfalteten Moderne an Gott glauben?,” Bulletin ET 10 (1999): 15-24. 6 Cf. Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992). 5



by a process of individualization. You yourself have to define who you are in perplexing social circumstances: this is no longer automatically determined by the family you were raised in. People constantly have to make their own choices.7 is does not mean that individualization is an exclusively late modern phenomenon. On the contrary, the development of Western societies can be regarded as a permanent process of increasing autonomy and individuality. Christianity, which is currently seen more as a challenger of this process of individualization through its focus on the church community, in the past itself contributed to this process by assigning significance to the individual person and his or her decisions in the field of prayer, in confession, in matrimony, or in the creed.8 Although the creed is recited collectively in the liturgy, its fixed formula is: I believe. Christianity values individual responsibility and rejects any form of coercion. e dynamics of individualization have gathered force in late modernity. Social developments such as the demise of tradition, globalization, unprecedented pluralism, and the digitization of communication strongly affect our existence. ese changes are not occurring in the same way and at the same pace everywhere in the world. ere is nonsimultaneous simultaneity: from our European perspective, we expect that certain processes will logically take place everywhere, for instance, the development from a low to a high degree of digitization. But at the same time there are people who live in tribal contexts, and for whom a sense of community and traditions continue to be paramount. Within so-called Western countries themselves, too, there is a digital gap between different groups. Growing individualization presupposes many conditions, such as an increased average lifespan (which has caused adolescence and the ‘third age’ to become stages of life in their own right), increased general prosperity (so that people no longer have to spend all their time providing for their daily basic needs, but are able to go on vacation, for instance), an increased level of education (so that people can do jobs that are less physically demanding or monotonous), or social and physical security (which make it possible to travel or walk on the street at night without much danger).9 Large-scale individualization only takes place where most of these forms of progress are available to people. is does not change the fact that there 7

Cf. Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society (Cambridge: Polity, 2001). Cf.  Ulrich Beck, A God of One’s Own: Religion’s Capacity for Peace and Potential for Violence (Cambridge: Polity, 2010). 9 Cf. ibid., 91-100. 8



are people in Europe whose situation is in structural decline, and who are unable, in other words, to benefit from late modern developments. 3. Blurring of Horizontal and Vertical Boundaries e horizontal and vertical boundaries that used to define life have become blurred in contemporary societies. e division of society into classes, religious ‘pillars’, and status groups has become less rigid as the children of workers are able to enjoy university education, and subsequently climb the social ladder, or as women are no longer expected to stay at home as a matter of course while men work outside the home. At the same time, remnants of these old boundaries persist: children whose parents did not receive higher education sometimes have a difficult time at university, and even today women with top careers are questioned about their work-family combination more oen than men. From the vertical perspective, there is the disappearance of hierarchies and of undisputed authority. We have already addressed this aspect: the pastor has lost prestige and his advice is no longer asked, politicians are seen as unreliable, anyone can present themselves as a journalist on the internet, doctors have to submit to having their competence judged in public rankings. What remains in late modernity aer the blurring of these horizontal and vertical structures, is the individual as Archimedean point. It  has become the norm to think of people first and foremost as individuals, and not as members of a family, a nation, a status group or an association. ese latter characteristics are important, because someone can, for instance, also be a daughter, a Belgian, an academic, and/or a Catholic. e characteristics of social identity determine the level of privilege or power that an individual enjoys. On the whole, however, the central focus is on the individual, and not on the group to which he or she belongs. Everyone is regarded as the producer of their own life, and no longer simply as the product of circumstances. e individual has become the motor of social development.10 4. Individualization as a Help and as a Hindrance is provides benefits and freedom, but it can also be a burden and a new obligation. To put it differently, individualization is Janus-faced.


Cf. Beck, A God of One’s Own, 127-138.



On the one hand we do not automatically belong to anything anymore, and can therefore choose ourselves what level of contact or obligation we want. us, there are various possibilities of having relationships, because marriage is no longer the standard model. People can choose not only their own partner, but also their job, lifestyle, leisure activities, or place of residence. Traditional values such as loyalty, respect for authority, or work ethic have yielded to post-material values based more on self-development and participation. e late modern individual is more mobile and can feel at home in several worlds at the same time, typified by the use of electronic media. Old certainties, social obligations, tried and tested models of life, communal routines, and closed environments are disappearing. Overarching symbolic systems (such as the identity of the nation) and grand narratives (such as the unification of Europe) are fading.11 On the other hand, the individual is obligated to make these choices and to justify them him- or herself. Everyone is the author of their own life’s story. In late modernity, you have to establish your personality through “reflexivity,”12 by permanently observing and reflecting on yourself. People cannot not choose. ere is no aspect of our existence that is unreflectively self-evident; everything can be questioned — ultimately this means that we can be questioned ourselves. What do people still have to fall back on? is is a difficult question. e more existence has become individualized, the more reality simultaneously appears to have become segmented. e living environment offers many opportunities, but is also confusing and unreliable. It appears impossible to oversee all consequences of your own decisions in advance. One feature of late modern existence therefore is the “capacity of human subjects to envision different and alternative futures.”13 Many things could be very different from what they currently are. is is why holistic unified visions are popular, visions that promise to reconcile the actual segmentation of individualized reality, like populism in politics or fundamentalism in religion. is reduces actual plurality to a number of simple answers (The Fundamentals) that are deemed to be unchallengeable. Ultimately, this does not do justice to the challenges that individuals face in late modernity. People cannot simply sidestep the necessity of shaping their existence themselves.

11 Cf. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984). 12 Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge: Polity, 1991), 52. 13 John Reader, Reconstructing Practical Theology: The Impact of Globalization (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), 46.



5. Limited, Rather than Absolute Freedom Despite the constant necessity to choose, individuals are not fully free in their decisions. In late modernity too, they continue to be the product of the social world, however much they may imagine themselves to be the masters of their own house. We all continue to be subject to standards, expectations, and patterns of authority that we must respect, whether we like it or not. ere is no such thing as unlimited individualization (thankfully). Even though everyone is expected to develop an individual personality, in fact similarities between people continue to exist, despite the fact that the norm of originality applies to everyone. We could, for instance, choose to wear many different kinds of clothes, but the vast majority of us wear ready-to-wear clothes, although many adverts for brands tell us that wearing a particular brand of clothing will make us special. In other words, there is a tension between the allegedly unlimited nature of individual freedom, and the standardization of our existence by the actual boundaries of freedom. e way we clothe ourselves is one example. Universities and schools inevitably create a certain relationship between lecturers/teachers on the one hand and students/pupils on the other. ere is little that can be done about this. Similarly, every day we subject ourselves to the rhythm of (public) transport. Most of us are clients of a bank and have a health insurance. If you are in hospital, your autonomy as a patient is severely restricted, because you have to entrust yourself to the expertise of doctors and nurses and to the accuracy of their diagnosis and treatment. e mass media propose role models: how elderly or young people should or should not behave. Consumerist culture determines what an average living room looks like. In short: individualization is an ambivalent phenomenon. “Processes of standardization and destandardization are taking place simultaneously” in late modernity.14 You are free, but at the same time you are not free. is means life is an individual challenge, but it is also complex and confusing. You may have many options, but at the same time your existence is characterized by new boundaries.15 We experience this as a mix of dependence and autonomy, of standardization and creativity, of fate and self-determination. It seems to be a typically late modern feature that the boundaries between these binary opposites are not always clearly drawn.


Matthias Junge, Individualisierung (Frankfurt a.M. and New York: Campus, 2002), 69. 15 Cf. Peter Gross, Die Multioptionsgesellschaft (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1994).



6. People Who Have Little to Choose People are becoming conscious of the many opportunities they do not have. ere are people who, because of their age, social status, nationality, state of health, sex, and/or financial possibilities, have little to choose. is means they are condemned to abide by fixed patterns of action, even if they live in a society that promises and even demands individual responsibility for one’s own destiny. In other words, the implicit norm to make a success of your life also applies to them. If people are unsuccessful, they are held responsible for their own failure. Social problems are ascribed to the individual: if you are unable to move to the rhythm of the performance society, then you are to blame for this yourself; if you become a victim of violence, you should have been more careful or assertive; if you become ill, you should have paid more attention to a healthy diet and lifestyle; if you suffer from stress, you should learn to plan better; if you become unemployed, you should have made sure to obtain a better educational degree in the past; if you are poor in old age, you should have taken precautions earlier. In this way, social challenges are made the responsibility of individuals. Everyone is expected to adopt an enterprising attitude toward their own life.16 We appear to live in a society where everything can be molded by ourselves. People are expected to deploy their skills and competences strategically. We must ultimately accept this responsibility, even though it is our experience that our biography is actually defined by new standardizations, permanent change, and growing complexity.17 Individuals are confronted by the late modern tragedy of their existence by taking — having to take — many decisions in daily life without being able to oversee the consequences and outcomes. Viewed positively, this gives rise to new creative solutions and untold opportunities. On the other hand, this freedom of choice is asking too much of many people and has become a coercive force that many people cannot deal with. 7. What Is Your True Self? It is part of the growing complexity of existence that people live in different worlds, each of which may demand other and sometimes conflicting things 16 Cf. Ulrich Bröckling, The Entrepreneurial Self: Fabricating a New Type of Subject (London: Sage, 2015). 17 Cf.  Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003).



of them. Individuals have to switch constantly and quickly from one role to the other: you are invited to a party, and this means you have to organize a babysitter immediately; as a civil servant you are required to carry out decisions that you are unable to defend as a Christian; you are a passenger on a train and suddenly you find yourself in a conversation about existential issues with a fellow passenger. What is your true self? People in late modern society have to reconcile many, sometimes diverging identities within themselves.18 It appears that we have become multiple personalities. is experience forms the background to what has been called the ‘death of the subject’. e Enlightenment turned the autonomous person into the figurehead of existence. e standardization of identity, i.e. the new boundaries that are being imposed upon us, seriously undermines this norm. It is becoming clear that we have less control over our lives than we would like to have, and than we assume we have in our individualized society: different and sometimes contradictory patterns of behavior are drawing us in or repelling us; it looks like we are the playthings of the unconscious; chance occurrences can turn our existence upside down; and we are at the mercy of all kinds of institutions that control and regulate our lives. Such experiences are leading to the “dilution of the idea that the subject is master of everything.”19 e putative unity, acumen, purposefulness, and sovereignty of human actions are increasingly in doubt. We are no longer the master of our own house, of our own existence. People experience themselves as different, not only vis-à-vis other people, but also vis-à-vis themselves. e classical concept of identity is being criticized precisely because it links identity too exclusively with notions of ever-increasing autonomy, and that it elevates the autonomous ‘I’ to the status of the goal of human existence.20 Sometimes, in fact, decisions are made about people and they have no say in the matter, let alone any choice. is means the question ‘What is your true self?’ is a difficult question that can only be answered very tentatively. Our identity is in fact a patchwork with many loose ends.21 Life has become a project that people need to work on permanently. 18 Cf.  Kenneth J. Gergen, The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2000). 19 Wolfgang Welsch, Unsere postmoderne Moderne (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2008), 316. 20 Cf. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). 21 Cf. Heiner Keupp et al., Identitätskonstruktionen: Das Patchwork der Identitäten in der Spätmoderne (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2008).



8. The Enduring Significance of the Community However, you do not do this by yourself. e concept of individualization is not understood properly if it is linked to the end of sociability and community. Individualization does not mean selfishness or a monadic existence. People have not ceased to be oriented to others in late modern society. For example, they are still prepared to commit themselves as volunteers or to make donations to charity.22 But for many people this social commitment is no longer linked to permanent membership of an organization, party, or union. It happens increasingly in informal networks that have a specific goal that people care about. Young seniors in particular, i.e. people between 55 and 70, who are oen no longer in paid employment but are still active and healthy, are becoming socially involved. is is particularly true for people who are active church members.23 We are also still creating forms of community. Individuals oen commit to other people who have the same interests and lifestyle in so-called ‘milieus’ or subcultures.24 ese communities are no longer predetermined; here too you can choose which group you want to belong to. e obligation to participate in something on account of birth or custom is weakening whereas this was the exact opposite in the past. Community has become less compulsory in late modernity, but also less robust. It is becoming more fluid and temporary.25 e task of community building is also devolving to individuals. People are more or less free to join one group, participate only superficially in another, and not join another group at all. But the alleviatory function of communities — belonging to a group as a matter of course, and being able to fall back on this group in times of crisis — has been diluted by the individual’s freedom of choice. Of course, we must add immediately that the binding force of groups in the past not only gave support to people, but could also be a burden to them.

22 Cf. René Bekkers, eo Schuyt, and Barbara Gouwenberg, Geven in Nederland 2015: Giften, nalatenschappen, sponsoring en vrijwilligerswerk (Amsterdam: Reed Business, 2015). 23 Cf.  Joep de Hart, “Van vaste kaders naar verschuivende panelen: Religieuze ontwikkelingen in Nederland,” in Achter de zuilen: Op zoek naar religie in naoorlogs Nederland, ed. Peter van Dam, James Kennedy, and Friso Wielenga (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014), 101-134, at 128-123. 24 Cf. Gerhard Schulze, Die Erlebnisgesellschaft: Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus, 2005). 25 Cf.  Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity, 2007).



Question What are the advantages and disadvantages of life in an individualized society? Your answer should include not only yourself but also the example of someone who is in the country without a residence permit, or, for instance, a single parent living on benefits.

II. A Kaleidoscope of Individualized Society We have used the concept of individualization as a key to mapping changing boundaries and the rise of new boundaries in today’s world. Of course, this is just one of many possible lenses through which the contemporary context of practical theology, the church, and pastoral ministry can be viewed. In other words, this is a relative concept. It does provide a framework that can help us to interpret other characteristics of late modern culture. e following features (see sections II.1 up to and including II.6) complement the picture that has been drawn so far. e period we have analyzed using the individualization concept is that of late modernity. We will now look more specifically at certain aspects to make our analysis more specific. ese aspects are like reflections of a multiform reality in a kaleidoscope. As soon as you rotate this binocular-style device, the motley collection of glass fragments forms a different image. ese fragmented insights together make up our individualized world. 1. Private and Public It is a feature of late modern individualization that the boundaries between private life and the public domain are becoming blurred. In the virtual world one of the questions which arises is what information people should or should not share about themselves or how much of themselves people are showing. Photos and videos of people are being uploaded for sadistic reasons without their consent. What used to be regarded as intimate is now exposed on the internet to anyone who wants to view it. One effect of this medium is that people are not leaving their homes as much as they used to, because many facilities can be accessed at home. is makes people who do not have the means to access the internet at home victims of digitization: services at the counter oen come at a substantial surcharge. e boundary between private and public is also becoming blurred in respect to work. Some people work flexibly at home, or spend their leisure time with work colleagues. is is turning work into what it was in



premodern society, an integrated part of the living environment. Conversely, leisure time is regarded functionally as a recreational opportunity that helps recharge the batteries for work.26 People who do not have a job are automatically excluded from the rhythm of the active population. All they have is leisure time without limits. In the political field, there is a tendency for people to withdraw from public debate. At the same time, the category of the personal is being expanded in many fields.27 e integrity and charisma of politicians then become more important than their political message. It is a feature of such changing boundaries between the private life and the public domain that people in late modern society are withdrawing into the niche of their domestic environment. ey are seeking meaning for their existence in a bewildering and confusing world which demands much of them. is is why people are seeking certainty in their personal life. e grand narratives are still there, but they have lost their shine, and people therefore have to write their own little life’s story personally, and have to find satisfaction there. ey are focusing on what they are still able to oversee, and are trying to turn that into a success. One example of the pressure that late modern uncertainty exercises comes from the field of the family. In late modern culture, the nuclear family is an entity in itself, and is less and less connected with the neighborhood and the neighbors. People’s own children must be prepared optimally for their future existence through a good education. In some cases, parents are projecting their wishes onto their children, and are doing everything to realize them. Another example of the search for private happiness is the way relationships are formed. Because society is experienced as fragmentary, relationships have to be a place of safety and security. It is obvious that such high expectations of your own children or partner can make mutual relationships fragile: the higher your expectations, the greater the chance that you will be disappointed. is can partially explain the rising number of divorces. 2. Plurality and Difference It is becoming clear to us in late modern society that every practice and every theory is relative, because other people are doing something else and have different views on what they are doing. Different kinds of logic, 26

Cf. Hartmut Rosa, “Rasender Stillstand? Individuum und Gesellscha im Zeitalter der Beschleunigung,” in Befristete Zeit, ed.  Jürgen Manemann, Jahrbuch Politische eologie 3 (Münster: LIT, 1999), 151-176, at 157. 27 Cf. Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (London: Penguin Books, 2002).



opinions, and codes exist alongside each other, and this oen without colliding with each other. is is also due to the so-called iconic turn, which means that the significance of (moving or still) images is increasing. Images together make up a collage that speaks for itself. Images do not have to be debated. Pupils at school may simply express diverging opinions, while their teacher is trying to press for real debate. But it is part of the late modern view of society that people have different views and that such differences are acceptable. is is part of the “radical pluralism that currently defines the mentality in Western societies.”28 As life has become individualized, a broad bandwidth of life stories, ideas, convictions, value patterns, and concepts of activity has emerged. No common view of reality can be presupposed a priori, even among people who belong to the same group or have the same lifestyle. Mutual foreignness is the normal situation. People are aware that the plurality that results from individualization can no longer be held together in any overarching concepts, and therefore they are simply agreeing to disagree. It even seems wiser not to know exactly what a colleague, for instance, thinks about homosexuality or about undocumented people. You might otherwise discover that you have nothing in common with this colleague and that their views are totally unacceptable to you. Individualized society is characterized by a benevolent indifference, even a purely formal tolerance.29 is seems to be the precondition for peaceful coexistence.30 In fact, the opposite is the case: blind spots are becoming chronic. People are permanently overlooking things. 3. Stigmatization and Social Inequality In order to orient ourselves in this differentiated society, we are projecting onto our environment what we think it should look like. e other then appears only as an extension of ourselves. ey are integrated into what we think is normal, but the sharp edges of their otherness have been smoothed out. 28

Gregor Maria Hoff, Die prekäre Identität des Christlichen: Die Herausforderung postmodernen Differenzdenkens für eine theologische Hermeneutik (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2001), 355. 29 Cf.  Evelyn Krimmer, Evangelischer Religionsunterricht und reflektierte Tole ranz: Aufgaben und Möglichkeiten religiöser Bildung im Pluralismus (Göttingen: V&R Unipress, 2013), 164-175. 30 Cf. Rudolf Stichweh, “Fremdheit in der Weltgesellscha: Indifferenz und Minimalsympathie,” in Inklusion/Exklusion: Studien zu Fremdheit und Armut von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, ed.  Andreas Gestrich and Lutz Raphael (Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 2008), 35-47.



Of course this means that the other’s otherness is not respected. is can become even more unpleasant if we use the other to define our own identity. “Identities only work because they use differentiations to exclude others. To put it simply: we know who we are, when we know from whom we differentiate ourselves.”31 Although this view only shows one side of the equation, because people also identify positively with others who are meaningful to them, it does show that the distinction between I/we and the other or others is not just neutral. Such distinctions are prone to involve power, stigmatization, and discrimination. Differentiation between people becomes the cause of social inequality. In the late modern society, the boundary between rich and poor to a certain extent determines who has access to a healthy living environment or who runs a higher risk of becoming the victim of a violent crime. People on the margins of society are not able to benefit from the freedoms that the individual has. Being really poor means having no education and no job, no registered marriage or children, no access to legal procedures, no safe home, no political participation. In short: it is about people who do not form part of the public perception or who are regarded as redundant.32 Divisions such as that between poor and rich are drawn more or less subtly by making distinctions between people. ese differentiations are all the more precarious because the process of identity formation through differentiation from others is not just a matter of individuals. In judging other people, individuals can fall back on ideas that are current in society. What people think about foreigners and subsequently about themselves as native inhabitants of their countries is, in other words, also determined by what they see about this in the media or in their conversations with their neighbor across the garden hedge. Another example of these processes are relations between the sexes. e awareness is growing in late modern society that the stereotypes of how men and women should behave are not self-evident, even if they sometimes seem to be. In fact such role models are constructions, and scholars therefore speak of ‘doing gender’.33 What a typical man or a typical woman is, is not a given fact, but arises from a distinction that is


Gabriele Winker and Nina Degele, Intersektionalität: Zur Analyse sozialer Ungleichheiten (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2009), 81. 32 Cf. Heinz Bude and Andreas Willisch, eds., Exklusion: Die Debatte über die ‘Überflüssigen’ (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2007). 33 Cf.  Nancy C. Jurik and Cynthia Siemsen, “Doing Gender as Canon or Agenda: A Symposium on West and Zimmerman,” Gender & Society 23, no. 1 (2009): 72-75.



permanently made between the two. e difference in question is a reflection of society, and is ultimately integrated into one’s self-image. Let us look at an example from the corporate world. Women who have a directive style of management are sometimes condemned because this style is viewed as masculine rather than feminine. is judgement is actually made on the basis of socially constructed notions of what is characteristic to the sexes. e same dynamic is also at play in other aspects of our identity. Intersectionality means that these aspects are not independent from each other. e representations of difference and the accompanying mechanisms of inequality can therefore supplement and strengthen each other, but can also weaken each other.34 ere is interaction between social categories such as gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, nationality, or disability. e differences linked to these categories always result in advantages for one group and disadvantages for another group. At the same time many people justify these separations because they simply appear to reflect what counts as normal in a society. 4. Economization of Society e individualized society is characterized by functional differentiation.35 is means that there are various autonomous sectors, each of which fulfil a different function for society as a whole. us, there are sectors such as the law, the economy, politics, art, religion, science, etc. Each of these subsystems obeys its own logic and produces its own organizations, experts, and forms of communication. e plurality of which we spoke earlier is a direct result of this. Although the various social systems are separated from each other so as to fulfil their function for society, they are nevertheless mutually connected, and they communicate with each other. One system in particular has become especially successful: the economy. e economization of society means that ideas and structures that are suited to economic thinking also acquire meaning in other areas.36 e attention given to these aspects itself is not yet economization. Competition with other suppliers can simply stimulate improvement of your own product or a more sustainable way of dealing with resources. Economization 34

Cf. Winker and Degele, Intersektionalität, 10. Cf.  Niklas Luhmann, Theory of Society (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012). 36 Cf. Franz K. Krönig, Die Ökonomisierung der Gesellschaft: Systemtheoretische Perspektiven (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2007). 35



happens when this logic begins to dominate the internal structure of a different system, thus producing a dysfunctional effect. If journalists for instance paid attention only to circulation figures and the interests of advertisers, they would be violating their professional code. How does economization work in practice in an individualized society? Money plays a key role. It is the central medium used in the economy. e logic of money is transferred to other domains, offering a communal “code of communication”37 between social systems that normally use a different code themselves. On the one hand, it helps them to communicate with each other. If we take the example of the positive effect that medical knowledge about the human body’s recovery phase has on the performance of a top sports club: this can be expressed very precisely, perhaps not in results, but the sports club will pay the scientist for his labor hours. On the other hand, there is the danger that this kind of communication will have side effects. e economy works on the principle of performance and compensation. inking in terms of profit, usefulness, and efficiency can become plausible too in other domains. e profit motive comes to dominate the economized society, and is also applied, for instance, to mutual relationships. You have to deal with people strategically, and smartly calculate your time, your attention, your knowledge, and your connections, so as to expect a return. Contact can be discarded as soon as the desired result has been achieved. Consequences of Market Logic is market logic then also becomes a defining feature of other sectors, and this can cause tensions. How does the volunteer’s commitment translate into economically useful effects, for example? According to the theory of motivation crowding, the intrinsic motivation to do something for society can even diminish if it is rewarded in cash. 38 Another example are perverse incentives in the medical field because operating theaters need to be permanently occupied: unnecessary operations are carried out. Ultimately this leads to a rise in healthcare costs. Moreover, the economization of society in many areas leads to a client mentality. People live in a consumer society in which they are always able 37

Herbert Haslinger, Diakonie: Grundlagen für die soziale Arbeit der Kirche (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2009), 160. 38 Cf. Bruno S. Frey and Reto Jegen, “Motivation Crowding eory,” Journal of Economic Surveys 15 (2001): 589-611.



to experience themselves — and are always treated — as clients. ey feel they are entitled to expect something from the other, because they have paid for his or her attention, product, or services. is gives rise to a market dynamic. In late modern society this is no longer about meeting basic needs, but about permanently creating new needs.39 One example is the launching of ever newer product versions of the famous computer brand with the apple logo. Consumer culture is about “the freedom to treat the whole of life as one protracted shopping spree.”40 Everything is assessed on the basis of its value, and this also applies to the way religion and spirituality are treated.41 At the same time this sector illustrates that there are things that cannot properly be expressed in money, like a blessing or diaconal presence, i.e. being present to people who are hurt and vulnerable. Economic thinking has gone too far in late modernity, and this ultimately affects the individual itself. It forces everyone to become the entrepreneur of their own existence, and to try to turn their existence into a success. is is asking (too) much of people. Our life is subjected to the “diktat of self-economization.”42 You have to solve any problems you encounter yourself. is is asking too much of people who are struggling to manage in individualized society because they have nothing to offer that has any added value to others, like people with a chronic illness or addiction, people who have become homeless, elderly people who are being cared for by their families. ey only cost society money and time — this is a frequent response. 5. Breaking Down the Boundaries of Space Although people are encountering boundaries everywhere, we have also seen that many boundaries have disappeared in individualized society. People have become more autonomous than they used to be. A transformation has been underway since the beginning of modernity from a static space that surrounded, integrated, and also restricted the individual, to

39 Cf. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge and Oxford: Polity, 2012), 75. 40 Ibid., 89. 41 Cf. Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion: Religious Belief and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2004). 42 Ludger Heidbrink, “Autonomie und Lebenskunst: Über die Grenzen der Selbstbestimmung,” in Kritik der Lebenskunst, ed. Wolfgang Kersting and Claus Langbehn (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2007), 261-286, at 274.



increasingly boundary-less, multiform, and virtual spaces.43 Even the earth’s solar system, it turns out, is just one among a countless number of systems; the universe has become infinite. Similarly, the boundaries that prevented access to the microscopic world of matter have been swept away. e result is that human beings no longer have any unequivocal order. e traditional social space that surrounded them and provided orientation has disappeared. A confusing network of multiple intertwining realities has emerged, but this no longer has a single center — everyone is just a minor node. e individual oen finds him- or herself ‘in between’, ‘at the intersection’, or ‘simultaneously here and there’.44 His or her existence is thus alienated, ambivalent, and fleeting. Sociology calls this the disembedding of the individual in late modern society.45 is is why communication by mobile phone oen begins by asking: where are you now? 1. Globalization Our identity is no longer tied to and defined by the locality we are in. We  are more mobile than we used to be, and can feel like links in a global network. Electronic media in particular can allow people to have intensive contact with friends anywhere in the world. ey can watch the same football match together with the rest of the world’s population at the same time, they can transfer money without ever meeting the beneficiary in person, and they can directly follow the struggle for freedom in totalitarian countries, thus seriously undermining the authority of the local regime. Newspapers tell us what happened yesterday in Japan, our neighbor was born in Somalia, you can do a traineeship in Argentina, and go out for a meal with your friends in a Turkish restaurant before watching an American movie in the cinema. e whole world is people’s home in late modern society. Nevertheless, there are limits to this development. People who are less mobile due to their disability or age, or who speak only their mother tongue and no English have limited access to this world. Not everyone wants to be a cosmopolitan. Others are missing the global boat because they are no longer important to anyone.46 ere are a few dark sides to

43 Cf.  Markus Schroer, Räume, Orte, Grenzen: Auf dem Weg zu einer Soziologie des Raums (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2006). 44 Cf. Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986): 22-27. 45 Cf. Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity, 52. 46 Cf.  Norbert Mette, “Überflüssig und menschlicher Abfall (Dokument Aparecida 65): Soziale Exklusion: eine himmelschreiende Ungerechtigkeit,”



globalization. One of them is the flight of unskilled jobs to low-wage countries, and conversely, the brain drain of people with higher education from these countries to elsewhere, and another is the cultural homogeneity that is the result of the globalization of ideas and products. e famous cola so drink that tastes (almost) the same everywhere is a telling example. All this has given rise to a countermovement that espouses glocalization as a response to these dark sides.47 is word is a contraction of ‘globalization’ and ‘localization’. People are trying to combine a focus on the boundary-less society with the question what the consequences are or should be for individuals and for their own city or region (and vice versa), i.e. the consequences for the global world: think global, act local. e ecological movement, the slow food trend, and world shops are examples of this. ey are fostering new interest in people’s dialects, regional cuisine, or local festivals, traditions, and customs. When limitless space leaves individuals feeling alienated, they tend to withdraw into a familiar environment. e dark sides of globalization are usually linked to its economic aspects. When the housing market in the United States collapsed at the start of the twenty-first century, this had consequences the world over. It was proof of the hegemony of capitalism, even in non-Western countries. us, the economization of existence that we discussed earlier has global dimensions. A worldwide cycle of products and services has emerged, and as consumers and employees we are all part of this. If you buy a cheap t-shirt, you are propping up a global market that includes unfair wages and prices, child labor, and environmental pollution. is market even continues when you donate your t-shirt to an old clothes collection campaign, as these oen sell garments in Africa where the local clothing industry has long since collapsed. 2. Migration Another result of globalization is forced or free migration within countries or from one country to another. Huge numbers of people are trying to migrate from war zones or other situations that offer few opportunities, for instance as a result of global warming, political difficulties, or social oppression. Many of the so-called forced migrants run aground, suffer abuse, or even die during their flight. In addition, they have to cope with Pastoraltheologische Informationen 32 (2012): 197-220. 47 Cf.  Victor Roudometof, “Transnationalism, Cosmopolitanism and Glocalization,” Current Sociology 53 (2005): 113-135.



traumatic memories of things they were forced to endure in their home countries. ese traumas can affect even refugees’ offspring.48 e phenomenon of migration is far from new. e US is a nation where almost everyone is the descendent of migrants. Many Europeans in the past also le in pursuit of a better life.49 Economic migration is a thing of all ages. is was also true of the labor migration into Europe that took place from the 1950s onwards and is currently continuing as richer countries are once more struggling with a shortage of cheap labor. Nor is migration to flee war something new. is was illustrated aer the Second World War, when 60  million people migrated within Europe, or during the wars in former Yugoslavia (1991–2001) with their ethnic conflicts. In their new homelands, migrants sometimes face rejection by the population, which is afraid of strangers with their different cultural habits or religious practices. Living together in a diverse society is certainly a challenge. It is unrealistic and undesirable to expect asymmetrical adaptation by the newcomers to a homogeneous community which itself attempts to resist any change. Integration always involves a complex process of societal interaction in which all parties influence each other, albeit to different degrees. Integration therefore does not entail any one-sided challenge to newcomers to assimilate.50 e receiving society also changes; just as migrants themselves no longer have a closed group identity. Integration does not simply mean assimilation but at best involves a reciprocal exercise of influence. is does not threaten the culture of the country in question but enriches it. 6. A Changing Sense of Time In individualized societies, the way people deal with space changes, as does their sense of time. In the past, the experience of time was determined by religion and the cycles of agrarian culture. is cyclical structure of time can still be seen in the liturgical year. However, the modernization of society produced a regime of time that could be coordinated with the interplay between diverse individuals, groups, and 48 Cf.  Stefan Gärtner, “Borders and Migration in Practical eology: e Example of Post-World War II German Refugees and the Inter-generational Transfer of eir Experiences,” Practical Theology 11 (2018): 141-152. 49 Cf. Martha T. Frederiks, “Religion, Migration and Identity: A Conceptual and eoretical Exploration,” Mission Studies 32 (2015): 181-202. 50 Cf.  Marianne Heimbach-Steins, Grenzverläufe gesellschaftlicher Gerechtigkeit: Migration – Zugehörigkeit – Beteiligung (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2016), 119144.



organizations. An individualized society demands a more complex structure of time. e cyclical structure of time is replaced by more abstract rhythms of time. Ultimately, clock time became the standard means of orientation. is permits students to arrive for their exam precisely on time. Of course, this is no guarantee that their bodies’ biorhythm or their preparation of the subject are also ‘on time’. In late modern society, many kinds of time exist alongside each other — and sometimes even within ourselves. Here, too, there has been a process of pluralization. The time no longer exists. is means that the various rhythms no longer automatically come together in a communally shared time. Everyone is following their own time, as it were, which sometimes overlaps with that of others, but sometimes does not. “e rhythm of day and night, which cannot be altered, or the succession of the seasons continue to exist as communal preconditions. But they are varied individually. e existence of people is synchronous only relatively. (…) On any given day, people are no longer living in the same time.”51 Being in time has become actively dealing with time. Time has become people’s own time, and has transformed from being a general, compulsory structure to a challenge for individuals. e task to manage your time yourself can create scope for autonomy and creativity. is is why people in individualized culture want to be the masters of their time as much as possible. What is important is quality and not so much quantity. As far as work time is concerned, most people value participation and independence more than duration. us labor is measured by the extent to which it permits people to develop themselves.52 is desire to develop ourselves can clash with strongly fragmented social circumstances. Different times exist alongside each other, depending on diverse social processes. On top of this, there is an unprecedented acceleration of time due to new technological possibilities.53 Faced with various non-synchronous rhythms, people have to try to stay on their feet and so ensure that time does not fall apart completely. is is evident from conflicts about flexibilization of working 51 Dieter Emeis, “Tempus a deo datum – Zeit von Gott gegeben: Überlegungen zur Kategorie der Zeit im pastoralen Handeln,” Anzeiger für die Seelsorge 112, no. 3 (2003): 5-7, at 6. 52 Cf. Hessel Zondag, “Verveling: De leegte van het zelf,” in Kwetsuren van de ziel: Religie en het moderne levensgevoel, ed.  H. Zondag et al. (Nijmegen: Valkhof Pers, 2007), 16-47, at 33. 53 Cf. Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).



time, the requirement to remain permanently on call through tertiary media such as mobile computers or voicemail, the actual loss of time through increased mobility (traffic queues or waiting times), or the division of tasks between partners. e individual challenge of shaping your own time can therefore clash with social norms of time. People are far from free when it comes to deciding how they spend their time. e ambivalence of temporal autonomy is clear: you are free, but there are limits to this freedom. No Communal Past, No Communal Future Another issue is that it is no longer possible in late modernity to relate uncritically to the past. e self-evident nature of the past has disappeared, or at least there is no longer any consensus about what history means for our multicultural society. us the standard division into periods of history is oen called into question. Traditions are becoming less and less important, and oen have meaning only for certain specific groups or subcultures in society. ere is no longer a continuity of tradition. e arrow of time has splintered, and it is no longer possible to draw any continuous line from past generations to ourselves. Tradition no longer offers a sure grip nor does it provide reliable information for living in the present. Together with the past, the future is also disappearing. In late modern culture, the future no longer functions as a projection canvas for our dreams, wishes, utopias, and ideals. is threatens to make the present an aimless reality.54 e future is no longer able to offer individuals any reliable orientation, because there is no longer any consensus on what this future will or should look like. e utopian expectations that people previously had of the future have proven to be unreliable. Trust in sustained progress and qualitative improvement, once taken for granted in the past, has evaporated. In sum, many people in late modern time live “without the meaningful figure of fulfilled time: without a purpose or end of history, without salvation or progress, without the stability of tradition, without the foundation of experience and the backbone of origin.”55


Cf.  Karl F. Grimmer, Geschichte im Fragment: Grundelemente einer Theologie der Geschichte (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2000). 55 Norbert Bolz, “Die Splitter des Zeitpfeils: Orientierung in der Nachgeschichte,” in Befristete Zeit, ed. Manemann, 124-134, at 127.



Question Rotate the kaleidoscope of the individualized society. What other characteristics of late modernity have not yet been mentioned? Further reading Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualized Society (Cambridge: Polity, 2001). Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

 Individualization and Religion, the Church, and Pastoral Ministry Stefan Gärtner

Now that we have discussed the late modern context of practical theology, the church, and pastoral ministry from the perspective of individualization in chapter 1, we can address the question how individualization affects these different sectors. We are not venturing into unknown territory in this chapter. e situation of the church and of pastoral ministry must be viewed as part of the social changes that have already been outlined. Christianity, aer all, is part of late modern society, even though there may be tendencies within the Catholic church that favor a withdrawal from it. is option is an attempt to dodge the challenges that the church faces in individualized society. e late modern mix of unprecedented freedom on the one hand and new limits on the other also affects the Catholic church. e church can no longer assume that its members will be more or less homogeneous in their beliefs and practices. Take first communion as an example. e question is whether the late modern diversity of family models is sufficiently reflected in the catechetical material used for the preparation.1 It can no longer be assumed that the traditional nuclear family represents the experience of every child. is is only one example of how the individualization of spirituality, of the quest for meaning, and of religion has played out in the church and in pastoral ministry. e Christian faith, like everything else in life, is based on personal responsibility. “e subjective experience of religion — called spirituality — is currently to the fore, instead of ecclesiastical norms, organization, and integration.”2 In more and more 1 Cf. Martin F. Schomaker, Die Bedeutung der Familie in katechetischen Lernprozessen von Kindern: Eine inhaltsanalytische Untersuchung von Konzepten zur Hinführung der Kinder zu den Sakramenten der Beichte und der Eucharistie (Münster: LIT, 2002). 2 Staf Hellemans, Het tijdperk van de wereldreligies: Religie in agrarische civilisaties en in moderne samenlevingen (Zoetermeer: Meinema; Kapellen: Pelckmans, 2007), 30.



places, people no longer belong to their faith community on the basis of birth, custom, or social control. Participation — total or partial — or distance are both options that individuals can choose. e same is true for religious convictions, to which someone may or may not subscribe, and for people’s own spiritual practice. It seems as if many persons now have their own true god. 3 e individual him- or herself has thus become an important starting point for late modern pastoral ministry. is chapter will first ask how religion, including the Catholic church, manifests itself within this context (section I). It will then narrow the perspective further on pastoral ministry (section  II), and on typical questions that arise there (section III).

I. Religious Deinstitutionalization, Transformation, and Religious Revival e process of individualization has not only occurred outside the confines of the church, but equally so within it. It first made the walls that surround the church more porous, then undermined them, and ultimately caused them to collapse completely. On the other hand, new religious buildings and temples are being built in so-called Western societies. We will first outline these contrasting developments. 1. Radical Religious Deinstitutionalization Since the 1960s, an accelerated process of secularization of society has been underway in the Netherlands and Belgium, and indeed in other countries in Western Europe. In Catholic schools for instance, it is now common to meet pupils and teachers from different denominations or religious backgrounds. Catholics can nowadays easily use whatever media they choose. Unlike in the past, pastors no longer have control over church participation in their local parishes, because for a majority, religious belonging is no longer self-evident. Many traditional Christian forms have lost their impact. Great numbers of children, even those who received religious education at school, know nothing about fasting, could not tell you what the pope is called, or what proper conduct in a church building is.

3 Cf. Ulrich Beck, A God of One’s Own: Religion’s Capacity for Peace and Potential for Violence (Cambridge: Polity, 2010).



Faith in a personal God is equally in decline.4 e number of people who accept traditional doctrines, such as the trinity (God as father, son, and spirit), or the resurrection, is decreasing. On the other hand, certain elements of the Christian faith that had been discarded a while ago by theologians, like belief in angels or miracles, have again become rather popular, albeit in secular variants. However, Christianity has become a minority culture in some societies in Europe — a minority which is retaining a hold only over remnants among the population. Many others do not belong to the church, but feel somehow implicated in Christianity when it comes to questions of meaning or ethics. And yet the reality of religious deinstitutionalization is undeniable.5 e incidents of sexual abuse in Catholic educational institutions and parishes have also contributed to this. ere has been an exodus from the mainstream churches. e role of institutional Christianity continues to diminish. ere are currently only very few resolute organizations in the Netherlands and Belgium that are able to represent the Catholic voice in the public debate. Moreover, internal differentiation means that any message that Catholics would like to convey is now difficult to describe unequivocally. In some cases, for instance, a majority of the lay people do not accept the views of the clergy. By contrast, minorities who make a lot of noise are receiving the support of bishops, and thus determining the image that the man or the woman in the street forms of Christianity. e significance of the church in the secular domain is also declining: its privileges in education, chaplaincy, and radio and television media are coming under pressure. In some European countries, people are calling for further separation of church and state, and for strict religious neutrality on the part of the state.6 Christianity has lost its symbolic, ritual, and moral monopoly. It is no longer able to hold society together under a sacred canopy.7 Its influence on individual life is also decreasing, for instance in relation to the devotional repertoire: the living rooms of Catholics no longer have statues of Mary, but there might be a head of the Buddha somewhere. Furthermore, the differences that used to exist between the various religious and ideological blocs have been leveled out: whether they be between Catholics 4 Cf. Ton Bernts and Joantine Berghuijs, God in Nederland 1966-2015 (Utrecht: Ten Have, 2016), 114-119. 5 Cf. Manfred te Grotenhuis et al., eds., “Ontkerkelijking, nou en …? Oorzaken en gevolgen van secularisatie in Nederland,” Religie en Samenleving 8, no. 1 (2013). 6 Cf. Lieven Boeve, “Religion aer Detraditionalization: Christian Faith in a Post-Secular Europe,” Irish Theological Quarterly 70 (2005): 99-122, at 100-109. 7 Cf. Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967).



and non-Catholics, or between the baptized and non-baptized. is is consistent with the internal differentiation within the Catholic church that we have mentioned: many Catholics have more in common with their atheist colleagues at work than with some fellow members of their parish. 2. Not Only Secularization, but Transformation of Christianity is process of religious deinstitutionalization must not be equated with secularization.8 e sociological notion that our society is secularized, is based on the assumption that religiosity is slowly but surely evaporating. e more modern developments there are in technology or science, the more Christianity will disappear. e traditional tasks of religion are being taken over by other systems.9 But this view has come under a lot of criticism. If we were to look at things from the perspective of secularization theory alone, we would overlook the fact that religion has continued to be a part of late modern society, albeit sometimes in new forms. Surprisingly enough, this is true in the first place for Christianity itself. We have already mentioned belief in angels and miracles. Advertising and popular culture also contain plenty of references to these and other Christian codes. Certain forms of popular devotion such as processions, Easter fires, or carnival masses continue to be practiced. Many people in secularized countries believe church buildings are important to the collective identity of their city or village, even though only a small minority of them might regularly attend services.10 Transitional phases in life are oen an exception, like the transition from puberty to adulthood, from the unmarried state to marriage, or from life to death. As ‘secular Catholics’, some people mark these moments by falling back on the faith and on the rituals that they are most familiar with.11 Others go into a chapel from time to time to light a candle, but don’t want any dealings with the faith community.

8 Cf. Karl Gabriel et al., eds., Umstrittene Säkularisierung: Soziologische und historische Analysen zur Differenzierung von Religion und Politik (Berlin: Berlin University Press, 2012). 9 Cf. Annekatrien Depoorter, “Nieuwreligieuze bewegingen en hedendaagse christenen,” in God overal en nergens: Theologie, pastoraal en onderwijs uitgedaagd door een ‘sacraal reveil’, ed. Annemie Dillen and Didier Pollefeyt (Louvain and Voorburg: Acco, 2006), 155-178. 10 Cf. Ton Bernts, “Tussen vervreemding en vertrouwen: naar een publiekskerk,” in Vreemd! Varianten van verscheidenheid en verschil in godsdienst en kerk, ed. Rein Nauta (Nijmegen: Valkhof Pers, 2009), 29-44. 11 Cf. Tom Beaudoin, “Secular Catholicism and Practical eology,” International Journal of Practical Theology 15 (2011): 22-37.



e diaconal commitment of Christians to people who are affected by social exclusion or other forms of suffering is oen appreciated. Many Catholic care and educational facilities continue to enjoy a measure of popularity, even if it is no longer always clear what their ‘Catholic’ identity involves. In addition, there has been a revival of new Catholic movements. New religious communities have emerged that foster an oen strongly missionary attitude.12 And anyone who decides to be baptized or who reads the Bible today is oen likely to do this with much greater awareness and intensity than in the past. ere are therefore many Christian elements that are still meaningful in the individualized culture, even outside the confines of the church. 3. Unaffiliated Spirituality Apart from these Christian elements, there is an enduring spiritual hunger, and late modern society is characterized by an unprecedented diversity of religious and spiritual views. It is no longer necessarily the case that affiliation to Christian traditions will be among these, and this affiliation cannot be automatically presumed. ese forms of spirituality can therefore be called unaffiliated spirituality. We use this term to mean any experience of spirituality without participation in a traditional faith community or in any other religious organization.13 “Europe has undergone an important transformation at the religious level, moving from a predominantly institutional Christian society to a society in which religiosity and spirituality tend to be a feature of a person’s autonomous, subjective establishment of meaning.”14 e individualization of late modern society has thus also affected the religious domain. e undeniable processes of religious deinstitutionalization obviously do not mean that people are no longer sensitive to religious experiences. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. More than sixty percent of the Belgians and the Dutch call themselves ‘religious’, and almost the same percentage reports praying or meditating at least 12 Cf. Erik Sengers, Aantrekkelijke kerk: Nieuwe bewegingen in kerkelijk Nederland op de religieuze markt (Del: Eburon, 2006); Kees de Groot, “Orthodoxie en beleving: Bewegingen in de Rooms-Katholieke Kerk in Nederland,” Religie & Samenleving 1 (2006): 151-173. 13 Cf. Gerrit Kronjee and Martijn Lampert, “Leefstijlen en zingeving,” in Geloven in het publieke domein: Verkenningen van een dubbele transformatie, ed. Wim van de Donk et al. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006), 171-208. 14 Lieven Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a Time of Upheavel (New York: Continuum, 2007), 19.



occasionally. In comparison to other European countries, Belgium and the Netherlands occupy a position in the middle range.15 ere is an openness to the existential questions that existence evokes. People oen believe in something, even though their convictions may be less unequivocal, less orthodox, less Christian, and less fixed than they used to be.16 Oen they espouse a kind of eclecticism: an individual selection from existing religious and other spiritual sources. ere is great heterogeneity in this field in late modern society. Many people are open to variety and diversity. Everyone is permitted to go their own spiritual way. As has been seen, this personal faith is not so much based on any enduring affiliation with a faith community but is believing without belonging.17 People are seeking spirituality rather than religion. “In a culture of individualization, the church must [therefore] leave space for free conversation and for experiment, both on the level of reflection as well as on the level of designing life projects.”18 ese projects revolve around individual quests in which personal growth, authenticity, and experience are paramount. 4. A New Religious Repertoire A new repertoire has been developed to meet these individualized spiritual needs. Examples are new religious forms such as esoteric or neo-pagan spirituality, like belief in the healing power of stones or new forms of witch cults. e concept of spirituality is used frequently at commercialized elf festivals for both adults and children. And certain educational and therapeutic offerings from the so-called alternative scene also belong to this category, such as the philosophical vision taught in Steiner schools or belief in homeopathy or foot reflexology.19


Cf. Loek Halman et al., Atlas of European Values: Trends and Traditions at the Turn of the Century (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 56-62. 16 Cf. Kune E. Biezeveld et al., In iets geloven: Ietsisme en het christelijk geloof (Kampen: Kok, 2006). 17 Cf. Grace Davie, Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1994). 18 Jozef Wissink, “Mission and Modernity: Reflections on the Mission of the Church in Advanced Modern Society,” in Towards a New Catholic Church in Advanced Modernity: Transformations, Visions, Tensions, ed. Staf Hellemans and Jozef Wissink (Vienna: LIT, 2012), 257-274, at 272. 19 Cf. Bernts and Berghuijs, God in Nederland 1966-2015; Erik Sengers, ed., The Dutch and Their Gods: Secularization and Transformation of Religion in the Netherlands since 1950 (Hilversum: Verloren, 2005), 163-201.



Others feel attracted to the vibrant liturgy of migrant churches or to the wisdom of non-European religions. One particular traditional religion is increasingly present in the late modern public sphere in the form of Islam. Within the Christian denominations, too, there are tendencies towards developing a more traditional profile. Attempts have been made, for example, to reinstate the confessional identity of schools. Another aspect is the growth of small Christian communities, such as Evangelical or Pentecostal churches, for whom personal commitment and emotional experience are key. In other words, there are many examples that point to a revival of religion, spirituality, and the quest for meaning in late modern society. Quasi-religious equivalents that fulfil certain functions previously performed by Christianity are another instance, such as social integration, moral legitimation, or orientation in dealing with extraordinary experiences. Examples of these equivalents are television programs that focus on reconciling or reuniting families, spiritual events in business (like monastery retreats for managers), advice columns in lifestyle magazines, ecstatic experiences following extreme sports achievements, pseudo-religious presentations of branded products, community formation among sports fans, popular cult books and movies (Harry Potter, e Lord of the Rings), euphoric experiences at musical events such as concerts or pop festivals, quasi-liturgical meetings of political parties and unions with songs, speeches, and symbols, or commemorative rituals and books of condolence on the occasion of individual or collective disasters.20 Such equivalents usually do not claim to be religious. ey serve other masters: in fact, they oen have a profit motive. Religious studies scholars speak in this context of invisible or implicit religion.21 In any case, these things fulfil functions that traditionally belonged to the broad range of Christian tasks. ese brief indications show that an individualized context does not primarily imply secularization. is is an outdated point of view. 22 What is actually happening is religious deinstitutionalization, and the detraditionalization of certain Christian forms. Conversely, this is 20 Cf. Martin Hoondert et al., eds., Cultural Practices of Victimhood (London and New York: Routledge, 2019); Paul Post et al., Disaster Ritual: Explorations of an Emerging Ritual Repertoire (Louvain: Peeters, 2003). 21 Cf. omas Luckmann, The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society (New York: Macmillan, 1974); Edward I. Bailey, Implicit Religion in Contemporary Society (Louvain: Peeters, 2006). 22 Cf. Philip Gorski et al., The Post-secular in Question: Religion in Contemporary Society (New York: New York University Press, 2012).



being accompanied by a transformation of the Christian faith and the rise of new religious phenomena.23 e total situation is much more diverse and fluid than it was in the past. ere is no need to condemn this revival of sacredness on the basis of cultural pessimism, but neither is it wise to accept it uncritically. As a first step, we should take these shis seriously as typically late modern transformations of religion, with Christianity, the church, and pastoral ministry as aspects of this, and we should do so soberly and without using the past as a norm. Question e religious landscape we have depicted is very diverse. Where would you position yourself in this landscape?

II. Boundaries between and within Parish Ministry and Chaplaincy How do these changes impinge specifically on the field of pastoral care? To answer this question, we will first have to distinguish between parish ministry and chaplaincy. Chaplaincy encompasses all forms of Christian pastoral care in social amenities, such as hospitals, residential care facilities/care homes, educational institutions, and Christian social organizations, as well as the military and the penitentiary system. Sometimes these amenities are affiliated to a Christian denomination (primarily care facilities and educational institutions), and sometimes they are neutral, like the military or prisons, and like some schools or care facilities. Parish ministry, by contrast, is the practice and communication of the local parish. 1. Divisions and ‘Border Traffic’ between Parish Ministry and Chaplaincy Although this distinction can help to clarify some things, it essentially describes an ecclesiastical structure that does not always correspond to people’s actual experience. For some people, things go wrong precisely at the boundary between the two, and they have difficulty dealing with the transition between parish ministry and chaplaincy. For instance, prisoners who 23 Cf. Staf Hellemans, “Tracking the New Shape of the Catholic Church in the West,” in Towards a New Catholic Church in Advanced Modernity, ed. Hellemans and Wissink, 19-50.



were regular churchgoers in prison sometimes do not find it easy to establish contacts with a church community aer their release. Or people’s hospital admissions for medical treatment are increasingly for short periods of time, so that they miss out on spiritual care because ever-larger parishes don’t even realize they were gone, and they are not in hospital long enough to come into contact with the chaplain in the care facility.24 On the other hand, there is growing awareness that these two forms of pastoral care should be closely linked. ere are good examples in some places of cooperation between parish ministers and chaplains. Sometimes a secular facility offers extramural or transmural care, i.e. the staff come to people’s homes aer they are discharged to give assistance. Another example are services for the disabled. Some care facilities work on a policy of making contact with local faith communities, for instance, by appointing volunteers as ‘sponsors’ of someone with a disability, or by inviting parishes to celebrations in the institution. 2. Parish Ministry e greatest challenge that parish ministry faces in an individualized society are fundamental changes in parish structure. Aer the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the church began to regard the parish as the prime place for expressing the faith. Priest-centered, cross-class parishes had to be turned into true Christian communities, to which all members would contribute and in which they would all be connected to one another. Currently, little remains of this post-conciliar euphoria.25 Many European parishes have been confronted in late modernity with a radical decline of vitality. e number of volunteers is dropping, parents no longer automatically present their children for baptism, diaconal activities in local neighborhoods are being terminated, the membership of traditional parish movements is ageing, income is declining, real estate cannot be maintained any longer, and fewer and fewer priests and pastoral workers are available.26

24 Cf. Jorien Holsappel et al., Ruimte voor geestelijke verzorging in het Martini Ziekenhuis Groningen (Tilburg: KSGV, 2010), 21. 25 Cf. Matthias Sellmann, Gemeinde ohne Zukunft? Theologische und praktische Modelle (Freiburg i.Br.: Herder, 2013). 26 Cf. Nele Havermans and Marc Hooghe, Kerkpraktijk in België: Resultaten van de zondagstelling in oktober 2009: Rapport ten behoeve van de Belgische Bisschoppenconferentie (Louvain: Centrum voor Politicologie, 2011); Joris Kregting and Jolanda Massaar-Remmerswaal, Kerncijfers rooms-katholieke kerk 2016 (Nijmegen: KASKI, 2017).



1. Upscaling and Cooperation All this leads to local communities being incorporated into every larger units. Formally speaking, priests continue to lead the newly-formed large-scale parishes, but in practice laypeople are fulfilling leadership roles, and they are working together as a team.27 As in the  past, the church building stands at the center of the village or the neighborhood, but in many places the Eucharist is only rarely or even no longer celebrated there. People are laboriously trying to keep the remains of their own parish together, but are contending regularly with new waves of cuts, upscaling, and reorganizations. Cooperation between parishes of course also offers opportunities.28 ey can complement each other, for instance by setting up a joint recruitment drive for confirmation catechesis, or by organizing specific events such as community activities in which the parish participates. We have seen in chapter 1 that the question of community is particularly important in an individualized society. Some people have argued precisely for this reason that the territorial structure of parish ministry should be retained at all costs, so that everyone can have easy access to the church.29 2. The Parish as a Service Provider or as a Small Community? We have also seen that individualization does not mean that people lead isolated lives. e question arises in late modern society how you can achieve reliable contact with others, and how this contact can be sustained without having to give up your own independence. Furthermore, parish ministry needs church communities that are keen to respect the freedom of choice of the individuals who wish to belong to a parish or group. It is otherwise impossible to safeguard mutual bonds between Catholics. ese bonds are no longer based on custom or obligation, but primarily on people’s autonomy. ere are a number of possible ways to organize a parish in this situation.30

27 Cf. Michael Böhnke and omas Schüller, eds., Gemeindeleitung durch Laien? Internationale Erfahrungen und Erkenntnisse (Regensburg: Pustet, 2011). 28 Cf. Petra Stassen and Ad van der Helm, Geloof in de toekomst: Samenwerking van parochies als instrument van vitalisering (Zoetermeer: Meinema, 2002). 29 Cf. Ernest Henau, Zijn verhaal moet doorgaan: Over christelijke gemeenschapsopbouw (Louvain: Davidsfonds, 2005). 30 Cf. Henk de Roest, En de wind steekt op! Kleine ecclesiologie van de hoop (Zoetermeer: Meinema, 2005).



On one end of the scale, there are parishes that are run as religious service providers. ey approach the world freely and openly and, thus, respond to the church’s missionary vocation: the gospel addresses itself to everyone. e professional staff especially provides a varied range of communicative and ritual activities that are likely to appeal to people who look to the church only for special occasions. Some authors have called this tendency vicarious religion:31 many Christians do want something from their local parish, like an occasional pastoral conversation, or an appropriate ritual to celebrate their wedding. But they do not want this to have any personal consequences such as having to subscribe to Christian values or doctrines. A service provider parish responds perfectly to this expectation. However, it raises the question whether this consumerist mentality is not at odds with what the gospel demands of a faith community — the Christian faith is more than a system for meeting people’s needs. On the other end of the scale, some have made the argument for parishes that may be less visible and attractive externally, but that are made up of convinced Catholics. ese parishes have implicit patterns of expectation for participation in the field of faith experience and commitment, and the church for its part accepts that only a small group of Christians will be willing to meet these expectations. Mutual bonds are more conscious than they were in parishes at the time of mass-Catholicism. Because these parishes have a clear profile, they can also be attractive in the longer term to spiritual seekers in late modern society.32 But the danger of this option is that the Christians involved present themselves as an elite, and increasingly turn away from society. Newcomers feel frustrated because they are unable to meet the implicit demands that bind the community together. Moreover, such parishes oen appear to be very homogeneous in respect of lifestyle and social background. People from other social classes, or with lower educational achievements, or Christians from other cultural backgrounds or from the margins of society, are subtly excluded despite the parish’s ambition to be open to all comers. is is in fact true for many parishes in Western Europe. ey do not reflect their neighborhood, but are attractive primarily to Christians from established middle-class backgrounds. A certain lifestyle is identified with the gospel. ese parishes are at risk of religious factionalism, where mutual conviviality is the main 31 Cf. Grace Davie, “Vicarious Religion: A Methodological Challenge,” in Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives, ed. Nancy T. Ammerman (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 21-37. 32 Cf. Kees de Groot et al., “e Positioning of the Parish in a Context of Individualization,” Social Compass 52 (2005): 211-223.



object, but internal and external dynamism are lacking. Parishes are not goals in their own right, but they stand at the service of the coming of the kingdom of God. Some aspect of this should be discernible in any vibrant parish, even for outsiders. Inclusiveness and a positive evaluation of the late modern diversity of life’s stories and lifestyles are required for this.33 3. New Catholic Communities e territorial structure of pastoral care which is based on the associational model is also facing another challenge in late modernity: the rise of post-traditional forms of Catholic communities. is is consistent with the individualization of religion that we have already discussed. Examples are religious services held in restaurants, spiritual centers, domestic churches, world youth days, places of pilgrimage, youth churches, or monasteries. Moreover, communities have emerged from faith communication through the internet, blogs, or chat forums, through virtual connections established through televised masses,34 as well as informal groups where Christians come together to read the Bible, meditate, or work towards some charitable goal. Together, these communities are offering a growing number of Catholics more voluntary alternatives for local parishes. e Catholics are looking for like-minded people with whom to share and celebrate their faith. ese identity-boosting communities transcend the territorial boundaries of the parochial structure. ey attract people at certain cyclical points in time (for instance once a month), or at certain periods of life (for instance students at university, or patients in hospital). e question here is how these communities can succeed in giving expression to the four basic features of any Christian community: service to one’s neighbor (diakonia), liturgy (leitourgia), witness of faith (martyria or kerygma), and fellowship (koinonia).35 Communities usually focus on only one of these basic expressions. At any rate, the parochial structure is currently being undermined by a diversity of Christian community forms, even though this structure is still propped up by canon law and church management.36 But the vast


Cf. Matthias Sellmann and Caroline Wolanski, eds., Milieusensible Pastoral: Praxiserfahrungen aus kirchlichen Organisationen (Würzburg: Echter, 2013). 34 Cf. Hein Blommestijn et al., God in je huiskamer (Kampen: Kok, 2006). 35 Cf. Acts 2:41-46. 36 Cf. Carl Sterkens, “Church Development in the Netherlands: SocialReligious Changes in Relation to the Development of a Pastoral Discipline,” International Journal of Practical Theology 13 (2009): 144-171.



majority of the baptized no longer participate at all or with any frequency in parishes — and if they do, they oen do this simultaneously or consecutively with other forms of faith community. ey simply want to attend a liturgical celebration from time to time without making any specific commitment. Or they spontaneously participate in a diaconal activity without desiring or even being able to take any further responsibility for the life of the parish. 4. Variety in Faith Experience and Differentiated Forms of Community is attitude corresponds to their individual spiritual quest. e identity of many Catholics is much more fragmented than it used to be, and no longer automatically runs parallel to the identities of fellow believers: a 30-year old unmarried person will usually seek other forms of community than someone of the same age who is married with children. In addition, there are meaningful transitions in life that many people still experience at roughly the same age, but for which parishes have nothing appropriate to offer, like people’s first sexual experiences, obtaining a degree, or retirement. Parish ministry will have to become more differentiated if it is to respond to these needs. e new shapes of Christian community that will arise from this will each be internally homogeneous, because they each address a small but clearly profiled target group. e participants will offer each other mutual confirmation, but there will be little productive confrontation with Christians who believe differently, who are at a different stage of life, or come from a different background. In other words, the necessary differentiation of parish ministry always gives rise to the question how exclusive and closed the faith community is. On the whole, it is still unclear what parishes in an individualized society will look like in a few decades’ time. What is clear is that the traditional, relatively fixed structures of the faith community are disappearing. e church in late modernity will become more fluid as regards its external boundaries, and internally it will become a decentralized network.37 e currently existing diversity in parish ministry and in Christian life will presumably only grow in the future. A more sectarian church is only one of many possibilities. We think it is more likely that the church will become a patchwork of heterogeneous individuals, groups, parishes, movements, 37 Cf. Kees de Groot, The Liquidation of the Church, Routledge New Critical inking in Religion, eology and Biblical Studies (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018).



and communities.38 In any case, Christian communities in the future will no longer be associated with anything unequivocally clear, hierarchically organized, and locally based. On the contrary, the future will be marked by flexibility, diversity, and mobility. 3. Chaplaincy e care of the poor, the sick, the homeless, orphans, drug addicts, or the elderly has traditionally been a task that Christians have been committed to performing. In addition to the diaconal commitment of individuals and small groups, this core aspect of the Christian faith was also carried out by organizations. ere were many Catholic hospitals, shelters, care institutions, and educational institutions in premodern and modern times, sometimes founded and run by orders and congregations, and sometimes by local parishes.39 1. Confessional Profile under Pressure is association between care and religion has come under increasing pressure in late modern society. What, for instance, distinguishes a Catholic hospital from a public one? Different protocols for abortion, euthanasia, and fertility treatment, or the presence of a chapel in the building are important characteristics, but they are also among the last remaining distinguishing criteria. e profile of Catholic institutions is under increasing pressure.40 e dominance of market forces in healthcare and the standardization of professional care are threatening to further erode this profile: nursing staff in Catholic residential care facilities or nursing homes follow the same care protocols that colleagues follow elsewhere, and, in any case, everyone’s work has to fit within the institution’s budgetary constraints. In some cases, the denominational character of institutions is now only reflected in their name. What used to be an expression of Christian charity — the works of mercy — appears to be much less visible today. Seen in a positive light, it could be argued that Christian diaconal activity has been assumed by the welfare state, which reflects core ideas from Catholic social

38 Cf. Christian Bauer, “Von der Pfarrei zum Netzwerk? Eine pastoralsoziologische Probebohrung,” Diakonia 40 (2009): 119-126. 39 Cf. Annelies van Heijst, Liefdewerk: Een herwaardering van de caritas bij de Arme Zusters van het Goddelijk Kind sinds 1852 (Hilversum: Verloren, 2002). 40 Cf. Kenneth R. White, “Hospitals Sponsored by the Catholic Church: Separate, Equal and Distinct?,” The Milbank Quarterly 78 (2000): 213-239.



teaching, such as a personalist anthropology, care for the common good, justice, solidarity, and subsidiarity. ere is every reason for Christians to be pleased with this. 2. Christian Care in a Secular Context Chaplains and volunteers in care facilities, in the military, or in penitentiary institutions or prisons oen deal with people at times of crisis, and they are oen able to address spiritual and religious aspects in a very profound way. ey encounter people in situations that are outside their ordinary life, and this raises questions about meaning, contingency, and orientation. In the Netherlands and in Belgium, as in other European countries, the government safeguards the right of individuals in such situations to avail themselves of pastoral or spiritual care in the context of their own religion, and in certain cases the government also finances this care. Although the institutional conditions for chaplaincy work are thus guaranteed, the separation that this system makes between care and religion does raise questions. e setting in which this form of pastoral care is offered is not ecclesiastical, but secular. How can chaplains approach people who do not regard themselves as believing Christians, but who do want to avail themselves of spiritual care? e religious views of most people who do this are individualized, and are far from being consistent with the teachings of the church. A chaplain oen meets clients who are not involved in any way with the traditional parochial structures of parish ministry. For some, the Christian faith still offers a frame of reference because it was part of their education or it is part of their religious convictions. In general, chaplaincy target groups are very diverse. Chaplains oen have the experience that helping to clarify religious and spiritual views in moments of crisis can be very supportive, but the name of Jesus Christ is seldom mentioned. Does this mean that the profile of pastoral work itself is being compromised? Conversely, chaplains who do base their activities very clearly on their faith run the risk of infringing the autonomy of their clients, or are unable to help them or hear their spiritual needs by emphasizing their own Christian profile too strongly. Chaplains should therefore really be ‘multilingual’: they should master their own Christian repertoire, and be open to understanding the individualized religious views of the people they wish to help.41 41 Cf. Anne Vandenhoeck, De meertaligheid van de pastor: Resultaatgericht pastoraat in dialoog met het narratief-hermeneutisch model van C.V. Gerkin (unpublished dissertation, Faculty of eology, KU Leuven, 2007).



3. Other Tensions in Chaplaincy Another tension in pastoral and spiritual care in secular (and indeed in denominational) institutions is that the work that chaplains do is beginning to resemble that of other professionals. Just like their colleagues, they have to account for their work to the institution, which is attempting to effect quality control through all kinds of rules, reports, and protocols. Measurability and productivity are key words.42 e care needs of clients have become the central focus, and other professionals oen choose an interventionist approach: first they diagnose the client’s, patient’s, or resident’s problem, which is then solved through appropriate intervention by the caregiver.43 is creates an asymmetrical relationship between caregiver and client. If chaplains go along with this, this allows them to become active and to help people with their knowledge and expertise. ere is nothing wrong with this as such, but it does increase the risk that the client is primarily approached as someone who is passive, in need of help, and in spiritual need. In addition, he or she appears to be dependent on the expertise of the professional. A last tension is related to the distance between parish ministry and chaplaincy, as well as between the secular institutions and the institutional church. We have already mentioned this problem in the introduction. It also includes the distinction between the (more or less broad) commitment of laypeople in parishes and the necessarily more professional activity that takes place in care facilities. Chaplains in public care facilities often occupy a difficult intermediate position. On the one hand, they are employed by a secular employer, and they work together with other professionals to give high-quality care to a diverse target group. On the other, they carry out their work on the basis of a mission by the faith community. ey are servants of two masters, and have to wear two hats.44 ey work at the intersection between church and state, ministry and profession, religious and secular domains. is gives chaplains a relatively autonomous, but also a precarious status. 4. The Church’s Retreat from Public Institutions ere is a tendency in late modernity, caused partly by these questions and tensions, for the faith community to withdraw increasingly from society, and 42 Cf. Holsappel et al., Ruimte voor geestelijke verzorging in het Martini Ziekenhuis Groningen, 20. 43 Cf. Andries Baart, Een theorie van de presentie (Utrecht: Lemma, 2011), 681-770. 44 Cf. eo de Wit et al., eds., Twee heren dienen: Geestelijke verzorgers en hun beroepseer (Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2011).



to focus primarily on parish ministry. Internal divisions within the Catholic church then become focused on what attitude the church should adopt to society: either to become involved in society openly and with curiosity, or to close the windows and doors and retreat into the church itself.45 Christians who choose this second option limit themselves to internally-oriented activities, such as the liturgy, spiritual direction or catechesis, and opt for an official and hierarchical approach to pastoral ministry. Chaplaincy, but also parochial diaconal service, neighborhood ministry, or missionary activity appear as less important. is is consistent with the argument that is being made in secular society to view chaplaincy as a neutral form of spiritual care. Some chaplains expressly no longer want to work in the context of a particular denomination, but on the basis of contemporary religious diversity.46 For the church as an institution, chaplaincy thus becomes a second-rate activity. Within the secular institutions, the church limits its range of pastoral offerings to the administration of the sacraments. In fact, the Eucharist is only celebrated infrequently because there are too few priests, but also because the mixed group that would gather in the chapel has little affinity with the official liturgy and in any case consists only partially of Catholic Christians. Sometimes ecumenical services are held instead. Another danger of this defensive option for the church is that it creates a pastoral niche that is badly integrated into the organization as a whole.47 Chaplaincy staff are not really taken seriously as professionals, and they are not involved in the primary process: caregiving, providing shelter to the homeless, helping people to deal with trauma, or the treatment of patients. 5. Mystagogy and Diaconal Service An alternative to this defensive option is to view pastoral care in secular public institutions from a broadly understood concept of mystagogy.48 Of course chaplaincy is not about initiation into the church, but chaplains accompany people in their search for the foundations of their exist45

Cf. Peter Nissen, “Restauratie in de rooms-katholieke kerk: Kerk zijn met de ramen open of met de ramen dicht?,” Theologisch Debat 5 (2008): 4-15. 46 Cf. Frauke Pitstra and Hetty Zock, “De onderbouwing van narratieve methodes in pastoraat en geestelijke verzorging: ‘Ik zag alleen een kip over de weg’,” Handelingen: Tijdschrift voor Praktische Theologie 36, no. 2 (2009): 8-19. 47 Cf. Stefan Gärtner, Kees de Groot, and Sjaak Körver, “Zielzorg in het publieke domein: Over de legitimering van geestelijke verzorging,” Tijdschrift voor Theologie 52 (2012): 53-72. 48 Cf. Tjeu van Knippenberg, Existentiële zielzorg: Tussen naam en identiteit (Zoetermeer: Meinema, 2005).



ence, foundations which are faltering due to their stay in a care institution. In  this way, chaplains can contribute in an important way to realizing the goals of the care organization. eir contribution consists in professionally accompanying people on their journey to developing a more profound interpretation of their existing individualized experience of meaning, and this from a Christian interpretative framework in a way that is open to other interpretative frameworks. Without this, the care package of the secular institution is not complete, because this layer plays a role when people are ill, addicted, elderly, handicapped, or when all their legal remedies have been exhausted. Chaplains act in the conviction that God himself has entered into a relationship with every patient, client, or resident. is assumption is the basis for a mystagogical approach in a secular context. is divine prior initiative provides the theological basis for chaplaincy, but also for any other form of pastoral care. It is this which chaplains in secular institutions attempt to render visible, tangible, audible, and sensible. ey regard their services as work within, towards, and for the covenant that God has made with humanity. Pastoral and spiritual care in a non-church context makes God’s initiative visible, even if clients reject this perspective and do not believe in it, or if fellow professionals find it difficult to understand; situations which are bound to occur frequently, unlike in parish ministry. It is important to offer pastoral and spiritual care in secular institutions. is can be regarded as a service (diakonia) that the church has to offer late modern society. It became evident during the Second Vatican Council that the faith community’s mission to be the instrument and sign of salvation cannot limit itself to parish ministry. “e presence and activity of the Church in the world of today” are equally important.49 It is not right for the church to remain a passive observer, but it is part of its mission to involve itself in society. Chaplaincy offers an excellent opportunity for this. e professionals and volunteers who work in this field testify in word and deed to the church’s all-encompassing sacramental character as an instrument for the unity of all people in a creation that is being renewed.50 God’s unconditional love is brought to light here in the form of diaconal service, of love of one’s neighbor. 49

Gaudium et spes 2. See vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html. 50 Cf. Lumen gentium 1. See vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.



Question How do you see the future of pastoral care in individualized society: primarily as a matter of parish ministry or of chaplaincy, or of cooperation between the two? Give arguments for your position.

III. Two Pastoral Challenges Posed by Individualization We have examined how late modern individualization affects pastoral ministry and chaplaincy. We will conclude this chapter with two exemplary and illustrative cases: on the one hand the role of sacraments and sacramentals, and on the other hand religious education, both religious education at school and parish catechesis. ese two cases are situated in pastoral fields of activity that clearly highlight the processes described above of religious deinstitutionalization on the one hand, and religious transformation, spiritual interest, and individualization on the other. 1. Sacraments and Sacramentals In a late modern culture, the way in which people experience sacraments and sacramentals has changed. Sacramentals are Christian rituals that are performed at cyclical or incidental events in life, such as the blessing given before a long journey, an engagement, or the blessing of vehicles. People’s individualized existence is one of the factors that has contributed to changes in the way they deal with these liturgical forms. Whereas in modernity marriage, for instance, still marked a clear transition, in late modernity it has acquired a different function. For many people, it is not so much a rite of passage anymore, but instead it has become a rite of confirmation. 51 For the majority of newly-weds, the transition from life at home with their parents to life together with their partner had already taken place before they got married. e wedding then functions more as a confirmation of their choice for each other and of the enduring character of their relationship. It is a public expression of the relationship and of their request for support and for God’s blessing. 51

Cf. Rosemarie Nave-Herz, “Wandel und Kontinuität in der Bedeutung, in der Struktur und Stabilität von Ehe und Familie in Deutschland,” in Kontinuität und Wandel der Familie in Deutschland: Eine zeitgeschichtliche Analyse, ed. Rosemarie Nave-Herz (Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius, 2002), 45-70, at 53.



Social transformations that are characteristic of so-called Western societies are thus causing perceptions of the sacraments and sacramentals to change. is challenges the church to deal with the fact that new patterns of expectation have emerged. Rituals, for instance, are oen redefined to reflect personal preferences; at funerals both Catholic ministers and secular ritual agencies or funeral directors can expect requests for individual and expressive rituals. Moreover, the expectations of rituals are much more diverse than they used to be. e paradigms of the participants can no longer be assumed to be the same. is poses the question whether it is possible at all for people in late modernity to really celebrate the liturgy together. 1. Sell-out versus Rigorism? Some commentators interpret this diversity in the design and perception of the sacraments and other celebrations as something negative: they regard it as a sell-out. ey associate this with the image described earlier of the church as a service provider that adapts its liturgical products as much as possible to the consumers’ wishes.52 For this reason, some people favor a certain rigorism in respect of admission to the sacraments. ese, they believe, should be available only to a minority, to people who are fully committed and active Catholics. To complement this, new rituals and forms of devotion should be developed both within and outside the faith community to preclude the dissatisfaction that the majority feel with regard to what the official church has to offer. is rigorist view ignores the fact that Christians in the past also interpreted the sacraments and sacramentals in their own way. In fact, this is part and parcel of any ritual and of any form of liturgy. Everyone has to appropriate the repertoire that is handed down to them, and breathe new life into it; otherwise, rituals would be nothing but external forms without any real involvement by participants. ere is always an interplay between people’s own views and elements from Christian traditions. is rule — that participants must appropriate the sacraments and the sacramentals — only becomes clearly visible in individualized society because this process has now become more diverse, and also more conscious than it was in the past. is approach demonstrates that the alternatives of sell-out versus rigorism are actually a distortion of reality. e fact that participants in the

52 Cf. John Reader, Reconstructing Practical Theology: The Impact of Globalization (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), 58-61.



liturgy have to appropriate rituals is not a sign of weakness, but a pastoral necessity and opportunity.53 2. Marriage as an Example Let’s look again at the sacrament of matrimony as an example. Empirical studies have shown that attendants at a wedding service regard music as an extremely important aspect.54 ey experience music as a separate dimension of the celebration of marriage. Couples usually choose the music themselves, and sometimes they include secular music, because it has some deeper meaning to them, or helps to involve the guests emotionally in the celebration. You could interpret this as a dissonant that clashes with the traditional musical repertoire that is available for the celebration of matrimony. But it can also be seen as a way of making the church’s ritual more accessible, a way of involving the couple and the congregation consciously in the celebration. ere is a risk, however, of ending up with an individualism in which the sacrament of matrimony is used simply as a fitting complement to the greatest day of your life. Moreover, it diminishes the relieving effect that the fixed form of religious celebrations can have: people who find themselves in a transitional phase do not have to invent their own way of dealing with their experiences, but are handed an existing framework. is is lost if the liturgy is approached solely as an individual matter. But these possible extremes do not a priori justify rigorism in the administration of the sacraments. Responding to the expectations of people can be valued positively as a service that the church has to offer to society: a form of ritual diaconal service.55 Ultimately, God’s grace, which is mediated through the sacraments, is intended for everyone. 2. Religious Education e starting position of religious education has also changed radically in late modern society. People are no longer automatically exposed to


Cf. omas Knieps, “Uitverkoop van het sacrament of pastorale kans? eologische en pastorale overwegingen bij de huwelijkssluiting,” Collationes 40 (2010): 289-308. 54 Cf. Remco Robinson, Celebrating Unions: An Empirical Study of Notions about Church Marriage Rituals (Nijmegen: Radboud Universiteit, 2007). 55 Cf. Paul M. Zulehner, “Ritendiakonie,” in Die diakonale Dimension der Liturgie, ed. Benedikt Kranemann et al. (Freiburg i.Br.: Herder, 2006), 271-283.



Christianity as they were in the premodern and modern society, when it was in fact difficult to escape the faith or the church if you were a Catholic. Moreover, for many people individual spirituality and church participation remained purely external. Today, people personally appropriate their faith, and that is a direct result of the individualization of their existence. 1. Individualization of the Target Group and the Content of Religious Education Subjects themselves and their religious experiences have therefore become the starting point for religious education, instead of a deductive doctrinal system imposed from above and from outside.56 e individual beliefs of pupils and catechumens are now taken seriously. ey oen consist of elements from the Christian traditions, but also from other spiritual and religious sources. People in late modernity compile their own faith. Syncretism (the mixing of elements of various faith traditions) and heresy are no longer by definition the result of a lack of religious socialization, but are becoming normal manifestations of religion.57 e identity of Christians has thus become much more complex and less homogeneous in individualized society than it used to be. is makes it difficult to offer an appropriate educational response. Concepts from religious education and catechetics must now be differentiated. is may be because the children that attend religious education classes are from various cultural backgrounds, or because the people that are asking to enter the church are already adults. Another form of necessary differentiation is that between parish catechesis and religious education at school. ese two areas of religious learning have gone their separate ways because it can no longer be presumed that pupils at school adhere to the Christian faith. Few priests regularly teach religion any more at school in Western Europe. 2. New Opportunities and New Ways Once the necessary differentiation has been carried out, it is possible to discover opportunities that exist for religious education that is willing to accommodate this individualization. us in contemporary forms of 56 Cf. Chris Hermans, “Naar een nieuw vakconcept: Vernieuwing van religieuze vorming vanuit de geschiedenis van een (basis)schoolvak,” in Participerend leren in debat: Kritische reflectie op grondslagen van religieuze vorming, ed. Chris Hermans (Budel: Damon, 2002), 5-36, at 7-13. 57 Cf. Hellemans, Het tijdperk van de wereldreligies, 177-185.



faith communication, children no longer simply learn the catechism by heart. ey are given the tools to access the Christian traditions themselves. ey learn to appropriate these traditions critically, which allows them to further develop their identity, and (in the case of parish catechesis), to become full members of the faith community. On the other hand, in doing so, they produce new contemporary interpretations of Christianity, thus contributing to a living and colorful church. In this way, children at school and children in catechesis are becoming subjects of their own religious learning pathway, and sometimes they develop into self-aware bearers of the Christian faith. ey are no longer just a target group of people to whom a fixed doctrinal system must be transmitted.58 is is a form of religious education that does justice to the diversity of a society in which individuals have to account for their own religious choices, because others have different beliefs or no religious beliefs at all. e question remains, however, whether children, like their parents and grandparents in the past, are still having the spiritual and ritual experiences that are required for this catechetical concept to work. In other words: are their Christian roots still firm enough, or is late modernity fundamentally threatening the continuity of the process of handing down the faith from one generation to the next? e correlation between current experiences and Christian language and practice, which was ingrained in pupils in Catholic countries in the past, is currently no longer in evidence for many children and adolescents. Religious education studies therefore speak of abductive correlation or multi-correlation. Religious education teachers attempt to stimulate their pupils to develop a religious concept of self in a diverse and multi-religious society, and want to accompany them on this journey.59 is is difficult if, for a majority of these pupils, contact with spiritual sources and rituals or with a religious community is no longer part of their lives. Schools must therefore create opportunities for pupils to have religious experiences, but this is not easy to realize in practice. And yet children and adolescents have to get by in a culture in which various religious views coexist. is ultimately requires lifelong religious learning. 58 Cf. Ina ter Avest et al., “Religion and Education in the Dutch Pillarized and Post-pillarized Educational System: Historical Background and Current Debates,” in Religion and Education in Europe: Developments, Contexts and Debates, ed. Robert Jackson et al. (Münster: LIT, 2007), 203-219. 59 Cf. om Geurts, Ina ter Avest, and Cok Bakker, “Religious Education in the Netherlands,” in Religious Education at Schools in Europe. Part 2: Western Europe, ed. Martin Rothgangel, Robert Jackson, and Martin Jäggle (Göttingen: V&R Unipress, 2014), 171-204.



Question Imagine you are a religious education teacher at a Catholic school with pupils from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. e school management has asked you to prepare a service to mark the end of the school year. What ritual, symbolic, and textual elements would you use for this? Further reading Kees de Groot, The Liquidation of the Church, Routledge New Critical inking in Religion, eology and Biblical Studies (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018). Staf Hellemans and Peter Jonkers, eds., Envisioning Futures for the Catholic Church (Washington, DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2018). Solange Lefebvre, “Secularism, Secularization, Public eology, and Practical eology,” in Catholic Approaches in Practical Theology: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Claire E. Woleich and Annemie Dillen, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum eologicarum Lovaniensium 286 (Louvain: Peeters, 2016), 207-224.

Part II

Cross-border Work: Practical Theology as a Craft

 What Is Practical Theology? Annemie Dillen

ere are religious studies scholars, biblical scholars, ethicists, theologians (this usually means systematic theologians), and then there are ‘practical theologians’. To many people, this is an odd concept. Practical theology? Some people joke about it: they say, ‘I thought you were a practical theologian?’ when you are fiddling with some technical device, or when someone has to go and get coffee for a meeting. Of course they usually realize that that is not what practical theology is about. But what is it about? at is actually not so easy to say, even for people who call themselves convinced practical theologians. ere are a lot of possible definitions of the concept of practical theology, although some are more common or more fitting than others. We will show in section I which definition of the concept we use. We will first describe four ways in which practical theologians use the term. en we will place practical theology in the context of the intersection of church, the academy, and society. We will subsequently illustrate the kind of subjects that practical theology deals with, and lastly analyze a number of definitions of practical theology. Section II will give an outline of the historical development that preceded the current diversity of practical theology.

I. Practical Theology: A Concept with Various Meanings 1. Four Ways in Which the Term Practical Theology Is Used Practical theology is the theological reflection on people’s practices, experiences, and attitudes. But this description is too simple: practical theology is much more than that. Some scholars use the term pastoral theology as a synonym for practical theology. Others use practical theology as an umbrella term, and regard pastoral theology as one among several subdisciplines of practical theology. All this calls for further explanation. In general, it is possible to distinguish four ways in which the term practical



theology is used.1 Practical theology refers to (1) an academic discipline; (2) everyday theological reflection by ‘ordinary believers’ and the theology that ‘speaks’ from their actions; (3) a specific methodology of doing theology; (4) a collective term for subjects taught in theological programs at university, in seminaries, or other ecclesiastical institutes. 1. Practical Theology as an Academic Discipline eologians use the term practical theology to describe a particular discipline. eology consists of subdisciplines such as biblical studies or exegesis, the history of the church and of theology, systematic theology, moral theology or theological ethics, and practical theology, also known as pastoral theology. ere are regional and international associations of practical theologians, such as the International Academy for Practical Theology, the Société Internationale de Théologie Pratique (the French-speaking ‘International Society for Practical eology’), the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology, the American Association of Practical Theology and the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Pastoraltheologie (‘Working group for Pastoral eology’). If we speak about practical theology as an academic discipline, we are talking about questions such as: What is the appropriate methodology? How does it differ from theological ethics or systematic theology? Are there clear boundaries between these disciplines? Practical theologians also debate the question whether there is a typically Catholic or Protestant practical theology, what the best name is for the discipline, and to what extent the academic practice of practical theology takes proper note of aspects such as gender or social class. Another question is to what extent practical theology is a science, and whether it belongs more to the social sciences (like sociology) or the humanities (like philosophy). Some theologians use methods that can be called practical theological (like analyzing case studies or hermeneutical reflection on liturgical practices), or teach subjects that are traditionally regarded as part of practical theology (like homiletics or catechetics), but do not call themselves practical theologians. We will also address the advantages and disadvantages of this term. 2. Practical Theology as Everyday Theological Reflection of ‘Ordinary Believers’ e concept of practical theology can also be used to describe theological reflection in everyday life. Some scholars focus on the theology that is 1 Cf.  Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, ed., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).



inherent in actions, i.e. the theology that speaks from actions. is use of the term practical theology is less common than the first. Within the academic discipline, the study of everyday practice, and theological reflection on this, is part of the research field. A distinction can be made between academic practical theology and the theology of people in their daily lives, but the boundaries are not absolute because day-to-day theologizing can both be the object of research and can itself be called a form of practical theology. Many practical theologians believe that their discipline is not limited to academically trained experts who use strictly scientific methods to do research. In a way, everyone is a practical theologian. Parents and children who reflect together on questions (such as ‘Can God die?’, ‘Where are babies before they are born?’), are also doing theology in their daily lives (we will return to this subject in chapter 5). A ride in the car, a walk outside, preparing a meal; all of these things can become places for theology. Practical theology also happens when a liturgical working group reflects on texts and hymns for Sunday worship, or when a group that helps migrants or promotes environmental causes reflects on the ethical and religious grounds of their commitment. e British theologian Jeff Astley has called this ‘ordinary theology’,2 others have described it as Alltagsreligion or lived religion.3 e objects of academic practical theology — people and their religious and spiritual practices in society and in the church — at the same time are themselves subjects of practical theology as understood in this second sense: as the theological reflection on everyday life. e importance of this for academic practical theology is that it highlights the importance of people as subjects who actively contribute to the research, because they know ordinary people’s everyday theological views. 3. Practical Theology as a Specific Methodology Practical theology is a term that also refers to a particular research method. We use this term here as a collective concept for different 2 Jeff Astley, Ordinary Theology: Looking, Listening and Learning in Theology (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002). 3 Cf. for instance Wilhelm Gräb, Religion als Deutung des Lebens: Perspektiven einer Praktischen Theologie gelebter Religion (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2006); Gerrit Immink, “Geleefd geloof,” Praktische Theologie 3 (2002): 259-281; Ruard R. Ganzevoort and Johan H. Roeland, “Lived Religion: e Praxis of Practical eology,” International Journal of Practical Theology 18 (2014): 91-101; WolfEckhart Failing and Hans-Günther Heimbrock, Gelebte Religion wahrnehmen: Lebenswelt – Alltagskultur – Religionspraxis (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1998).



methods or approaches, all of which focus on the study of practices in dialogue with theological reflection. e study of human actions with a view to transforming them is characteristic of practical theological methodology. In other words, there is always a motive: practical theology wants to help improve spiritual, ritual, pastoral, or human practices in general. Researchers sometimes speak in this context of praxis 1, that is confronted with a practical theological theory and may possibly lead to praxis 2, an improved practice.4 us, practical theology wants to be an ‘emancipatory or transformative discipline’.5 Its practitioners want to contribute to the improvement of religious and pastoral practices. Or, to use the image of a boundary: practical theology wants to push boundaries and help other people push their boundaries. is basic structure of practical theology as a method refers to the three steps of empirical analysis (see), interpretation within a theological framework (judge), and change-oriented reflection (act), steps that must not necessarily occur in this sequence. e Belgian Cardinal Jozef Cardijn (1882-1967), the founder of the Young Christian Workers (Katholieke Arbeidersjeugd or KAJ), is oen credited with making this method famous. e approach that practical theology takes as its method is more complex than this slogan suggests — but the three terms of see, judge, and act are a handy mnemonic. It is oen forgotten that Cardijn’s triad was based on the sociological theory of Frédéric Le Play (1806-1882), whom Cardijn met through the Leuven professor Victor Brants.6 We pointed out in the introduction to this book that practical theologians also speak about observing, evaluating, and stimulating.7 e American practical theologian Richard Osmer has identified four tasks of practical theology, the second and third of which refer to the second step in the see – judge – act triad. He has distinguished the descriptive-empirical task (which relates to the ‘what’ question), the interpretative task (the ‘why’ 4 Cf.  Rolf Zerfaß, “Praktische eologie als Handlungswissenscha,” in Praktische Theologie heute, ed.  Ferdinand Klostermann and Rolf Zerfaß (Munich: Grünewald, 1974), 164-177. 5 Cf.  Stefan Gärtner, “Reflecteren op wat het volk Gods doet: Praktische theologie in de 21ste eeuw,” Tijdschrift voor Theologie 51 (2011): 76-87, at 82. 6 Cf. Patricia Kelly, “‘See, Judge, Act’: e Foundation of the Citizens Project?,” in Everyday Social Justice and Citizenship: Perspectives for the 21st Century, ed. Ann Marie Mealey et al. (New York: Routledge, 2018), 24-31. 7 Cf. also: Annemie Dillen, “Gezin, liefde en lichamelijkheid: Uitdagingen voor gezinspastoraat,” in Lichaam en levensadem: Pastorale zorg voor de hele levende mens, ed. Goedele Van Edom (Antwerp: Halewijn, 2010), 277-288.



question), the normative task (how it should be), and the pragmatic task (referring to changed practices, to ways of responding).8 e human sciences — sociology and psychology in particular — play an important role in the observation, or description, phase. Some practical theologians will take an empirical approach by studying practices, using methods derived from the social sciences to do so. e Dutch practical theologian Hans van der Ven and many others even speak about empirical theology, and largely regard this as a synonym for practical theology.9 Others introduce human activity into theological reflection on the basis of their own or other people’s experiences, for instance through studies of specific cases, through insights provided by other disciplines of humanities, or through verbatims — more or less literal accounts of, in this case, pastoral conversations. Engagement with concrete practices that challenge theological thinking and that are continually interrogated by your own reflection is an essential feature of practical theology. 4. Practical Theology as a Set of Subjects A final way of describing practical theology is as a set of various disciplines that are taught at theological or pastoral educational institutes. Practical theology is usually considered to include the subdisciplines of liturgical studies and sacramentology (whether or not in dialogue with ritual studies), religious communication (catechetics, religious pedagogy, homiletics), social, spiritual, and pastoral care at individual (poimenics) or social level (diaconal studies), and community and church community building. is is reflective of the three classical functions of the church: leitourgia, martyria or kerygma, and diakonia. ese three pillars, together with koinonia (community building), are essential for any parish.10 Each of these pillars points to various subdisciplines. In addition, some schools or institutes also consider disciplines such as canon law, spirituality, missiology, or social ethics to belong to practical theology. e boundaries between the various subdisciplines are not always very sharply defined, and some educational institutes 8 Richard R. Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 4. 9 Johannes van der Ven, Practical Theology: An Empirical Approach (Kampen: Kok, 1993). 10 Cf.  Kristiaan Depoortere, “Pastoraaltheologie als reflectie op de ontwikkeling van een christelijke identiteit,” in Geloven als toekomst: Godsdienstpedagogische visies en bijdragen aangeboden aan Professor Jozef Bulckens bij zijn emeritaat, ed. Lambert Leijssen et al. (Louvain: Acco, 1995), 147-158.



classify them as subdisciplines of systematic theology or theological ethics rather than of practical theology. A number of disciplines that belong to the field of religious studies, like the psychology of religion or pastoral psychology, are sometimes also classified as subdisciplines of practical theology. Again, the boundaries are fluid. e subdisciplines that deal with individual and social pastoral care are sometimes also described as pastoral theology.11 In this case, pastoral theology is not used as an umbrella term, but as a subdiscipline (focused particularly on pastoral care and on the activity of pastors) of practical theology. It is the theology of pastoral care. In the Englishspeaking world, this discipline does not simply focus on the pastoral care offered by the pastor, but uses a contextual-communal12 paradigm, a model that focuses on the local context and community. Its main interest is the mutual care that people within Christian communities give each other. is view is eager to avoid depicting pastoral care as something that is the exclusive domain of the professional pastor. Pastoral theologians study the dynamics within communities, are attentive to power imbalances, diversity, conflicts, and people’s own sources of strength within communities. is model of pastoral care and this interpretation of pastoral theology clearly differs from the more classical interpretation of the term. Traditionally, the term referred exclusively to reflection on the pastor’s professional activity. Especially from the 1980s onwards, this approach came under sustained criticism, particularly because of its possibly clericalist character, which makes it seem that only priests are authorized and competent to give pastoral care. In fact doing so is the task of every Christian and every human being. e classical pastoral theological approach did not consider this, viewing the laity as separate from the ministers, who personified, as it were, the essence of the church. Aer the Second Vatican Council it became clear that a view on pastoral theology that gives center stage only to the pastor (and more specifically the priest) is no longer desirable. In line with Karl Rahner, the Flemish pastoral theologian Kristiaan Depoortere therefore defined pastoral theology, as “the theological reflection on the


Cf. Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, “e Contributions of Practical eology,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology, ed. Miller-McLemore, 1-21, at 6. “Whereas practical theology is integrative, concerned with broader issues of ministry, discipleship, and formation, pastoral theology is person- and pathos-centered and focused on the activity of care.” 12 Cf. Nancy Ramsey, ed., Pastoral Care and Counseling: Redefining the Paradigms (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2004).



church’s self-realization as God’s act of salvation to the world, so that it takes place and must take place as arising from the church’s enduring essence, and from the current situation of the church and the world.”13 is puts the focus on the activity of the church as a whole, and it makes pastoral theology almost synonymous with what is today internationally (particularly in Protestant educational and research institutes) called practical theology. Pastoral theology is not just another subdiscipline within practical theology as a whole, but itself also functions as an umbrella term. Catechetics, homiletics, and liturgical studies are then all subdisciplines that are relevant to the activity of pastors and to the activity of the whole church, of all the faithful. However, we have chosen to retain practical theology as the umbrella term for the discipline of pastoral theology, which we regard therefore as part of practical theology alongside the other subdisciplines, such as homiletics or church community building. is includes the wider study of religious and spiritual practices and experiences of people from a theological perspective. We will address the meaning of these terms at greater length in section I.4. Question e meaning of the term practical theology is very rich. How would you respond if someone were to argue that blogging ‘has nothing to do with practical theology’? Which of the interpretations of the concept of practical theology described above would you use to base your argument on? 2. Practical Theology at the Intersection of Church, Society, and the Academy e tensions evoked above by the different interpretations of the concepts of practical theology and pastoral theology partly arise from its target audience. For whom and for what is theology done? In this section, we will discuss ‘for whom’ practical theology is done or ‘at whom’ it is aimed. Many people affiliated with a church and many theologians will answer this question with ‘for the church, for Christians’. Others will focus more on the wider society or on making a contribution to science. Practical theologians stand at the intersection where these three domains 13 Depoortere, “Pastoraaltheologie als reflectie op de ontwikkeling van een christelijke identiteit”; see also: Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, Theological Dictionary (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965), 338-339.



— or three definitions of the target audience — meet, and partially also enter into dialogue with each other. Practical theologians can be seen as guides to this complex territory. We can say that it is a feature of practical theology that it addresses the church, society, and the academy, and seeks to further the dialogue between these three fields, or at least narrow the divides that separate them. Practical theology as an academic discipline systematically studies and reflects on experiences from church and society, with a view to transforming practices in church and society. Practical theologians regularly meet with pastors and other experts from the field to clarify and develop more profound understandings of relevant issues. To give one example: input by healthcare chaplains from across Belgium and dialogue between them and practical theologians at Leuven University (KU Leuven) made it possible to write a vision text on the significance of pastoral care in hospitals, eldercare facilities, disability care, and psychiatry. Pastors can then use this text to explain to others what pastoral care is.14 Subsequently, psychologists, psychiatrists, and pastors from general and psychiatric hospitals met with practical theologians to design a formation module and a study seminar on the differences and collaboration between psychologists and pastors in psychiatric and general hospitals.15 e aim was for pastors and psychologists who work in care facilities to reflect together, and create possibilities for formation and exchange on this subject — on the basis of input from scholarship, which in turn would be enriched by interaction with people who work in the field. e position of practical theology at the intersection of church, society, and the academy sometimes leads to difficult balancing acts and debates among practical theologians. How much scope should there be, for instance, for critical questions about church norms and practices in the fields of liturgy and parish reform, or about the statements and views of bishops?16 It is in the church’s interest that Christians contribute in theologically informed ways to reflection on how the Gospel can and could be lived in late modernity. Although practical theologians do not always 14 Cf. Annemie Dillen, Axel Liégeois, and Anne Vandenhoeck, “Pastores als spirituele zorgverleners: Identiteit, professionaliteit en uitdagingen,” in De moed om te spreken en te handelen: Profetisch pastoraat, ed.  Annemie Dillen, Axel Liégeois, and Anne Vandenhoeck (Antwerp: Halewijn, 2009), 212-232. 15 Cf. Elisabeth, “Expert-network chaplains-psychologists,” [accessed November 24, 2019]. 16 Cf. Stefan Gärtner, Kees de Groot, and Sjaak Körver, “Zielzorg in het publieke domein: Over de legitimering van geestelijke verzorging,” Tijdschrift voor Theologie 52 (2012): 53-72.



have close insight into what academic reflections can mean specifically for pastoral or church policy, their aim at least is to influence the church in some way or another, by furthering change to policy or practice. e same is true for society. We have already argued that practical theology is not just oriented to the church, but is also expressly situated in society. is means that practical theology is closely related to public theology.17 is is a form of doing theology that expressly aims to influence the public sphere in society, for instance through (social) media, lectures, positions that set policy, etc. References to the views of theologians are sometimes made not only in the church, but also in political debates. If practical theology is to be truly relevant to the public domain, it must live up to the challenge of avoiding ‘theological zombie concepts’.18 ese are terms that used to have a specific content and function in the past, but that seem to have lost most of their relevance today. ey are as good as dead, but they still roam the language we use. If theologians continue to focus on these kinds of categories, they may lose sight of what is happening in reality and in the experience of people. Examples are concepts such as salvation or grace. Researching people’s current experiences and practices is important to be able to question classical theological paradigms and existing church and social practices. e interpretations that people today give to experiences such as suffering, dying, fear, hope, guilt, or gratitude are also important for theology. Practical theologians have the task of engaging analogous, secular experiences in a critical dialogue with traditional concepts, so as to renew and challenge the classical language and to make it comprehensible and relevant. At the same time, sound theological thinking can also criticize existing social practices. eologians also contribute to clarifying all kinds of social phenomena that still implicitly contain many theological references. Journalists oen mention concepts such as heaven or hell in their articles, or notions such as the ‘hand of God’ or ‘playing God’. What does this mean? Do  these concepts refer to actually experienced Christian images of God, to oldfashioned interpretations of these images, or do they point, on the contrary, to the erosion of traditional conceptions of the faith? e sale of religious kitsch items (with images of Jesus or pious sayings) or popular piety (such as the blessing of cars) also demand interpretation. 17 Cf. Elaine Graham and Anna Rowlands, eds., Pathways to Public Square: Practical Theology in an Age of Pluralism, International Practical eology 1 (Münster: LIT, 2005). 18 Cf. R. Ruard Ganzevoort, “Zombie-theologie en de terugkeer van religie,” Narthex 9 (2009): 5-8.



One example of how practical theology can be oriented to the wider society is the role of spirituality in eldercare. In many countries it is not always very clear to the management of eldercare facilities what the added value of a chaplain is. Practical theologians face the challenge of demonstrating, in dialogue with pastors, bishops, psychologists, and religious studies scholars, that including spirituality is in fact an important aspect of good care that focuses on the whole person, and that it is important to recruit trained experts for this. Of course, this implies a theological approach that has a wider conception of pastoral care than just administering communion or celebrating the Eucharist. A second example comes from the field of pregnancy and birth. is is a highly medicalized field, where treatment of women is guided mainly by medical requirements: is the child growing properly and is the woman in good health? And yet many women and men experience having a baby as a gi or a miracle. It is an overwhelming experience that has a profound effect on them. Practical theologians can empirically investigate the experiences that people have. e stories of gratitude and wonder challenge them to give new meaning to classical theological categories such as grace. Aspects from the biblical and theological tradition, such as the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-7) or Samuel (1 Sam. 1:10-20), can be studied in the light of these experiences. In this way, Christian traditions can be interpreted anew, and people can subsequently use these insights to look critically at social and ecclesiastical practices.19 How can professionals such as obstetricians, midwives, or nurses who give care to women and couples be more attentive to the spiritual aspects of pregnancies? What scope does the church offer to express experiences of gratitude surrounding birth? Does the ritual of baptizing young children give sufficient attention to the miracle of life, or is the focus exclusively on the importance of explicit belonging to the church?20 ese and other questions are challenges that practical theologians can seek to address in their research, teaching, and service to the church and to society. Practical theology is itself an academic discipline, and, as such, it forms part of the academy. It aims to contribute to the academy 19 Cf. Annemie Dillen, “De kwetsbaarheid van het lichaam: Feministisch-theologische reflecties over lichamelijkheid en voortplantingsgeneeskunde,” Tijdschrift voor Theologie 47 (2007): 155-173, at 160-161; Judith Cockx, “Experiences of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Parenting: Practical eological Research into the ‘Lived Religion’ of Flemish Heterosexual Expectant Couples,” INTAMS Review 17 (2011): 37-47. 20 Cf. Annemie Dillen and Judith Cockx, “Looking Forward to the Birth of a Child,” in City of Desires: A Place for God? Practical Theological Perspectives, ed. R. Ruard Ganzevoort, Rein Brouwer, and Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Münster: LIT, 2013), 81-90.



by  training people who are sensitive to issues of spirituality and religion, and by showing people the complexity of religion and of the search for meaning in life. Practical theologians have the opportunity in their research, in dialogue with other researchers, to articulate specific questions or identify blind spots, or to introduce specific points of interest arising from the experiential side of the Christian religion. is could be research of palliative care and spirituality, for instance, or of the role of religion in coping with suffering or trauma (coping processes), or of the experience of meaning and social involvement. Practical theologians can also contribute to theology. More than other subdisciplines, they will emphasize the importance of dialogue with the contemporary context. is can be accomplished through the use of empirical methods or through dialogue with people from specific fields of practice. Practical theology can also show the academic world that reflection on the scholar’s own position is important. Practical theologians point to the relationship between concrete contexts and theological thinking, and that applies not only to the context they study, but also to the theologian’s own context, which is never neutral. ese examples show how practical theology functions at the intersection between church, society, and the academy. But the frontier zone between these three is wide, and depending on the focus, the method chosen, and the context, the emphasis will be more on its embedding in the academy, the church, or society. reats to practical theology also emit from each of these subareas. Each of these areas tends to claim practical theology for itself, or conversely to banish it to another field — but it is and should be a characteristic feature of practical theology that it stands at the intersection and thus tries to bear fruit for each of these domains. Universities can demand, for instance, that practical theologians publish in international journals or book series. is can clash with practical theologians’ own desire to contribute to the specific context in their own country, for instance, through coaching, speaking, or participating in working groups. Moreover, some will regard it as their task to ask critical questions about current ways of doing academic research and about developments within universities by pointing to mutual solidarity between scholars or by demanding attention for the most vulnerable groups within the university system and within society. Practical theologians are involved in associations or action groups that raise awareness about environmental issues, about care for the undocumented, or for people who live in poverty. is committed attitude also has consequences for policy options within the academic world: what groups have the opportunity to study at university? Practical theology is relevant to questions about enrolment or college



fees, or about mechanisms of social exclusion. Who benefits from science: just the theologians themselves because they receive an income, or also the people who are the object — and in a certain sense perhaps also the subject — of theological reflection? Practical theology asks these and other critical questions at the intersection of the academy, the church, and society. e church asks practical theologians to develop visions and specific methods that are fruitful for pastoral ministry. But this clashes with the discipline of practical theology, which — although it is oriented to practice — is never without a certain level of abstraction, and wants its own critical voice to be heard without being totally absorbed by concrete policy or executive work. is means that though the visions developed by academic practical theologians can be relevant for practice, they always also require additional reflection by people who work in the field themselves. Models of church community building, for example, also demand reflection based on practice by pastors and the faithful alike. Society asks practical theologians to study socially relevant issues, such as the role of faith communities in enhancing social cohesion, or the development of ideas on dealing appropriately with religion in the public space, such as in the media or in advertising. Some voices in the church claim that this weakens the attention that practical theologians give to what happens within the church or to explicitly Christian activity. Practical theologians thus face the challenge of continuing to stand in this constant tension. e consequences for the choices they make are obvious. eologians have to decide whether to publish in academic journals or in journals that cater to pastoral workers or to an even wider audience. ey have to decide to do research arising from questions that come to them from the church community (such as mapping good practices on lay consultation and participation in diocesan church structures) or from society (such as religious attitudes to homosexuality). ey are also likely to carry out research to further develop or expand existing theories, visions, or research results; in this case academic motives are the guiding factor. Question Describe the challenges that practical theologians face in respect of the church, society, and the academy for each of the two challenges listed below. What contribution could practical theologians make to the following issues: • Reforming parish structures? • What should a prayer room in a Catholic theological school look like: interreligious or not?



3. The Object of Practical Theology We have described practical theology as a term that has various meanings, and as a discipline that stands at an intersection. e question is what topics practical theology actually deals with now. e examples that we have given so far have already revealed a few things about the object of practical theology. e material object of an academic discipline is the topic that researchers study. e formal object is the angle or perspective from which this topic is studied. For practical theology this is the perspective of the ‘transformation of actions from a Christian perspective’ (cf.  supra). e formal object of practical theology can also be described as ‘the activity of the people of God’,21 with the people of God — following the insights of the Second Vatican Council — meaning all people. e term ‘people of God’ is not limited to any fixed group of church members or practicing Christians. Christians believe that ultimately all people are called to be part of the people of God.22 As far as the material object is concerned, we can distinguish four perspectives, which are all closely interconnected. e material object of practical theology is described very narrowly by some, and very broadly by others. 1. Four Definitions A first definition of the object of practical theology — historically the oldest one — is ‘the activity of the pastor’. Traditionally, the discipline that studied the activity of the pastor was called pastoral theology. e second description of what is at stake in practical theology is closely related to the first: ‘the activity of the church’.23 Many contemporary academics who call themselves practical theologians define the object of their research more widely, as the study of people’s lived religion. is is a third definition, which emphasizes the experience of spirituality or religion in everyday life. A fourth definition of the object of practical theology does not focus only on spirituality or religion, but on the activity and experiences of people in the widest sense. In this case, practical theology also deals with social practices in general — with a view to transforming them from 21 Herbert Haslinger, ed., Handbuch Praktische Theologie. 1: Grundlegungen (Mainz: Grünewald, 1999); see also: Gärtner, “Reflecteren op wat het volk Gods doet.” 22 Gärtner, “Reflecteren op wat het volk Gods doet,” 77. 23 Depoortere, “Pastoraaltheologie als reflectie op de ontwikkeling van een christelijke identiteit.”



a Christian perspective. Some adherents of the lived religion approach will agree that their research very closely approximates this fourth approach, as it studies lived experience. 2. Domestic Violence: An Issue for Practical Theology in Four Different Ways An example can help us understand these four different definitions of the material object of practical theology. If we take the situation of a woman, an active church member, who suffers from physical and emotional abuse by her husband, we can look at this situation in different ways. e focus could be on the actions of the pastor. In this case, practical theologians will focus on describing appropriate ways for pastors to deal with forms of domestic violence. is raises questions about trust, appropriate referral, victim support, confronting abusers, seeking suitable aid that does justice to victims (in the first place) and to perpetrators, speaking about forgiveness — or not (and if so, how?) etc. Practical theological research could investigate what pastors think about domestic violence, and how they think and speak about their own activity — for instance, by asking them to keep diaries or interviewing them. Reflecting on these analyses of speech and activity, and searching for new possibilities for improving praxis — finding a more fitting perspective on domestic violence and new suggestions for action — also forms part of a practical theological approach. If the emphasis is more on the activity of the church, practical theologians might reflect on how the issue of domestic violence could be broached in liturgical celebrations or in catechesis, how members of the same faith community could support each other or could intervene in time if they have knowledge of domestic violence. ese aspects can also be considered at the level of observation and analysis, evaluation and critical reflection, and of the promoting of new practices. If practical theology is being done from a lived-religion perspective, research might focus on the way in which the woman who is a victim of domestic violence understands aspects from the Christian tradition or, by contrast, is no longer able to understand these. It can focus on how she shapes her spirituality in a broad, perhaps even non-Christian sense, and how pastors and parishioners can best support her in this. A related question is to ask which elements from the Christian religion are and continue to be used to cover up violence against women. us the focus of a lived-religion approach is primarily on the study of the spiritual and religious experience of people, and less on specific pastoral actions.



In the broadest approach to practical theology, the experience of domestic violence itself is studied, and practical theologians inquire to what extent domestic violence takes place and can be prevented at social and church level, possibly by reevaluating elements in Christian teaching that encourage victims to remain passive or that are used to justify violence. 3. Mutually Connected Visions ese four ways of defining the object of practical theology can help to illustrate the wide scope of the field. But these four ways are, of course, closely interconnected and strongly linked to other disciplines. e fourth approach is similar to theological-ethical and systematic theological approaches, but also to other scientific, non-theological forms of reflection on domestic violence. Similarly, the first and fourth approaches complement each other. Whenever pastors act prophetically, the example of biblical prophets such as Amos implies that they are prepared to call out processes in society, identify social injustice, and be prepared to influence policy decisions in care facilities or in society. e view is increasingly being proposed that pastoral guidance cannot be situated at the individual level alone. e approaches to practical theology that regard it as the study of lived religion and of practices in society at large are closely interconnected, as our example shows. e broadest approach is primarily interested in people and themes that may not necessarily be religious themselves, but that do deserve attention. Such things as views and experiences of male and female role patterns, or experiences that break the taboo on domestic violence are all relevant topics for study by practical theologians. From the perspective of practical theology, these aspects can come to the fore when the focus is not exclusively on pastors, churches, or on specifically religious experiences, but also on practices in society in a wider sense — which do, however, have theological relevance. Christians and practical theologians believe that God desires the salvation, the well-being of people, and that all people are called to collaborate in this. ey also believe that every human being is a bearer of the image of God, and therefore has a fundamental dignity. is faith vision implies that practical theologians cannot limit their domain to the strictly religious or ecclesiastical fields. Conversely, practical theology also poses critical questions to theology and to pastoral practice. For instance, did the teaching of the church in the past contribute to social ideas about relations between men and women? In any case, teachings on marriage, family, and relations between men and women in some contexts made it more difficult for women to talk about abuse that takes place in the context of their families.



4. A Second Example: The Activity of Hospital Chaplains Another example of the different definitions of the object of practical theology is the activity of a hospital chaplain in the cardiology department of a general hospital. If the activity of pastors is taken as the central object of practical theology (which in this case clearly means pastoral theology), then practical theologians might study how chaplains hold or should conduct conversations with patients, what rituals they should perform, and why and how they could collaborate with other caregivers. If the activity of the entire church community is the main focus, the questions involved might be how this form of hospital chaplaincy could work together with parishes, how community building is possible in a hospital, how the church speaks about illness and suffering, and to what extent the church invests in hospital chaplaincy. e study of lived religion as the object of practical theology in this case might mean that researchers investigate the spirituality of the patients and, possibly, also of the ministers and other caregivers, and that they provide insight into the (spiritual) experiences that arise from heart failure. e fourth perspective, which focuses more on general practices in society with a view to achieving a more humane approach, would in this context ask questions about the degree to which care facilities are attentive to holistic care — care for the whole person — including spiritual care, and questions such as lifestyle and possible causes of cardiac disease in society, and ways of dealing with this in a different way (possibly on the basis of the Christian faith), both at the individual and at the social level. 5. Practical Theology as a Science of Action and an Observational Science Our fourfold definition of the possible objects of practical theology has demonstrated that the focus is not just on practices, but also on the experiences that people have. It is not just about acting and communicating, but also about the way in which people think and experience their spirituality. Some scholars have described practical theology as the study of practices, of the specific actions of people, oen with a view to improving existing practices, as a science of action.24 In this case, practical theology is explicitly regarded more as an application area of theoretical insights

24 Cf.  Haslinger, Handbuch Praktische Theologie; see also Gerben Heitink, ed., Practical Theology: History, Theory, Action Domains, Studies in Practical eology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999).



derived from other disciplines, or as the application of theological insights to existing reality. e practices of people are themselves the object of research, as the Bible or other historical writings are the primary object of research for exegetes and church historians. Others are more likely to describe practical theology as an observational science — and they will focus among other things on the study of lived religion. e study of contemporary phenomena of religiosity — or, viewed more widely, of spirituality — is then conceived as the discipline’s core task. In this perspective, there is less emphasis on transforming practices or on interventions.25 Instead, the experiences of people themselves are important. ey must not simply be instrumentalized to suit the activity of the church. Both visions, of practical theology as a science of action or as an observational science, exist alongside each other. It is not necessary to draw strict boundaries between the two perspectives. For instance, people’s experience of spirituality can also be described as a practice or as a set of practices,26 because spirituality is related to people’s attitudes to life, to actions that express spirituality such as rituals, dietary customs, prayer and meditation, or concrete acts of care. In other words, what people feel inside is connected to what they do. In that case, the experience of spirituality also forms the object of practical theology as a science of action. Others will concentrate more on communication than on practices or activity as the core concept of practical theology. In doing so, they connect both the classical activity-oriented approach to practical theology with the new, observational approach.27 We can conclude that the object of practical theology is both very broad and very diverse.

25 Cf.  Gärtner, “Reflecteren op wat het volk Gods doet,” 84-85; Norbert Mette, “Praktische eologie: Ästhetische eorie oder Handlungstheorie?,” in Praktisch-theologische Erkundungen II, ed.  Norbert Mette (Berlin: LIT, 2007), 367-376; Bernd Schröder, “In welcher Absicht nimmt die Praktische eologie auf Praxis Bezug? Überlegungen zur Aufgabenbestimmung einer theologischen Disziplin,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 98 (2011): 124-126. 26 Cf.  omas H. Groome and Colleen M. Griffith, eds., Catholic Spiritual Practices: A Treasury of Old and New (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012). 27 Cf. Wilfred Engemann, “Kommunikation des Evangeliums als interdisziplinäres Projekt,” in Praktische Theologie: Eine Theorie und Problemgeschichte, ed. Christian Grethlein and Helmut Schwier (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2007), 137-232.



Question ink of an important issue that might require attention from practical theology. How do you situate this within the fourfold division described above in relation to the object of practical theology? Can you place the issue/the research question within a single category, or do the categories overlap? 4. Definitions as Condensed Visions on Practical Theology e choices that are made with regard to the object of practical theology are expressed in various definitions of the discipline. We will first discuss the choice of either pastoral theology or practical theology; this choice usually also implies a decision on the content of the discipline. en we will show, on the basis of a number of exemplary descriptions of practical theology, how visions of what is unique to the discipline are both distinct and yet similar. 1. Pastoral Theology and Practical Theology We have already seen that pastoral theology is oen described as a subdiscipline of practical theology, and that its focus is either on the activity of the pastor (in more traditional and church-oriented approaches), or on the theology of pastoral care. Some authors use pastoral theology as an umbrella concept for the discipline as a whole.28 e greatest advantage of this term is its connotation of pastoral activity. It refers to a clearly biblically-inspired tradition. e term pastor refers to shepherd and to the biblical stories of the Good Shepherd which the New Testament uses in reference to Jesus. Others see precisely this biblical link as a disadvantage, because the terms pastoral and pastor might be regarded as too clerical, are strongly ministry-oriented, and could therefore give the impression that the community of the faithful is less important than its ministers. In this sense it is essential, when speaking in terms of pastoral theology, to extend the object to include the activity of the entire church community. e term practical theology is broader and less ecclesiastical — it points more clearly to a wider field of research than pastoral theology, for instance, to social issues (such as refugee care or forms of new spiritual experience outside the churches). e term practical theology also has its drawbacks. For some, practical equals trite or even banal. Many contemporary 28 Cf. Stephen Pattison, The Challenges of Practical Theology: Selected Essays (London: Jessica Kingsley, 2007), 244-246.



practical theologians are oen eager to avoid any association between their discipline and applied theology, an approach in which general theological insights are simply applied in practice.29 Practical theologians question this approach, because they believe it is essential that the practices and experiences on the ground are also allowed to challenge theological thinking itself. Yet the concept of practical theology is open to associations with applied theology. Of course this is equally true for the term pastoral theology, which was traditionally used for reflection on how theological insights could subsequently be applied in a fruitful way to pastoral practice. 2. Towards a Satisfactory Definition? Giving a definition of practical theology as an umbrella concept is not easy. As we have seen, the term is used in many different ways. We will therefore limit ourselves here to describing a number of definitions of practical theology and of pastoral theology as an academic discipline. What we have said so far about the discipline will be visible again in the definitions we have selected. A first example is the British Dictionary of Pastoral Care, which describes the term pastoral theology as “the theological study of the Church’s action in its own life and towards society, in response to the activity of God.”30 is definition is limited to the study of the church. e difference with sociological research of church structures is clear: pastoral theology uses a theological perspective in which the church acts in response to the activity of God. Anyone who describes practical theology as the activity of the church will have to be attentive to the activity of all members of the church, and not just that of priests. A  researcher from Nigeria or Cameroon might be inclined, for instance, to focus strongly on the response of priests to suicide or violence, given the important role people from predominantly agrarian areas assign to parish pastors. If you choose to see practical theology as the study of the activity of the church, it is important not to narrow the perspective unduly. e community also plays a role, and the mutual support that people give to each other, both within and outside the church. How an author defines practical theology says a lot about the emphases he or she places. Stefan Knobloch has pointed to the importance of 29 For a more positive view on practical theology as ‘applied theology’, see Pete Ward, Introducing Practical Theology: Mission, Ministry, and the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017). 30 Anthony O. Dyson, “Pastoral eology,” in A Dictionary of Pastoral Care, ed. Alastair V. Campbell (London: SPCK, 1987), 201-202, at 201.



crossing boundaries. He has called practical theology “that theological discipline that questions the institutional boundaries of the church both externally and internally, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and that works to dissolve the boundaries around the people of God both externally and internally.”31 Knobloch means that practical theology is interested in all people and not just in the church. Moreover, it is the church’s mission to address all people, in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. It also means that research of what people believe or of people’s religious experiences in the broad sense is important for practical theologians. At the same time this definition implies that the question as to who does and who does not belong to the church is a derivative one. e primary object is the human person, called by God. e Catholic practical theologian Karlijn Demasure has proposed a broader definition. She has described practical theology as “the theoretical and theological reflection that consists in the conversation or confrontation between the practice of contemporary people, the Gospel, and the Christian traditions. e aim of this conversation/confrontation is to transform actions.”32 e emphasis here is on practical theology as a science of action — rather than as an observational science. Just as we observed in section I.3, this approach also focuses on the strategic dimension of practical theology: the aim to transform practices. What is striking here is the use of the concepts of conversation and confrontation, where others speak of correlation. e concepts of conversation and confrontation show clearly that it is not just a matter of harmony and continuity between Gospel, tradition, and current praxis, but also of rupture, challenge, and difference. e concept of praxis must be understood as something wider than practices: it includes visions, motivations, faith attitudes, ideals, utterances, texts as they develop and as they influence their readers, rituals, and actions. e British Anglican practical theologians James Woodward and Stephen Pattison have called practical theology “a place where religious belief, tradition and practice meets contemporary experiences, questions and actions and conducts a dialogue that is mutually enriching, intellectually critical, and practically transforming.”33 is definition is very

31 Stefan Knobloch, Praktische Theologie: Ein Lehrbuch für Studium und Pastoral (Freiburg i.Br.: Herder, 1996), 22. 32 Karlijn Demasure, Verdwaald tussen liefde, macht en schuld: Pastorale begeleiding bij seksueel misbruik van kinderen (Louvain: Peeters, 2004), 28. 33 Stephen Pattison and James Woodward, “An Introduction to Pastoral and Practical eology,” in Blackwell Reader in Pastoral and Practical Theology,



broad and refers to practical theology not only as an academic discipline, but also as a teaching subject, daily practice, and method. It also includes many aspects that have already been mentioned, such as the relationship between practice and theory, and the orientation to transformation. e diverging definitions of practical theology point to tensions over the interpretation of what theology is.34 e German Protestant practical theologian Wilhelm Gräb is one scholar who has advocated the terminology of ‘lived religion’ (gelebte Religion) as a definition of what practical theology should study.35 He differs in this respect from his colleague Christian Grethlein, who is also of German Protestant background. Grethlein has described practical theology as ‘communication of the Gospel’ (Kommunikation des Evangeliums).36 Gräb has argued that the ‘religion concept’ cannot just be replaced by the concept of the ‘Gospel’. One of his concerns is that it must be possible to defend the place of practical theology as a discipline among other academic disciplines. According to Gräb, religion is not just a subject for religious studies scholars (sociologists, psychologists, historians, philosophers,…), but also, and especially, for theologians.37 Grethlein’s insistence on the concept of ‘communication of the Gospel’ rests on the premise of the specificity of Christianity, while Gräb’s interest is more in studying general human religiosity in dialogue with theological visions.38 Gräb has contended that the aim of practical theology is to make the Gospel intelligible and to communicate ed. James Woodward and Stephen Pattison (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 1-19, at 7. 34 For this section, see also Annemie Dillen, “Lived religion en theologie: Betekenissen en consequenties van de studie van ‘geleefde religie’,” Tijdschrift voor Theologie 57 (2017): 60-78. 35 Cf.  Wilhelm Gräb, “Kommunikation des Evangeliums: Religionstheologische Ansichten und Anfragen,” in Kommunikation des Evangeliums: Leitbegriff der Praktische Theologie, ed. Bernd Schröder and Michael Domsgen (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2014), 63-70. For Grethlein’s own view on this subject, see Christian Grethlein, “Religion oder ‛Kommunikation des Evangeliums’ als Leitbegriff für die Praktische eologie,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 112 (2015): 468-489. 36 Cf. Christian Grethlein, “Praktische eologie als eorie der Kommunikation des Evangeliums in der Gegenwart: Grundlagen und Konsequenzen,” International Journal of Practical Theology 18 (2014): 287-304; id., An Introduction to Practical Theology: History, Theory, and the Communication of the Gospel in the Present (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016). For the concept of ‘communication of the Gospel’ in (Catholic) practical theology, see also Norbert Mette, Einführung in die katholische Praktische Theologie (Darmstadt: Wissenschaliche Buchgesellscha, 2005). 37 Cf. Gräb, “Kommunikation des Evangeliums,” 65. 38 Cf. ibid.



it, but he also thinks it is very important that practical theology should involve ‘religious and cultural hermeneutics’. at means inquiring into how aspects of Christianity are present in the current context (media, the world of experience, …).39 Some commentators will argue that every form of theology must ultimately be practical, i.e. relate to people’s experiences. e American Protestant practical theologian Don Browning is the most prominent recent exponent of this view.40 He has defined the whole of theology as fundamental practical theology. Within this whole, he has distinguished four movements: descriptive theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and strategical practical theology. In Browning’s view, what we have called practical theology in the previous definitions is part of the fourth movement (strategical practical theology), or possibly the first (descriptive theology). Ultimately historical and systematic theology, just like theological ethics, must focus on practices and must allow itself to be influenced by the study of practices. Reflection on issues such as sin, grace, or forgiveness can never be divorced from people’s concrete experiences. How does the theology of grace affect the lives of people? Older people were oen raised in an atmosphere which strongly stressed sin and the awareness of sin, particularly in the area of the body and sexuality. is led to some people acquiring a rather warped image of Christianity or being weighed down by a sense of guilt. For others, it caused them to turn their backs on Christianity. Still others went in search of new interpretations of the concept of sin. A different question is what experiences underlie certain theological interpretations. Someone who is a victim of sexual abuse will possibly feel strongly that people should be very cautious in using the concept of forgiveness. But someone who works in pastoral or psychological care for perpetrators or victims of crimes may perhaps be inclined to point to the healing force that forgiveness can have both for offenders and for victims. e challenge is to develop a theology that does justice to the different positions that people find themselves in, a theology that also takes seriously their experiences and the difficulties that some of them have with theological concepts. It is hopefully clear at this stage that giving a definition of practical theology always implies certain choices, which correlate with the 39

Cf. Gräb, “Kommunikation des Evangeliums,” 68; 71. Cf. Don S. Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology: Descriptive and Strategic Proposals (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995). Karl Rahner made the same argument. 40



vision of the object, method, and relationship with the target audience. It will become evident in section II that these various choices were also at play in the history of the discipline of practical theology, and that they led to different names and emphases within the discipline.

Question Give your own definition of practical theology. In what ways is it similar to that proposed by others?

II. The History of Practical Theology 1. Practical Theological Reflection throughout the Life of Faith It becomes easier to understand what practical theology is if we look briefly at the history of the discipline. Reflecting on practices, experiences, and human activity, in dialogue with religious traditions and narrative is evident in all ages. ink, for instance, of what we read about Mary, aer the shepherds’ visit to the young family with the newly-born infant Jesus: “Mary treasured all these things in her heart and pondered them” (Luke 2:19). A similar sentence can be found in the Gospel of Luke, aer Mary had lost her son Jesus before finding him again in the temple. is was a profound experience for her. “Mary stored up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51b). is too is a form of (practical) theological reflection.41 As we have seen, practical theology refers, among other things, to ordinary believers’ everyday theological reflection. eology as such, which sometimes arises in rudimentary form from everyday experiences, can therefore also be called practical theology. ere was also reflection in dialogue with specific pastoral practices. is too is a centuries-old phenomenon. us, the North African bishop Augustine (354-430) used the practice of infant baptism, which

41 Cf. Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 46-49; ead., “Pondering All ese ings: Mary and Motherhood,” in Blessed One: Protestant Perceptions of Mary, ed.  Cynthia L. Rigby and Beverly R. Gaventa (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 97-114; Annemie Dillen, “God hee je zijn gunst geschonken (Lc 1,30): Over Maria en andere moeders,” in Worstelen met het Woord: Tegendraadse bijbellezingen, ed. Christophe Brabant and Marianne Moyaert (Kapellen: Pelckmans; Kampen: Klement, 2009), 93-105.



existed here and there, as justification for his theology of original sin, even though adult baptism was the norm in his time. A few centuries later, Augustine’s theology was used to introduce the general practice of infant baptism.42 is example already demonstrates the complex relationship between theological visions and practices. Just like many other bishops from the first centuries of Christianity, Augustine developed theological reflections in dialogue with practice, as his many sermons show. ere was no gulf yet between theory and practice. All theology to a certain extent was practical theology. Over the subsequent centuries, more explicit reflection on practices was developed in the so-called penitentiaries. ese manuals for confessional practice were written throughout the history of Christianity. ese contained prayers, lists of sins and corresponding penances (which the persons who came to confess their sins had to perform). Moral theologians situate these manuals within the history of Christian ethics, but they can also count as precursors to pastoral and practical theology.43 e manuals of the clergy showed what the cure of souls, which we now call pastoral care or pastoral ministry, could involve. e focus was primarily on looking for an appropriate penance for specific sins. is insight into the historical context with its focus on sin and penance may come as a surprise for people of our own time. Nowadays the term pastoral sometimes has the connotation of mildness or even soness. Pastors reflect even today on how best to act in pastoral settings, such as in rituals or when they listen to people who are grieving over a loss. eir emphasis is not on the transgression of norms, but on the presence and support of the past. In ordinary language, ‘pastoral’ oen has the connotation of being accommodating, of not taking ethical norms overly rigorously, of ‘being there’ for people. In certain circles, the term pastoral has therefore acquired a pejorative meaning. is shi towards associating the word pastoral with mildness is due to the fact that canon law, even though it still plays a role in ministry, does so only to a very limited degree — at least in standard pastoral practices in Belgium and the Netherlands. Only a few groups within the Catholic church think that canon law should once again become a major focus of attention.

42 Cf. Anthony Dupont, “Augustinus’ denken over doopcatechese voor volwassenen en zijn theologisch pleidooi voor het kinderdoopsel: Vruchtbare spanning tussen ontwikkelingspsychologie en genadetheologie,” Collationes 42 (2012): 245-262. 43 Cf. Kathleen A. Cahalan and Bryan Froehle, “A Developing Discipline: e Catholic Voice in Practical eology,” in Invitation to Practical Theology: Catholic Voices and Visions, ed. Claire E. Woleich (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2014), 27-51.



Practical theology in the early middle ages thus took the form of manuals for confessional practice and theological treatises by local bishops. Gradually, these were systematized. is led to comprehensive books that attempted to offer a systematic overview of theology, like the Summa Theologica by omas Aquinas (1225-1274). e academic theology as it arose aer the emergence of the first universities in the thirteenth century was dominated for a long time by a more abstract theological approach. It had previously been the norm that spirituality and theology went hand in hand, but now spirituality and anything to do with specific Christian practices were increasingly removed from the field of speculative theological thought. Rivalry between the Dominicans and the Franciscans was one cause of this. e Dominicans — with their emphasis on more abstract thought, on reason and philosophy — were to determine the shape of academic theology for several centuries. e more experience-oriented Franciscan approach sought new outlets, particularly in people’s experience of spirituality and in friaries.44 is is just one example of how different ways of relating theory and practice, theology and experience with each other have existed alongside each other throughout history. 2. Training in Practical Theology/Pastoral Theology e concept of practical theology was used for the first time by Gisbertus Voetius, a professor in Utrecht, in the Dutch Republic, in the seventeenth century, in the context of the formation of Protestant ministers. He used the term theologia practica as a collective name for ethics, spirituality, liturgy, canon law, and homiletics. e General Synod of Dort (16181619) recognized the importance of teaching theologia practica at the universities where ministers were being trained for their task.45 But the best-known name in the history of practical theology, especially in the Protestant context, is Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). It was Schleiermacher who developed the concept of practical theology as a reflection on the church as a whole, rather than just on Protestant ministers. In doing so, he was far ahead of Catholic thinkers. Schleiermacher is also called the father of practical theology. Aer Schleiermacher, however, practical theology in Protestant theology programs was again narrowed to the formation of pastors.

44 45

Cf. Cahalan and Froehle, “A Developing Discipline.” Cf. Demasure, Verdwaald tussen liefde, macht en schuld, 9-10.



In the Catholic context, it was around the end of the eighteenth century that specific thought was given within the universities to pastoral theology/ practical theology. e discipline of pastoral theology was first taught in Vienna in 1777 by Franz Gischütz (1748-1788). e initiative for this came from the civil authorities. e Archduchess Maria eresa of Austria (1717-1780) had some years previously instructed the Benedictine abbot Franz Stephan Rautenstrauch (1734-1785), head of the Vienna school of theology, to dra a program for theological studies (Entwurf einer besseren Einrichtung theologischer Schulen, ‘Plan for the improved organization of theological schools’). Maria eresa wanted the state to have greater control over the theological formation of priests, as she believed that the church had an important civic function. e church should contribute to the moral formation of the people and thus support the civil order.46 Rautenstrauch’s program envisaged five years of theological formation, with the fih year offering a number of practical disciplines described collectively as pastoral theology. Formation in the fih year was intended to train candidates to properly perform their pastoral tasks. e focus was thus on the ministry of priests, because only priests (and therefore only men) studied theology at the time. e three great tasks of prophet, priest, and king provided the structure. e prophetic task refers to aspects such as instruction, catechesis, and preaching; the priestly task to the administration of the sacraments and presiding over the liturgy; and the pastoral or royal task to spiritual leadership, the care for Christian life in general, at both the individual and the public, social level. is reference to prophet, priest, and king can be found not only in reflection on the priestly ministry, but it applies to all the baptized. If we were to follow Rautenstrauch’s plan today, we would at least have to extend it to every Christian. However, not every baptized person realizes that they are also called to carry out these tasks and that they should not expect priests to do everything. Christians oen do not realize that they have a responsibility themselves, and that they are not simply objects of pastoral care, but also its subjects or bearers. is mentality developed over the centuries due to the Catholic formation of priests and the practical theological reflection that strongly emphasized the role of the priest, as Rautenstrauch’s plan shows. It was not until the documents of Vatican II that the responsibility of all the baptized for pastoral ministry was highlighted again. 46

Cf. Stefan Gärtner, “Pastoraltheologie? Praktische eologie! Die theologische Disziplin an den (Um-)Brüchen,” in Katholische Theologie studieren: Themenfelder und Disziplinen, ed. Andreas Leinhäupl-Wilke and Magnus Striet (Münster, Hamburg, and London: LIT, 2000), 320-336, at 326.



In Vienna, as elsewhere, pastoral theology concentrated on the formation of the ministers of divine worship. In the nineteenth century, the Tübingen Catholic theologian Anton Graf (1811-1867) was an exception to this rule. Following in the footsteps of Schleiermacher and others, he began to use the term practical theology. Graf used this term to refer to the church’s academic and critical self-reflection, and regarded this as a responsibility for every Christian.47 But his attempt at renewal did not bear lasting fruit. Shortly aerwards, the focus shied once again to the ordained ministers. Some scholars even doubted the necessity of reflecting scientifically on the work of pastors. ey regarded this primarily as a practical task, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which required little reflection. Pastoral theology was not taken seriously as an academic discipline. It primarily involved application-oriented knowledge and insight in communication methods, rather than real theological reflection.48 3. Karl Rahner and the Second Vatican Council It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that the church itself was increasingly viewed as the object of pastoral theology or practical theology. is vision was developed explicitly by Karl Rahner (19041984), who was a professor in Innsbruck.49 During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he played an important role as a peritus, an advisor and expert. To describe his renewed vision on pastoral theology as oriented to the activity of the whole church, Rahner also used the term practical theology, in addition to pastoral theology, which was the more common term in Catholic circles at the time. e Second Vatican Council gave a new boost to the development of practical theology, both as a discipline and as a method within the Catholic world. e pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965) in particular played an important role in this development. e church stated in this document that it was important to be expressly oriented towards the world, and that what happens in the world today must be taken seriously as a finding place for theology. Church historians have described the period of the council, and particularly the theology articulated in Gaudium et spes, as an anthropological turn. e 47

Cf. Demasure, Verdwaald tussen liefde, macht en schuld, 9-15. Cf. ibid., 9-15. 49 Cf. Franz X. Arnold, Karl Rahner et al., eds., Handbuch der Pastoraltheologie: Praktische Theologie der Kirche in ihrer Gegenwart (Freiburg i.Br.: Herder, 1964-1972). 48



focus shied to human experiences and to the world as starting points for questions about God.50 Practical theology (or pastoral theology, in the terminology of most theologians of the time) thus, increasingly, became a discipline in which seeing and observing the faith of people was an important first step. is caused practical theologians to take greater notice of the experience of the faithful as a whole, and not just of priests or religious. is latter point is also clearly made in the document that Vatican II published on the church ad intra, the internal structure of the church (Lumen gentium, 1964). is constitution gave much attention to the activity of each Christian and of the church in general, in addition to the classical focus on the role of the ordained ministers. Greater attention for laypeople in the church is an important achievement of the Second Vatican Council, and it is also present in the council’s document on the lay apostolate (Apostolicam actuositatem, 1965). If practical theology is to be faithful to the council, it must not withdraw into itself or limit itself to internal church affairs alone. Practical theologians do reflect on the tasks of pastors and on the ordained ministry, but their task is wider. Many practical theologians currently pay specific attention to the faith of ordinary faithful or of secularized Christians, especially to that of groups whose voice was previously seldom heard, like people with a disability, indigenous peoples, survivors of abuse, or migrants. ese groups are coming to the fore as subjects of their own kind of theology. In this way, practical theology continues the thinking that is expressed in Gaudium et spes.51 is brief outline of the history of practical theology shows that the pendulum has constantly swung between emphasis on the training of pastors with the application of more systematic forms of theology, and a wider perspective, which allowed practical theology to function more as a discipline in its own right. Even today, practical theology (or pastoral theology) stands in this tension between the training of specific skills required for exercising pastoral ministry (for priests, ministers, lay pastors, and chaplains) on the one hand, and broader reflection on the activity and experiences of people in the church and the world on the other.

50 Cf.  Gärtner, “Reflecteren op wat het volk Gods doet,” 80. Cf. also Dries Bosschaert, The Anthropological Turn, Christian Humanism, and Vatican II, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum eologicarum Lovaniensium 303 (Louvain: Peeters, 2019). 51 Cf. Gärtner, “Reflecteren op wat het volk Gods doet,” 80.



4. The Clerical and the Academic Paradigm e American Protestant practical theologian Bonnie Miller-McLemore has described these two aspects as the clerical paradigm and the academic paradigm, respectively, and has stressed how important it is that they converge.52 is argument partly adopts, partly criticizes the views of the American Presbyterian theologian Edward Farley, who spoke explicitly about the clerical paradigm in the 1980s. He did this to warn against a form of practical theology that was focused exclusively on training professional pastors, with an emphasis on teaching practical skills.53 is was the kind of practical theology that had long flourished in Protestant and Catholic institutes. Over the course of the 1980s, practical theology began to focus more on the academic world. In 1991, the International Academy of Practical Theology was founded, an international association of practical theologians dedicated among other things to the promotion of the scientific nature of practical theology. Practical theology is much more than simply an annex to classical theology, the kind of applied training that teaches students specific skills for pastoral work. But Miller-McLemore has rightly pointed out that the teaching of pastoral skills is not as negative as critics who embrace a more academic paradigm have portrayed it to be. As professionals, pastors must have certain skills, like the ability to conduct a pastoral conversation, to preside over the liturgy, or to lead a parish. ere is no other way to acquire these skills than to learn and to train them. Stimulating reflection on pastoral skills therefore continues to be an important aim of practical theology and of pastoral theology in particular. e clerical paradigm is not the only one that has disadvantages as well as advantages; the same is true for the academic paradigm. For instance, this paradigm could weaken practical theologians’ orientation to transforming reality, as they might limit themselves to mapping what people feel about spirituality, faith, and the meaning of life. is would fail to realize that the strategic dimension, which questions how pastoral ministry and the church could be different — or even should be different on the basis of the Gospel — and how this 52 Cf.  Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, “e ‘Clerical Paradigm’: A Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness?,” International Journal of Practical Theology 11 (2007): 19-38. 53 Cf. Edward Farley, “eology and Practice Outside the Clerical Paradigm,” in Practical Theology: The Emerging Field in Theology, Church, and World, ed.  Don S. Browning (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1983), 21-41; id., Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1983), 87.



change can be achieved, are also part of practical theology. e three steps of seeing, judging, and acting that we discussed in section I.1 also bear this out. Pastors should be good theologians, but this does not necessarily mean they should only be good at academic or abstract theology. It also means that they should learn to adopt a practical theological way of thinking in practice.54 Stimulating the wisdom that grows from practice, and taking it seriously, these are important tasks for practical theology. Question If you think about a theology degree course, where in the program should practical theology best be taught according to you? Further reading Kathleen A. Cahalan and Gordon S. Mikoski, Opening the Field of Practical Theology: An Introduction (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Bonnie Miller-McLemore and Joyce Ann Mercer, eds., Conundrums in Practical Theology (Leiden: Brill, 2016). Pete Ward, Introducing Practical Theology: Mission, Ministry, and the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017). Claire E. Woleich, ed., Invitation to Practical Theology: Catholic Voices and Visions (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2014). Claire E. Woleich and Annemie Dillen, eds., Catholic Approaches in Practical Theology: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum eologicarum Lovaniensium 286 (Louvain: Peeters, 2016).


Cf. Miller-McLemore, “e ‘Clerical Paradigm’,” 34.

 Methodological Questions in Practical Theology Annemie Dillen

We have shown that the term practical theology can have different meanings. One of these is that it is a method: we have mentioned the ‘praxis 1 – theory – praxis 2’ scheme (see supra, p. 66). But the answer to the question, ‘So how do you do practical theology?’ is much more complex than this simple scheme might suggest. Various possible methods can be used within practical theology, both with regard to the study of practices and experiences (see praxis 1) and with regard to the relationship between these practices on the one hand and theological traditions and renewed pastoral practices on the other. In this chapter, we will first discuss the analysis of experiences and practices, primarily by outlining forms of empirical research. Not all practical theologians will do empirical research themselves. In a number of cases, they will work on the basis of practical experiences that others have had or that they have had themselves, or on the basis of empirical research carried out by others. While section I will primarily address specific methodological aspects, particularly aspects related to data collection and data analysis, the main concern of the rest of the chapter is to ask meta-questions, questions that apply to most methods and that are theoretical in nature. Section II will discuss the role of the researcher and of context. What role does the person who conducts the research, or the group of researchers, play in practical theology? What role does their specific context play? Section III will look at the importance of practices as a challenge for theology. And section IV, finally, will reflect on the relationship between practices and experiences on the one hand and theological reflection on the other.

I. Data Collection and Analysis 1. Method, Methodology, Perspective, and Theory Before we deal with underlying methodological questions, we will first briefly describe a number of specific methods that practical theologians oen use. But even this attempt immediately runs into a first difficulty:



what precisely does ‘method’ mean? e term refers to a systematic form of research that usually consists of specific procedures, like interviewing people, working with focus groups, or analyzing verbatims. Methodology, then, is reflection on method.1 Methods are closely linked to a particular perspective or theory, for instance, a feminist theological perspective, or a narrative theory. A researcher who works from a feminist theological perspective will concentrate on particular aspects and will ask critical questions about research, such as: whose interests does theology ultimately serve and whom does it benefit? Does theology only benefit white middle-class men, church ministers, or possibly women who live in poverty?2 Whose perspective does the research study, and how do aspects of social identity affect the way theology is done? A researcher who uses a narrative theory will be primarily interested in the stories that people tell. He or she will regard what people say in an interview not as a precise representation of reality, but as a narrative that is shaped to suit a certain audience in a certain context. When an interviewer asks questions about religion and faith, people will reply to these in a context that is different from their everyday life. e image they give of themselves, perhaps as very religious, or as the exact opposite, will be based on real experiences, but it is also influenced by their own interpretative frameworks and by their expectations of what the interviewer would like to hear. Aspects from linguistics and the philosophy of language can help to further analyze and interpret the research data, such as the relationship between the narrative that people tell and events in that narrative or in reality. ese examples show how perspectives and theories can play a role in designing practical theological research.3 A few examples can illustrate what practical theological research looks like methodologically. e first example sheds light on a number of general methodological aspects; a second example gives a step-by-step guide to designing practical theological research.

1 Cf.  Annemie Dillen and Robert Mager, “Research in Practical eology: Methods, Methodology, and Normativity,” in Invitation to Practical Theology: Catholic Voices and Visions, ed. Claire E. Woleich (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2014), 301-328. 2 For a feminist perspective in practical, empirical theology, see Nicola Slee, Fran Porter, and Anne Phillips, eds., Researching Female Faith: Qualitative Research Methods (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017); Nicola Slee, Fran Porter, and Anne Phillips, eds., The Faith Lives of Women and Girls: Qualitative Research Perspectives (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016). 3 For an overview of various positions on the ‘philosophical stance’ when conducting qualitative empirical research, see Maggi Savin-Baden and Claire Howell Major, Qualitative Research: The Essential Guide to Theory and Practice (London and Oxford: Routledge, 2013).



2. Observation, Evaluation, and Stimulation in Practical Theological Research A lot of research on liturgy and the sacraments is based on a description of the lived experiences of people and their everyday ritual practices. us, there is a study of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick in Congo, which first looks at experiences of healing rituals, and which describes people’s quest for a form of healing (observation).4 Healing rituals are practices performed by local wise people, which strongly diverge from the classic, Western-oriented forms of medicine, but which provide a great deal of support to many people in a context in which classic medicine is difficult to access. Evangelical movements in Congo also widely practice healing rituals, involving so-called miraculous healings through prayer and the laying on of hands. In this example, the first step of practical theological research (observation) does not involve conducting new empirical research, but the researcher bases him- or herself on existing anthropological research. Another way of designing a similar study would be to conduct interviews with church policy makers in Congo, with Catholics who participate in rituals performed by other religions and denominations, such as evangelical churches, or with people who have received the anointing of the sick. ese are all possible ways of saying something about the actual situation and context. e decision to interview a specific group will partly determine the results of the study. e views of church administrators on healing rituals will probably differ from that of participants in these rituals. If the study is based on interviews, it is called qualitative empirical research. is does not attempt to collect quantitative data, like the number of anointings administered or the degree of appreciation, but it focuses on aspects that contribute to understanding a particular practice better. In other words, the study will reveal how people themselves experience a ritual, and how it helps them to experience meaning. In a second step, researchers examine what scope documents issued by the magisterium and by contemporary theologians leave for interpreting the sacrament of the anointing of the sick as a form of healing for body and soul (evaluation). ey also reflect on possible pitfalls that this interpretation entails: the sacrament must not become a magical trick. Magic presupposes a direct link between two things: the laying on of hands, for instance, leads directly to healing. is type of belief can be


See the doctoral dissertation of Serge Nzuzi, L’onction des malades en Afrique noire: sacrement de guérison par la foi (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Faculté éologie, Institut Catholique Paris and Faculty of eology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven, April 2013).



dangerous, because it encourages people to place their trust in all sorts of acts whose effectiveness has not been proven. In  some cases, it also forms an obstacle to classic scientific medicine, as people trust only socalled miracle workers. Catholic rituals like the anointing of the sick also involve physical acts (including the anointing itself), but people do not assume that this anointing will immediately heal people. It, however, can have positive effects, especially at an emotional and spiritual level.5 In a third stage of the study, the research focuses on how the sacrament of the anointing of the sick can have specific meaning for people’s experience of illness in Congo (stimulation). People should not reduce the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to a kind of sacrament of the dying, as it long was. In addition, it is necessary to emphasize that any form of sacramental pastoral care in relation to the anointing of the sick presupposes a whole process. Sacraments are not divorced from the rest of life. When the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is celebrated, it is important that local churches also strive for greater social justice and for improved healthcare in particular, to prevent people from taking refuge only in a ritual, without having structural solutions for poor healthcare. In this third step, the researcher not only acquires ideas that stimulate new practices. He or she also addresses the issue whether insights about the way people deal with these rituals could possibly reorient theological thinking toward new aspects. In other words, if we know how people put their faith into practice, this can also change theological reflection. is brief description matches the three important aspects of practical theological research: (1) observing and describing, mapping the current situation and context, and researching the experiences of people; (2) evaluating or bringing the experiences and context into dialogue with theological views; (3) looking for and stimulating new practices and lived insights. 3. Methodological Choices in Research on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in Congo e methodological choices that underlie each of these three steps, and the relationship between these three ‘moments’, reflect the researchers’ views on what academic research is, as well as aspects of their theology 5 A research project is being carried out at KU Leuven between 2018 and 2022 under the supervision of Annemie Dillen on ‘outcomes of health care chaplaincy’. is project is aligned with research stimulated by Erich, the European Research Institute for Chaplaincy in Health Care [accessed July 15, 2018].



and world view. One researcher will be inclined to concentrate primarily on new guidelines and suggestions for improved practices, and is likely to adhere to the ‘applied theology’ paradigm. Another researcher will emphasize the importance of proper empirical data collection. Some will focus more on studying documents written by bishops or local churches, others on the experiences of people at grassroots level. It makes a difference, of course, whether a researcher examines only official church texts, or also integrates the works of African theologians in his or her analysis. is last observation is inspired by the perspective of postcolonial thought, which exposes and questions classic forms of dominance. Postcolonial thought points out the importance of having the courage to seeing various perspectives, and not to let classic Western thought dominate. Postcolonial theories want to end Western dominance, not just in the political field, but also in the cultural and ideological realm. Postcolonial thinkers point out that there are many views that remain hidden due to dominant beliefs about academic practice.6 us African theological reflections on equality between women and men are not, or rarely, discussed in Western literature because they are oen absent from libraries or databases. And yet works that have not been disseminated widely can still contain innovative perspectives and provide sensible, meaningful perspectives on the research topic. It is important to give a podium to voices that are not commonly heard, through the written word or through empirical research. Even when they are making methodological choices, practical theologians face the challenge of reflecting on who is included and who is excluded, or on how boundaries between the in-group and the out-group can be transgressed, or how these boundaries are sometimes enforced, either justly or unjustly. It is clear that theologians always speak from a certain perspective. e choice of method influences whose perspective will be heard and whose will not. If the analysis of practices takes place on the basis of participatory observation, or of interviews, then the researcher is directly involved in the practices in question, and this may color his or her theological analysis and pastoral reflection slightly differently than if the researcher bases his or her research exclusively on descriptions or data

6 See for instance the work of Kwok Pui-Lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (London: SCM, 2005); Laura Donaldson and Kwok Pui-Lan, eds., Postcolonialism, Feminism & Religious Discourse (London: Routledge, 2002). Kwok Pui-Lan was born in Hong Kong, but lives and works in the United States. Her first name is Pui-Lan and her family name is Kwok; in the Chinese tradition of her parents, she places her family name before her first name.



collected by other scholars, such as anthropologists or sociologists. If practical theologians perform empirical research themselves, this means starting a process in which the people whose practices are being studied are oen given some say in the research as ‘subjects’. Some researchers use the term theological action research (TAR). is is a form of research that takes place at the request of, and in continuous consultation with, the community in question, for instance, a parish community that is commissioning a study of a certain catechetical practice.7 4. Methodological Research of Attitudes of Practicing Christians toward Forced Migrants e following example can tell us a lot about how to design practical theological research. e study arises from a specific problem in society or in the church that researchers want to find out more about. People who are professionally involved in refugee policy generally think that many Christian associations and parishes are not very welcoming of migrants and newcomers from different cultural backgrounds, on the basis of the not in my backyard (NIMBY) principle. People say they welcome others, but they oen panic when a reception center is set up in their neighborhood for instance. Some people think the church should be more open, and should take the lead in fighting for greater solidarity in society. In practice, this oen does not happen. e question is whether it is actually true that Catholic parishes are not very open to migrants, especially refugees who did not voluntarily choose to migrate and who oen live in underprivileged conditions, and if so, why, and if not, what the underlying reasons are. A follow-up question could then be what the best attitude is, and how the current attitude can be changed for the better. From the perspective of practical theology it is important not only to establish ‘what is’ or at least ‘what people say is the case’ (praxis 1), but also to evaluate this and to stimulate new practices (praxis 2). First, however, we have to focus on ‘observation’, on analyzing ‘praxis 1’ through empirical research. 5. Research Question and Operationalization e following step in the study will therefore be to distil a specific research question with subquestions from the general description of the situation. One research question could be: what attitude do practicing 7 Cf. Helen Cameron et al., Talking about God in Practice: Theological Action Research and Practical Theology (London: SCM, 2010).



Christians have toward refugees? Or, in other, more specific terms: what attitudes do practicing Christians have toward refugees and what acts do they perform or not perform in respect of these people? is research question can be empirically researched, but only if it is operationalized. is means that the research question has to be translated into a question that can be answered on the basis of empirical research. is is a second step aer the research question has been formulated. In order to do this, we first have to identify the most important concepts in the research question, in this example: ‘practicing Christians’, ‘refugees’, and ‘attitudes’. Let us take the term ‘practicing Christians’ as an example. In classic sociological research, one indicator of whether someone is a practicing Christian is their religious practice, which can be measured through the frequency of their church attendance, i.e. their participation in liturgical celebrations. is indicator can help to draw up a measuring tool with different variables. In practice, the concept of religious practice is oen measured with a tool consisting of two or three items (propositions).8 People are oen asked whether they ‘consider themselves to belong to a church or a faith community’9 and how frequently they participate in public worship: never, only on feast days, sometimes, regularly, or on a weekly basis. Empirical research shows that in homogeneously Catholic countries like Belgium, the dimension of ‘church attendance’ is strongly correlated with the measure in which people regard themselves as ‘believers’ or ‘religious’. People who score high on the ‘church attendance’ criterion oen also score high on other dimensions that are associated with religiosity. More generally speaking, however, religiosity is not the same thing as religious practice. If religiosity is the concept that we have to operationalize, we would have to choose a different approach. In that case measuring liturgical participation would not suffice, because religiosity is a much wider phenomenon. is concept is oen said to refer to various dimensions, of which church attendance is only one, and which also include religious beliefs. But in situations where only a few questions can be asked, it is good to work with a dimension that has been shown to be able to give reliable information about the wider concept of religiosity, a dimension such as ‘church attendance’. It is nevertheless important to correctly

8 See for instance: Jaak Billiet, Koen Abts, and Marc Swyngedouw, De evolutie van de kerkelijke betrokkenheid in Vlaanderen tijdens de voorbije twee decennia en het verlies van vertrouwen in de Kerk in het bijzonder tussen 2009 en 2011 (Leuven: Instituut voor Sociaal en Politiek Opinieonderzoek KU Leuven, 2013), 15. 9 Cf. ibid., 17.



interpret the concepts used and the way they are operationalized and to point out their limitations. e nature of the research question (measuring tool) and the various possible categories of answers (variables) will help to determine what answers researchers are going to get. us the question, ‘Do you belong to a church?’ differs from, ‘Do you consider yourself to belong to a church?’ If the category ‘only on special religious days’ or ‘only a few times a year on feast days (Christmas, Easter, or other)’ is not provided as possible answer, then the result is likely to be less accurate than if it is, because there are many Catholics who only attend church on such feasts. is group is distinct from the group that never attends church at all or only on family occasions.10 e Belgian sociologist of religion Karel Dobbelaere has made a classic distinction between core Catholics, average Catholics, and nonpracticing Catholics, in addition to the unchurched.11 Moreover, respondents oen indicate that they are unbelievers, belong to a different religion/ church, or are not involved in any religion at all. e division into core Catholics and non-practicing Catholics does raise numerous questions, however. Recent trends in practical ecclesiology and in the sociology of religion prefer to speak of fluid networks: the church community is not static and it is difficult to distinguish particular core and fringe groups. 6. Limitations of the Research Design and the Measuring Tool It is evident from what we have discussed so far that it is important to keep asking yourself, when designing empirical research, what possible alternative questions, answers, and interpretations there could be. Ultimately, you will have to make choices. But clarifying the limitations of the research design you have chosen is important to realize that the reality that you want to study is always more complex than the measuring tool will be able to measure. One could ask, for instance, whether participation in liturgical practices is actually the best way to measure the concept of religious practice. Perhaps membership of some church organization could also be a good indicator. However, this raises the question what a


Cf.  Billiet, Abts, and Swyngedouw, De evolutie van de kerkelijke betrokkenheid, 17. 11 Cf. for instance Karel Dobbelaere, Het ‘volk Gods’ de mist in? Over de kerk in België (Louvain: Acco, 1998). For a discussion on the empirical research of Dobbelaere, in reference to the European Values Studies, see Lieven Boeve, Theology at the Crossroads of University, Church and Society: Dialogue, Difference and Catholic Identity (London: T&T Clark, 2016).



church organization is and who decides this. Is an organization like Pax Christi for example — an international peace organization with local subgroups in various countries — really a church organization? eoretically the answer would be ‘yes’, but different people who work for this organization or participate in some of its activities would answer that question differently, and perhaps their views on what ‘church’ is would not be identical either. Or perhaps another indicator of religious practice is the degree to which people are willing to invest in the church, for instance by donating money, or by volunteering? Or maybe it can be gauged by observing people’s reactions when they are confronted with the fictitious situation that their church building might be closed and put to some alternative use. In cases where this situation has occurred in real life, it oen happens that people who otherwise have little involvement in the church are still very reluctant to see the local church close.12 ese variables work with a different interpretation of religious practice than measuring participation in liturgical celebrations does. It is no surprise therefore that results of studies of attitudes toward refugees will be slightly different from case to case, depending on the questions that people are asked. 7. An Answer to the Research Question? A final question must be asked about how appropriate the operationalization of religious practice is from a theological point of view. Empirically speaking, it is obviously a good strategy to ask about the frequency of liturgical practice, and about how people describe their own affiliation. is operationalization of religious practice is based on an image of the church with a clear institutional core, with clearly defined doctrines, and with classic liturgical practices and sacraments. is is, in fact, consistent with how most people today regard the church. But the problem is that this consigns other forms of experiencing the church and the faith to obscurity. Examples such as family rituals or programs offered by spiritual centers are elided.13 is also shows that empirical research is always limited. In order to keep it viable, it is oen impossible to empirically study various concepts simultaneously and to keep all relevant nuances in mind. Researchers always face the challenge to include as 12 Cf.  Ton Bernts and Joantine Berghuijs, God in Nederland 1966-2015 (Utrecht: Ten Have, 2016), 52-53. 13 Cf. for instance Kees de Groot, The Liquidation of the Church, Routledge New Critical inking in Religion, eology and Biblical Studies (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018).



much as possible of the complexity of reality into their empirical research, but on the other hand, to keep their research feasible and clear. In any case, it is important that researchers are always aware of the limitations and of the implications of the choices they make. e two other core concepts in the research question mentioned above are ‘refugees’ and ‘people’s attitudes’. Let’s look first at the refugees. is group in itself is very diverse: it includes children and adults, men and women, people from Europe or further afield, people from conflict zones, people who have fled for economic reasons or for political motives, or for other reasons again. We might focus our study on attitudes toward one specific group of refugees, for instance, people who are going to be accommodated at a particular reception center. In this case it is advisable to carry out a strongly contextual study of a particular case. People could be asked to describe their previous relationship with the inhabitants and their current attitude and behavior. is requires ethnographic research, with the researcher conducting in-depth interviews with a number of pivotal figures in the religious community in the vicinity of the reception center. Ethnographic research or fieldwork is a form of research that takes place in a realistic environment, i.e. not in a laboratory or through experiments, and which has as its objects the customs, practices, and beliefs of a certain group. is approach is very common in cultural anthropology, but it is also increasingly being used in practical theology. Usually, ethnographic research consists of a form of participatory observation, in which the researcher participates in a specific context for a while, for instance, in a parish, a classroom, or a particular religious community, and engages in systematic observation during his or her participation in activities. is participatory observation is oen complemented by in-depth interviews, relatively lengthy interviews on the basis of primarily open questions, in which the interviewer is free to pursue a particular line of questioning. is kind of interview is totally different from standardized interviews in which interviewees have to indicate one possible answer (oen an A, B, or C category) on an answer sheet. 8. Awareness of Boundaries It can be a defensible choice in certain circumstances to design the research in such a way as to exclude the refugees themselves from the study, but this choice is also open to criticism. Is it not the task of practical theologians to give a podium to the voices of people who have little or no power, the people whose voices are seldom heard, and this on the basis of the Christian preferential option for the poor? Should these people not also be made



subjects of the research, and be given a more active role than merely that of ‘objects’ that other people have opinions about and take up position against? It is also interesting to ask refugees about their own experiences with practicing Christians. In any case, it is important that researchers should explain why they make certain choices. Our aim is to find out more about practicing Christians’ attitudes to refugees, and ‘attitude’ can include opinions, visions, ideas, and behavior. We should distinguish between how people think they should act or what they think they should do as Christians, and how they think they actually act. e chances are considerable that respondents will give socially acceptable answers. It can therefore also be interesting to ask questions not just to the practicing Christians themselves, but also to people who work with refugees or to the refugees themselves. Choosing a second or third research group can shed light from various perspectives on the attitude of the main group. Such additional groups are called ‘informant groups’: they are not themselves the respondents we are seeking to study, but they can provide information about the attitude of this main group. e data that the researchers collect will then come from a wider range of sources than what people say about themselves. If the study is conducted in a particular neighborhood, for example, where a reception center for refugees has been established, documents in local newspapers, church magazines, or visual material can also be part of the research. ere are, in other words, many different ways of collecting data. Under certain circumstances it is also possible to compare practicing Christians’ attitudes with the attitudes of people who have no link to the church. is would require quantitative research with statistical analyses. It also requires interviewing large groups of people. 9. Collecting Research Data Every researcher always has a particular perspective, and continually has to make choices about what to study and how. But every participant in the study also creates his or her own narrative — which may or may not be compatible with so-called ‘real’ behavior. When researching the attitude of practicing Christians it can be interesting to present people with standardized, validated questionnaires on ethnocentrism and spirituality, possibly supplemented by newly designed questionnaires.14 Standardized and validated questionnaires 14

See for instance Bart Duriez, “A Research Note on the Relation between Religiosity and Racism: e Importance of the Way in Which Religious Contents Are Being Processed,” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 14, no. 3 (2004): 177-191.



are questionnaires that have been used for research before and have proven to measure reliably what they claim to measure. In other words, the questions on ethnocentrism actually measure ethnocentrism and not something else, like individualism or depression. It also means that the questionnaires must all contain the same questions in identical formulation, and that the results contain a small margin of error. ere are all kinds of statistical methods for this, which we will not discuss here. is kind of closed questionnaire where respondents have to express their level of agreement with propositions on a scale of 1 to 5 (Likert scale) or where they can choose between answer options can be completed verbally or in writing. ese questionnaires can be sent to participants or be completed in the presence of the researcher. It also makes a difference whether respondents answer or complete their questionnaires in a group context or individually. It can be interesting in the early stages of the study to establish a focus group, consisting of a number of pivotal figures — from a specific parish or reception center, a group of volunteers who work in the center, the municipal council — who are brought together to give their views on practicing Christians’ attitudes towards refugees. is can allow the researcher to discover many aspects of the research question and to refine the tools used for further research. A focus group cannot produce results that can be generalized, but it can generate hypotheses that are useful for the research. A hypothesis is a scientific, falsifiable proposition that is tested in empirical research. An example of a hypothesis is that practicing Christians are more likely to offer concrete assistance to refugees when they have gotten to know these people personally. During a meeting with a focus group, the researcher attempts to chart as many aspects of the research field as possible and to come up with hypotheses about it. When researchers use closed questionnaires, this is oen to test certain specific hypotheses. In general it can be said that qualitative research, which uses open questions and semi-structured interviews (individually or in groups) aims to generate hypotheses, and thus to explore basic insights about a certain research question. Quantitative research, which consists of closed questions with quantifiable results or clear response categories, oen in questionnaires that have already been validated, is usually aimed more at testing hypotheses or verifying whether an existing theory can be empirically corroborated. is latter approach is a deductive one, whereas creating a theory on the basis of empirical results is called an inductive approach. In principle, both approaches complement each other. Researchers who carry out quantitative research normally also want to be able to compare and generalize, i.e. make claims



about a larger population, for instance all practicing Christians in Belgium, on the basis of a carefully chosen sample. is is impossible with qualitative research, because the group of respondents is too small and is not always representative of the whole population. It does, on the other hand, offer a more detailed picture of the research field. 10. Theoretical Visions Arising from Traditions in Dialogue with Research of Practices and Experiences For practical theology, the object of research is not only the current situation, people’s experiences, attitudes, and practices, but the normative visions that are part of Christian traditions also play a role in the wider research design. ese normative, theological visions must be brought into dialogue with the empirical research itself. ey may include biblical stories in which a refugee is the main protagonist, like the Jewish exile in Egypt, or the flight of Joseph and Mary. e obligation to take care of refugees arises from these; this has found expression in church history, for instance in the practice of giving church asylum to vulnerable people. But theological reflection on the basis of such aspects from Christian traditions goes a step beyond factual empirical research. And it would not be right to mention the theological aspects only in retrospect. e example described above shows clearly how theological reflection is also part of the processes of designing and operationalizing the research question. 11. Stimulating New Practices and Attitudes Yet another aspect of practical theological research is the reflection on possible new practices, like forms of hospitality for migrants, raising awareness of the problem, or political action. One of the complicated questions related to this is to what extent the empirical research and its conclusions give rise to new practices, or whether the impetus for improving practices should instead come from theological tradition — with the empirical research primarily serving to clarifying the current state of affairs to make it possible to ascertain where improvements are desirable. In almost all cases, mutual interaction will be required between empirical research and hermeneutical reflection in order to formulate recommendations for new practical situations. e example discussed here shows that practical theologians have to make many choices when they are designing research. e first of these is whether to include an empirical aspect at all, to collect new data, or to



use data and research results produced by others. Once this decision has been taken, many other choices have to be made in the process of designing the study.

Question Imagine you have to carry out a study of experiences of pilgrimage in your country. How would you design this empirical study? Try to name at least two different methods or approaches and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each method/approach.

II. The Role of the Researcher and of Context Can you do academic research or study theology if you are a believer yourself? Does this not require thorough deconstruction of your own faith, because it requires you to take a step back and look at things in a more objective way? In other words, can you reliably research certain religious practices if you are involved in these yourself, as a minister or as a lay believer? Is your research not going to be biased? Or is the opposite perhaps the case: can you even be a good practical theologian without having any personal connection with what religion, spirituality, and pastoral ministry represent? Students and researchers in the field of theology or practical theology are regularly asked these questions by people — relatives, acquaintances, or fellow students; or they ask them themselves. ese questions are about the tension between subjectivity and objectivity, and about the consequences of the relationship between these two concepts on personal experience and on the quality of the research. 1. Beyond Neutrality When answering these questions, it is important to nuance the tension that has just been described. Practical theology, and by extension any form of theology, science or scholarship, is never neutral or objective. e researcher’s subjective involvement is an essential part of the research, even though a certain form of distance is necessary to be able to look beyond personal experience alone. e researcher’s personal faith can become more profound and more pure when it is confronted with forms of research and critical reflection, and when he or she abandons the all too absolute espousal of certain claims that only serve his or her own interests.



e French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has introduced the concept of second naïveté, which he has described as a healthy form of belief for adults.15 Children, and some adults, think literally; this is called the first naïveté. Many eventually begin to criticize this first naïveté of the faith. Surely, Jesus cannot actually have walked on water? A God who intervenes in the lives of people sounds great, but what about suffering? Why does God not prevent this? Some people feel cheated and abandon the faith altogether. Others adopt an ‘and yet’ attitude — and this is the second naïveté of faith. It means people are aware of the criticism of all too literal forms of belief, but still choose not simply to discard a narrative tradition, rituals, or the faith. ey develop new interpretations precisely because they are willing to ask critical questions of a first naïveté. ey are assisted in this religious development by people who coach them, like parents or teachers. Even very young children are sometimes aware of the difference between aspects of the faith and fairy tales or pure fantasy.16 For believers who have come to this second naïveté, confrontation with scientific insights concerning the faith does not necessarily involve a threat to their beliefs. 2. Reflecting on Subjectivity We must now focus on a different question: how can researchers integrate their own subjectivity into their research? It is important to acknowledge that the researcher’s own context and person always play a role in theological and practical theological research. A young woman from the Netherlands who sets out to study the involvement of young families in Dutch parishes will produce research that will not be exactly the same as that of an older man who migrated from Tanzania. It is important that researchers are willing to acknowledge and address their own social identity, and the privileges and the forms of power that are associated with it. is ensures that the reader is properly informed about the research; identifying influencing factors paradoxically reintroduces a form of objectivity to the study. Social identity involves aspects that relate to ethnic background, gender, age, religion, socioeconomic class etc. ese aspects all converge in a person, and the way they interact and the specific meaning that they have will differ per person. It is not so that women always automatically carry 15

Cf. Paul Ricoeur, La symbolique du mal (Paris: Aubier, 1960). Cf. Katharina Kammeyer, ‘Lieber Gott, Amen!’ Theologische und empirische Studien zum Gebet im Horizont theologischer Gespräche mit Vorschulkindern (Stuttgart: Calwer, 2009), 30-31. 16



out their research in a particular way; it is a form of essentialist thinking to assume that being a woman always corresponds to having certain characteristics. is kind of thinking should be avoided. It is important, however, to be willing to see that the place that people occupy in society is not neutral, but affects their attitude to research. When a pregnant woman conducts interviews about the spirituality of other pregnant women, it is possible that what the interviewees will say is influenced by the person who asks the questions. Everyone tells their stories in a particular way for a particular audience, in this case the researcher. e questions she asks will possibly also be inspired by her own experiences. It is important therefore to acknowledge that practical theological research is always shaped by the interplay between the researcher/theologian and the reality/persons studied. It is never about the experiences of people in pure form, but about the stories they tell about their experiences, and the image that they have of these for themselves, and the images they want to create for others. It is important to acknowledge and address the aspects that are involved in this construction, and thus to be aware of the contextual character of research. erefore, the research results of practical theologians do not claim to support a universal truth, but they say something about a specific context and situation. It is important to be careful with generalizations. Practical theological research does not represent reality as such. But this does not mean that practical theological research is purely subjective. It is important to strive for a form of intersubjectivity. is is something different from objectivity. Especially if empirical research is involved, it is important that other people are able to check the results, that it is possible for them to carry out comparable research, and that the results do not simply arise from accidental factors or subjective aspects. Validity and reliability are important characteristics of empirical research. Validity means that the research measures what the researcher claims it measures. If someone wants to know how people experience spirituality, the research should actually measure spirituality, and not, more generally, psychological wellbeing, or, more narrowly, a very specific form of spirituality like church attendance. Reliability means that other researchers will be able to come to (more or less) the same results. In other words, a study is reliable if the results do not arise simply from happenstance. ere are certain empirical tests that can measure to what extent results have been influenced by accidental factors. e researcher’s subjectivity will possibly be even more pronounced when it comes to theory formation, to interpreting certain phenomena, and to evaluating and stimulating new practices than it is in the empirical



analysis of practices and phenomena. Here, too, intersubjectivity is an important goal. is can be achieved through meticulous referencing of sources, through systematic literature review (including an account of the way in which the researcher has selected his or her literature), by indicating which databases and search terms were used, and by giving a clear methodological account of the study. In this way, the reliability of the research in question can be checked by any interested parties. We can now answer the introductory question about the importance of a practical theologian’s own faith: the researcher should actively reflect on his or her own position in relation to the field of study, and faith always plays a role in this. Practical theologians should be able to study aspects of the Christian faith traditions and faith practice from a certain attitude of loyal involvement, and should be able to know the Christian context thoroughly. But practical theologians cannot be expected to know every researched practice or faith vision from the inside. Given the diversity of research objects and possible interpretations of Christianity, it is impossible for the researcher always to speak from an inside perspective. A practical theologian is also always partially an outsider, someone who reflects critically from a distance. Question What practice in your own environment would you like to study? ink of a place where you are volunteering or where you work in a professional capacity, practices within your own domestic context, or practices in the public sphere. How would your own background influence your role as a researcher who is setting out to study this practice?

III. Practices as a Challenge to Theological Thought In addition to answering questions about the role of the researcher and of context that we have discussed above, methodological reflection on practical theology also requires consideration of the role of practices and experiences in theological thought. It is characteristic of practical theology that practices and experiences challenge thought, but because this is not regarded as obvious in certain classic conceptions of theology as an academic discipline, we will address this at somewhat greater length. Some theologians are wary of studying concrete practices, and regard this more as something sociologists do. ey think theology has a logic of its own, which is primarily theoretical. We will show here that religious practices



themselves also have a theological character, and will discuss how they can challenge theological theories and ecclesiastical teaching. It is important to study people’s practices, experiences, attitudes, and views, and not to regard theological thinking as something purely abstract. In a certain sense, the study of people’s actions and opinions brings reality to theological research. Even though we realize that it is difficult to access reality as it is, and that it is at least partly constructed by human narratives and research, the study of lived religion introduces a perspective that challenges researchers to look critically at the way they do theology and at the church’s traditions. is is an important reason to view practices as a challenge for academic theology. From a theological point of view there are a number of other reasons why experience, praxis, or the study of lived religion are important for theology. We pointed out in chapter 3, section II.1 that in the first centuries of Christianity, theological thinking on the one hand, and experience, actions, or rituals on the other were almost automatically interwoven. When academic theology arose at the universities, and the focus shied to more abstract and systematic thought, theological interest in practices but also in spirituality in a broader sense declined. Since the second half of the twentieth century, and in the Catholic Church especially since the Second Vatican Council, human experiences and actions again find themselves at the center of theological attention. And yet practical theologians in academic contexts even today have to fight for the legitimacy of their discipline. e idea that practices are relevant to thought, and are not simply a form of a posteriori application, has not found general acceptance in the academic world. People’s faith and experiences are a source of theology. ey are a special place within which a basic form of theological thinking takes place, which can then be developed further in scholarly reflection. In technical terms, we can speak of practices and experiences as a locus theologicus. 1. The Principle of Sacramentality What reasons are there to view practices as a locus theologicus? e principle of sacramentality teaches us that everything that exists in reality can refer to God, not just the seven sacraments of Catholic tradition. People can experience the presence of God within everyday human experiences. is does not necessarily mean that it is possible to find God as such. ere are many situations in which people miss God, for instance, situations of grave suffering, the death of a child, when people become the victims of forms of violence or social injustice. However, the principle of sacramental-



ity tells us that all aspects of reality can point to God. A fiy-year-old man who is fired from his job aer thirty years of faithful service may not experience God’s presence at all. But someone else in a comparable situation may well experience God’s consolation or presence in looking aer a child or a partner. In this way, human reality, especially people’s actions, can become a place where God can be found. Experiences of God are not limited to the official sacraments. Although these are privileged places of encounter with God, there are countless other ways of finding traces of God’s presence. When practical theologians investigate what can be said about God, it makes sense therefore also to enquire into how people experience, or miss, God in everyday life. In this way, the principle of sacramentality helps to appreciate the true value of these everyday experiences. is shows the necessity of carrying out practical theological research of people’s practice as a possible place of finding the divine. 2. Incarnation and the Body Belief in the incarnation, God’s becoming human in Jesus Christ, and in the world as creation, has similar implications. ese core elements of the Christian faith also point to the importance of people’s experiences, convictions, and practices in everyday life, both in the church and in society. Belief in the incarnation is the belief that God has fully revealed himself in the man Jesus. Earthly reality remains a place where God can be found, because people respond to the words and actions of Jesus Christ. An element of God’s love can be found in care for each other, in rituals, or in expressions of love and commitment. And belief in creation, which means that Christians believe in God as the creator of reality, values this reality as good. is implies that the earthly reality itself refers to the Creator. Belief in the incarnation of God, God’s ‘becoming flesh and blood’, confirms the importance of the body in people’s experiences of the divine. It oen seems as if Christian traditions have a predominantly negative view of the body. And yet there are many elements in the Christian faith that stimulate a positive attitude toward bodily experiences. us there is the tradition of the seven works of mercy (to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick etc.), or belief in the resurrection of the body. is last doctrine refers to the belief that the spirit and body of human beings form a single being, and that they are not just spirits that have a body as a kind of accessory. It means that the body is so important to what people are, that any notion of resurrection cannot be divorced from a certain form of physicality. Of course this does not mean that the earthly body itself can survive



death, but it does urge us to give physical experiences the value they are due. Attention to these experiences is an important aspect of taking practices seriously as a challenge to theology.17 3. The Signs of the Times and the Faithful’s Sense of the Faith e Second Vatican Council’s document Gaudium et spes describes the mission of the church as follows: “reading the signs of the times and […] interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (GS 4). eologians oen interpret this as studying social reality and engaging critically with it from the perspective of the Christian traditions. at is important, but from a practical theological point of view it is necessary to go even further, and to regard the signs of the times as a source of theological thought, albeit in dialogue with tradition. Another council document, Lumen gentium, speaks of the sensus fidelium or the sense of the faith that lives in the community of the faithful as a whole (LG 14). e sensus fidelium is the “‘faith-full’ intuition of Christian people, moved by the Spirit, that senses, adheres to, and interprets the Word of God.”18 Faith in the Spirit, who is close to ordinary faithful and who is present to people, challenges us to seek the working of the spirit even in the daily lives of people, and thus to regard their existence and actions as a source of theology. 4. Ever New Traces That Lead to God e human quest for God is important. But from a practical theological point of view, it is clear that this quest can never imply that we fully know God. Humans can never truly comprehend or define God. Christians believe that it will only become fully clear who God is and what truth is at the end of time. ey contend that God is always greater than what we know as human beings: deus semper maior. It is therefore necessary to continue to search, and to question temporary truths. Christian truth is never fixed once and for all, but it requires a process of searching. is is why practical theologians look for everyday experiences, actions, and convictions that say something about who God could be. 17 Cf. Colleen Griffith, “Practice as Embodied Knowing: Epistemological and eological Considerations,” in Invitation to Practical Theology, ed. Woleich, 52-69. 18 Cf.  Orlando O. Espin, The Faith of the People: Theological Reflections on Popular Catholicism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), 80.



An important principle in Christianity is the preferential option for the poor and the weak. When we apply this to theological research, it implies giving a voice to voiceless people, to people whose experience of the faith is oen overlooked. is can be done for instance through practical theological research of the spiritual experiences of people who live in poverty, of victims of sexual abuse, or of people who suffer from dementia. It is a task of practical theology to make the experiences of these people visible and to bring them into dialogue with theological traditions. It is important, however, to avoid instrumentalizing these experiences for the purposes of producing academic theology. In other words, giving voice to groups of people in society is necessary because their voice itself is important in finding traces of the truth of the Gospel. is is not just something that concerns a small group of academics or clerics. At the same time, the experiences and actions of these people should be regarded as valuable in themselves, not just as a resource for the interpretation of theological traditions.

5. The Theological Rationality of Practices and the Experiential Foundation of Theology All the theological visions mentioned above support the importance of practices and experiences as challenges to theology or as locus theologicus. However, we still have to address the precondition for this interchange between theological reflection and practice. e underlying premise upon which this interchange is based is the assumption that faith or religious practices themselves also have a certain intrinsic rationality, and are not radically different from academic theological reflection. Conversely, theological thinking is grounded in the body, in what people experience, in their approach to life, which is colored by physical experiences. e story of the visit that Mary made to her cousin Elizabeth when she was pregnant (Luke 1:39-56) acquires a particular significance when a woman reads it who is herself expecting a child.19 e liturgical words ‘through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’ can be the impulse for renewed theological reflections for women or men who

19 e choice of this example itself has roots in experience. For further reflection on this, see Annemie Dillen, “God hee je zijn gunst geschonken (Lc 1,30): Over Maria en andere moeders,” in Worstelen met het Woord: Tegendraadse bijbellezingen, ed.  Christophe Brabant and Marianne Moyaert (Kapellen: Pelckmans; Kampen: Klement, 2009), 93-105.



experience beating at the hands of their partners or who have been abandoned. For many people these words are an expression of human limitations in the light of God’s grace, but for people who have been physically forced to experience feelings of guilt — oen unjustly — these words can give rise to all kinds of questions. In the light of the injustice that people have suffered, it is not easy for them to confess their own guilt, and this oen encourages unnecessary feelings of guilt. Liturgical prayers can be a liberating experience when they emphasize the dignity of each human being as a child of God, or God as the One who always remains present to people. And people who must struggle daily to survive will obviously experience the words of the Lord’s Prayer (‘Give us this day our daily bread’) and the celebration of the Eucharist differently than those who are at a loss what to do with their food surpluses. 6. Possible Misuse of Experiences in Practical Theology: Three Examples People’s practices and experiences challenge theological thought, which is itself also always the product of influences from previous practices. At the same time, it is necessary to warn against possible misuse of experiences and practices as locus theologicus. ree examples can illustrate the importance of appropriate theological and pastoral responses to experience, especially responses that respect people’s experiences. During an international meeting of practical theologians (in Toronto, Canada, in 2013), there was an aernoon session on experience. A number of people belonging to the First Nations in Canada came to talk about their traditions, their families, and their struggle with their own identity. e participants, a group of practical theologians, learned about how the land had been taken from these original inhabitants over the course of many centuries, how they became victims of many forms of oppression, and how they also offered resistance to this. ese elements of experience were closely connected with the congress’s theme of identity and plurality. When one of the practical theologians asked immediately aer these stories what practical theologians could do with these experiences, this caused upset to the people who had shared part of their fragile identity. It was an appropriate question from the theologian’s perspective, but at the time it did not respect the experience of the people who had given their witness: they regarded it as a form of neo-colonialism and a form of expropriating their story. ere are in fact many ways in which practical theologians, also in European countries, can deal theologically with these indigenous people’s experiences during a time of survival. us greater attention could be paid



to their own involvement in colonial legacies, to current and historical forms of the exercise of power over people from a different background, to the meaning of land or of cultural traditions, or a study could be done of the way in which people in European countries speak about indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere. What images do they use and how are these peoples represented? Many research questions could result from this experience, which can certainly challenge theological thinking. What is important, however, is that people’s authentic stories are respected and not immediately instrumentalized. e responsibility not to view experiences simply as useful material for doing theology should also apply to other contexts than that of academic practical theology. In care facilities, pastoral caregivers come across many experiences of boundaries: people are confronted by illness, death, and dependency, and this oen gives rise to questions about guilt and forgiveness, family relationships, hope or limitations. eologians speak of contingency experiences, or experiences of accident, limitation, and vulnerability. ese experiences also give rise to questions about meaning. Pastoral caregivers, and sometimes other caregivers, have conversations with people about these questions about meaning, or provide rituals to mark contingency experiences, such as a blessing of the sick or the anointing of the sick. It is similarly important in these cases that people’s experiences, their search for meaning, are recognized as such and are not simply regarded as a convenient opportunity for the pastoral caregiver to begin talking about religion.20 Ministers who immediately want to respond to every human experience with theological language sometimes fail to do justice to people’s own experience. Of course their theological expertise can be a great help: when ministers are preparing rituals and are looking for appropriate language, when they use their background to ask deeper questions, or when they are able to help people interpret experiences of meaning or religion. It is important, however, that the correlation between experiences and theological language and tradition does not happen too quickly, too easily, too harmoniously, or too one-sidedly. e danger of instrumentalizing people’s experiences is also present in faith communication. Religious education specialists have mentioned the dangers of the ‘trap method’: children or young adults are invited to reflect on some everyday experience, which is actually a ‘trap’ that turns out to be ‘the Christian faith’. e story of the squirrel and the religious education teacher can illustrate this. A teacher tells her class a story about some20 Cf. Stefan Gärtner, “Grenze als theologischer Ort in der Seelsorge,” Wege zum Menschen 65 (2013): 295-306.



thing brown that jumps through the forest, and asks the pupils what this could be. One pupil replies: I think it’s a squirrel, but it’ll probably turn out to be Jesus Christ again.21 e predictability is telling. What is at stake here, again, is an asymmetrical correlation between experiential language and theological language. is approach is based on an excessively inductive way of doing theology. Inductive thinking means going from very specific experiences or practices to the more general, abstract level — the word is used here in the context of the relationship between experiences and theological thinking. Earlier on in this chapter we spoke about induction in the context of designing empirical research. e inductive approach is oen predictable. eologians, religious education teachers, and pastoral ministers do not always take the actual experiences themselves seriously, but use them as a springboard for theological thinking. Another risk of this inductive approach is that theologians remain on the level of experience, and are unable to come to any conclusions at the level of more general theological thinking. is is also true for faith communication, like, for example, a sermon in which human experiences are used as illustrations, which sometimes causes people to drop out, or even lose interest in the link with the theological level. In faith communication, too, it is important to look for experiential aspects in theological traditions, and to examine how experiential components bear elements of religion and meaning within them. We may conclude that practice and experience are important for theology, but that the way in which these two relate to each other is much more complex than people oen think. is is the subject of the next section. Question How can practical theologians optimally respect people’s experiences? Mention concrete steps that you can take to do this.

IV. The Dialogue between Experiences and Traditions, between Practice and Theology Experiences and practices are important for theology and constitute a significant object of study for practical theologians. We have pointed out in 21 Cf.  Stijn Van den Bossche, “Jongerenliturgie in de postmoderniteit,” in Volksreligie, liturgie en evangelisatie, ed.  Jozef Lamberts, Nike-reeks 42 (Louvain: Acco, 1998), 171-213, at 190.



chapter 3, section I.1 that there is theology in people’s actions, or that these can at least shed light on theology. Moreover, doing theology itself is a particular action done within a particular context. e academic practical theologian is not isolated from the church, from society, or from the academy. In this section, we will reflect on how theology and experience relate to each other, and on what practices and experiences can tell us. Do questions and doubts about classic views of the relationship between suffering and God in the context of a hospital admission truly pose a challenge to traditional theological thought? Or should theory inspire theologians and pastoral caregivers to attempt to change the way people believe and act? Researchers have observed that Catholic schools in countries such as Belgium, but also Australia for instance,22 are unsure of what their historical Catholic identity could mean today and which practices could be involved. Should theory help to change the practices related to identity issues so as to make them desirable from a theoretical and theological point of view? e question about the relationship between experiences and practices on the one hand, and theories, traditional theological, and ecclesiastical thinking on the other can also be clarified by looking at the chasm between the church’s teaching on marriage and the family and the experiences of people with actual families. When people see that same-sex marriages in Western European countries are quite common, they also see that church teaching that disapproves of this is incompatible with the experience of many who do not see same-sex marriage as a moral problem. How can this issue be resolved? How should practical theologians address it? Should they redouble their efforts to spread the message to young people, at school, in catechesis, and in the media, that same-sex relationships, and especially same-sex marriage, are wrong, thus more clearly proclaiming the church’s teaching? Or should they take these experiences as a starting point to rethink doctrine and the underlying theological views, so that people who identify as gay or lesbian no longer feel condemned? Or is there some third, or even fourth or fih way, which proposes an alternative in which the experiences and associated practices of people are not simply judged negatively in theological and ecclesiastical thought, and in which people are not regarded as ‘ignorant’ or ‘unschooled’, but which would at the same time give due prominence to the importance of Catholic (opposite-sex) marriage? 22 For research on the meaning of Catholic identity in schools in Australia and Belgium, see Didier Pollefeyt and Jan Bouwens, eds., Identity in Dialogue: Assessing and Enhancing Catholic School Identity: Research Methodology and Research Results in Catholic Schools in Victoria, Australia, Christian Religious Education and School Identity 1 (Münster: LIT, 2014).



We will reflect further on these questions at the conclusion of this chapter on methodology. 1. Mutually Critical Correlation It is a well-known maxim that a good theologian is someone who is able to hold both the newspaper and the Bible at the same time, and to bring the two into dialogue with each other. e question is not which of the two carries more weight, but about mutual dialogue between them, between experience and tradition. is image points to the mutually critical correlation between experience and tradition in line with the work of authors such as David Tracy and Edward Schillebeeckx. Paul Tillich developed the principle of correlation in theology in the 1950s: theological concepts are answers to existential questions. Tracy, Schillebeeckx, and others agreed that this principle was important, but they believed Tillich’s treatment of it was unbalanced.23 is is why they added the terms ‘mutually’ and ‘critical’. Experience and tradition challenge each other and question each other. ey are not a harmonious fit. Since then, however, the notion of mutually critical correlation itself has been contested. Some authors believe that Christian traditions are radically unlike human experiences and regard the concept of tradition as a clearly defined corpus. Tradition challenges people, and questions their lifestyles and opinions. In other words, tradition is simply not aligned with contemporary experiences. According to a number of theologians, too much emphasis on bringing experience and theology into dialogue with each other, as has happened over the past few decades, has instead led to secularization.24 Few people are currently able to describe what the Christian faith is, and this is because it has been watered down to general human truths. e idea of correlation has led some people to fear that Christian discourse is at risk of just becoming a duplication of general human discourse.25 23

Cf.  Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol.  1 (London: SCM, 1951). See Edward Schillebeeckx, “Correlation between Human Question and Christian Answer,” in The Understanding of Faith, ed.  Edward Schillebeeckx (London: Sheed & Ward, 1974), 78-101; David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order (New York: Seabury, 1975); id., “e Foundations of Practical eology,” in Practical Theology, ed. Don Browning (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1993), 61-83. 24 Cf.  John Milbank, Theology and Social Reason (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1990). 25 Cf.  Lieven Boeve, “Zeg nooit meer correlatie: Over christelijke traditie, hedendaagse context en onderbreking,” Collationes 34 (2004): 193-219.



2. Deductive Theology and Its Critics is approach favored by the critics of correlation can be described as a deductive form of theology: the content of the faith, not the human perspective is their main point of departure. Deductive thought means going from the general and the abstract, the theoretical, to concrete practice; in other words, it is application-oriented thought. e risk of this deductive approach is that it will find little resonance in the experiences of people in our time. People’s specific context and experiences are not very important in this view. e purpose is to transform experiences on the basis of the theory, rather than on the basis of a study of the practices and experiences themselves. If for instance liturgical practices are incompatible with liturgical tradition or rules, this perspective will first try to find a better way of understanding and explaining the tradition or the rules. Its approach would not be to interview people in the practice about why they are deviating from the rules or from the traditional interpretation, nor to gauge their needs and expectations in relation to celebrations. is deductive approach can be an obstacle to critically questioning theories. e opposite approach, which moves from experience toward tradition, is called inductive. Critics of correlational thought — oen wrongly — equate correlation with inductive thought. ey think that inductive thought is ultimately not very theological, and is unable to move beyond the analyses of social science, or that elements from Christian traditions are adapted beyond recognition to conform to elements from experience. In other words, they fear that theology will be at the mercy of sociological research, of what people actually think. Both the strictly deductive and the strictly inductive approach are problematic, and neither is in fact even practically possible in its pure form. e word tradition refers to a diverse composite that encompasses many movements and interpretations. eology and traditional elements are themselves already shaped by experiential influences and vice versa. Here, too, it is difficult to speak of clear boundaries between the two aspects; practical theology works in the borderland that is situated between experience and tradition.

3. Multicorrelation is does not imply that the principle of correlation between experiences and traditions should be thrown overboard. But correlation can and should be interpreted in a much more complex way than critics of the



principle have done: experience and traditions are not isolated entities that have to be artificially joined together or brought into some kind of harmony. ere are many points of contact, mutual connections, tensions, and challenges — which makes it more desirable than ever to speak of multicorrelation.26 Moreover, traditions and experiences always already belong together, because traditions themselves are interpretations of experiences that people have had with God, and that they have recorded in texts, symbols, and practices. What is at stake in correlation and multicorrelation is bringing people’s contemporary experiences into dialogue with people’s historical experiences through texts, rites, symbols, etc., and this in a complex way. is is how Christian traditions can be continued. Multicorrelation stands for continuity and discontinuity, for agreement and harmony, but also for difference and challenge, for rupture with presuppositions and classic views. It is a complex form of hermeneutics, of interpreting, explaining, and searching for understanding and meaning. 4. Practical Theology as a Dialogue between Four ‘Voices’ e concept of multicorrelation highlights the importance of bringing various sources of theology into dialogue with each other in a critical and diverse way. ese sources consist of aspects and views incorporated in practices and in traditions, which partly clash, but also partly harmonize with each other. We have so far worked on the assumption that practical theology is about the relationship between experiences or practices on the one hand, and traditions on the other. In fact, a fourfold scheme more accurately represents the complexity of the reality that practical theology deals with. e practical theologian Helen Cameron and her co-authors speak of the four ‘voices’ of theology: normative theology, formal theology, espoused theology, and operant theology.27 ere are theological sources that are traditionally regarded as normative (normative theology). ese sources include the Bible, the church fathers and other well-known theologians, and the documents of the magisterium, such as encyclicals or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. All these sources contain a form of solidified theology that is oen seen as the definitive 26

Cf. Didier Pollefeyt, “Uittocht en utopie: Een godsdienstpedagogiek voor een interreligieuze en interlevensbeschouwelijke wereld,” in Tussen uittocht, zingeving en utopie, ed. Luc Braeckmans (Tielt: Lannoo, 2005), 39-67. 27 Cameron et al., Talking about God in Practice, 54.



criterion. e question is how magisterial texts relate to the Bible. ere are many traditional differences in this respect between Catholics and Protestants: whereas Catholics are happy to refer to magisterial texts, Protestants are generally more likely to point to the Bible as the norm in their theological thinking and their pastoral practice. ese are classic normative sources. But in a certain sense, the three other forms or sources of ‘theology’ can also be called normative. In addition, there are contemporary academic theologians and their historical predecessors (formal theology), who constantly attempt to reinterpret the normative sources of theology and to explain them in the light of the contemporary situation. eir views more or less deviate from classical interpretations of the Bible and what is oen called ‘tradition’. Some theologians regard it as their task to explain tradition (in the singular) as it is expressed in the Bible or by the magisterium. Others see it as their mission to unlock the complexity and plurality of traditions, and to bring the various normative sources into dialogue with each other; and this not only in a harmonious way, but also critically and confrontationally. A third voice in which theology is expressed is the theology of ordinary believers, or the lived spirituality of each human being (espoused theology). is kind of theology consists of faith as it is articulated, or of worldview that is explicitly expressed; Jeff Astley has called this ‘ordinary theology’.28 A fourth site of theology are practices in which theological views are expressed (operant theology). Such practices might include people’s commitment to those who live in poverty, celebrating the liturgy, or a family sharing a meal together. ese are all practices that are founded on philosophical and ethical premises about what a good life is, about what is important in life. For many people, their everyday acts are based on religious convictions. Faith seeks understanding (fides quaerens intellectum, the classic definition of theology by the eleventh-century theologian Anselm of Canterbury) in people’s practices.29 Practices sometimes do not receive the recognition they deserve as a voice of theology, because they do not consist explicitly of written or spoken language, but of theology or spirituality expressed in actions. Contemporary practical theological thought wants to stimulate dialogue between these four sources of theology. It is not so much a matter of confronting two elements with each other, or of two contexts against which tradition and contemporary experience must be placed in mutu28 Cf. Jeff Astley et al., eds., Exploring Ordinary Theology: Everyday Christian Believing and the Church (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013). 29 Cf. Cameron et al., Talking about God in Practice, 53.



ally critical correlation. In fact, it is about many diverse voices of theology, some of which the faithful and theologians oen regard as more normative than others. e classic view is that the theology as it is expressed in the Bible and by the magisterium is a very important criterion. Others will say it is about Jesus or about God and about the way they speak to people today — that is the criterion. But this raises the question: who decides how God speaks to people? God’s words or actions cannot simply be comprehended. It is important in any case that practical theological thinking and speaking should always be a polyphony, which takes account of the different voices in which the faith is expressed. Sometimes these voices will create a harmony, and sometimes disharmony. Dissonance and consonance are both possible and appropriate, and what counts as dissonant or consonant can differ in theology, just as it does in the history of music. Another important aspect is that the four voices of practical theology as we have described them do not exist in isolation from each other, but constantly influence each other and are always already intermixed. One example can illustrate this. A catechist who works with the Exodus narrative with confirmands (espoused theology) and whose primary emphasis is on socioeconomic forms of oppression and liberation, will possibly have been influenced by certain aspects of liberation theology (formal theology) which he or she has encountered somewhere. His or her practice (operant theology) of giving catechesis, of shopping in Fair Trade stores, living soberly, and participating in solidarity campaigns also refers to elements of this formal and espoused liberation theology. e Biblical narrative (normative theology) plays a clear role in this. So we see how many voices of theology can be mutually different, but are simultaneously subject to different interpretations. e question in each of these cases remains: which voice is the loudest, must play the first voice? e most important aspect is that the various voices can be heard together. Our starting point is the view that these four elements are important, in dialogue with the context and with other disciplines, and that they can play a very complex role in studying human practices or experiences. We say this to indicate that a practical theologian’s work is never done. Practical theological research is always a very fragmentary, limited study that yields a certain insight. is insight cannot, however, be generalized; it is not always true, or true for everyone. is form of modesty is essential to practical theology if it is to do justice to the various sources of theology and the multicorrelative relationships that exist between them.



Question ink about what it means that ‘God is present to people’. is is a view that is expressed in the Bible, by the magisterium (normative theology), and by theologians (formal theology), but that can also obviously acquire meaning for individual people. What do you think about this (espoused theology)? Are there elements of experience in your life that help you to experience, or prevent you from experiencing that God is present to people (operant theology)? Try to articulate the complexity of the proposition ‘God is present to people’ in your answer.

Further reading Helen Cameron et al., Talking about God in Practice: Theological Action Research and Practical Theology (London: SCM, 2010). Elaine Graham, Heather Walton, and Frances Ward, Theological Reflection: Methods (London: SCM, 2005). Hans-Günter Heimbrock, “Practical eology as Empirical eology,” International Journal of Practical Theology 14 (2011): 153-170. John Swinton and Harriet Mowatt, Practical Theology and Qualitative Research (London: SCM, 2006).

Part III

Frontier Workers: Subjects of Practical Theology

 Children at the Center? Practical Theology by, about, and with Children Annemie Dillen

‘God is a great leader — he’s more powerful than Barack Obama, the President of the United States.’ is comment was made by Sida, a sevenyear old girl from Malawi who was in hospital with a tumor.1 Every parent or teacher is likely to encounter intriguing comments that children make about God. ‘I’m going to ask God that she will look aer my mom’, said Judith of four and a half. “Judith, do you think God is a girl?” “Yeah, I think she’s called Elisabeth.” Or: “Mom, does Mary really exist?” Another Flemish girl was thinking about the Exodus story and said: “e thing I like most was that Miriam dances and sings and nobody tells her to stop.” One boy responded to the story of the Good Shepherd by saying: “I’m going to be the Good Shepherd to you for a minute, okay? Come follow me … I’m so happy I can lead the way.” ese comments make adults smile, and sometimes frown or sigh. ey feel a little uncomfortable when children start talking about religious topics. ey are afraid that they won’t know the answers to all the blunt and sometimes difficult questions that children ask. Or they are not sure how to deal with ideas that are strange or unorthodox. Other people feel uneasy about the imaginative visions that children have. “God is in my heart, he’s going ‘boom, boom, boom’,” said Anna one evening. is fear or unease makes some people want to avoid talking about philosophical or religious topics with children altogether. And yet, children’s own thinking and acting, especially in the religious field, is worthwhile. Children are subjects of practical theology in the full sense of the word. Academic theologians study children, how they think and act when it comes to religion, but children themselves are also theologians. eir own everyday thinking can be regarded as a form of practical theology. 1

Peter Kantembe, Fostering Children’s Dignity through Pastoral Care in Hospitals: Childhood Studies and Their Theological Implications for Hospital Chaplaincy in Malawi (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Faculty of eology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven, 2015).



e central argument of this chapter is that adults should take children more seriously, as whole persons, including their experience of spirituality. We will be showing that the dividing lines between children and adults are not absolute: children are not totally different. At the same time, there are differences between adults and children, and boundaries are valuable in order to protect children in their vulnerability and specificity. In this chapter, we will be demonstrating the implications of this complex connection for social relationships with children and for spirituality. We will discuss the theme of children as subjects of practical theology in several stages. Section I will look at a number of studies of the theology of children, and will also address forms of qualitative empirical research among children and how the research results can be interpreted. In section II, we will examine how children can be the subject of practical theological reflection. Section III will reflect on how practices of “doing theology” with children can be promoted on the basis of the vision that emerges from the first two stages. We will be discussing three different but closely associated practical theological approaches to researching children. ese approaches will be examined in the context of the framework that will also be used in the following chapters: observation, evaluation, and stimulation. At the same time, each approach to the theme of children and theology in itself also presupposes each of these three aspects.

I. Observation: Children’s Theology Many theologians have recently addressed the issue of children’s own theological perspectives and experiences. We will discuss two studies here that are both based on qualitative research among children. Katharina Kammeyer’s doctoral research is closely aligned with trends in German-speaking practical theology; and Rebecca Nye and David Hay’s study has become a strong influence on other authors. 1. Research of Children’s Religious Experience: Children’s Prayer Katharina Kammeyer, a German religious-education scholar, wanted to find out what it means for toddlers to pray, but also what it could mean for practical theology and theory formation about prayer.2 Her study belongs 2 Cf. Katharina Kammeyer, ‘Lieber Gott, Amen!’ Theologische und empirische Studien zum Gebet im Horizont theologischer Gespräche mit Vorschulkindern (Stuttgart: Calwer, 2009).



to the theological tradition of children’s theology. Children can be regarded as little theologians, who have their own views on religious issues like adults do. We have already mentioned this perspective in chapter 3, section I.1, when we pointed out that practical theology sometimes refers to the theology or spirituality that people develop in their daily lives. However, many people who regard children primarily from a ‘not yet’ perspective think that children are not able to develop their own form of theology. Children are considered to be incapable of abstract or symbolic thought. Perspectives from developmental theory, like James Fowler’s stage theory, have contributed to this ‘not yet’ perspective. According to Fowler, children below six have imaginative fantasy lives and imitate adults, but they are not yet capable of logical thinking about faith. is kind of approach does not really take children seriously as subjects, but regards them in the light of a norm set by adults. e classic approach therefore was to study children almost exclusively in the context of religious education. In more recent developments in children’s theology, the emphasis has shied to research of how children think themselves. Obviously, their theology is not totally different from that of adults, nor is their way of thinking completely unrelated to that of their educators. Instead, it is a matter of co-construction of meanings.3 is means that different people (adults and children) can reach new insights together when they engage in dialogue with each other. e underlying premise is that children’s perspectives are themselves valuable and should not be viewed as inferior because they are not yet mature enough. is movement in children’s theology4 is consistent with international studies of doing philosophy with children.5 It is possible to have philosophical conversations with children, and on the same premises, practical theologians have contended that it is also possible to have theological conversations with children. e study of children’s theology therefore also has didactic consequences — we will return to this in section III. 3

Cf. Kammeyer, ‘Lieber Gott, Amen!’, 334. See for instance Holger Dörnemann, “Kindertheologie: Ein religionspädagogisches Resümee nach zwei Jahrzehnten eines theologischen Perspektivenwechsels,” Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 63 (2012): 84-95. 5 See for instance Sophia Network, [accessed July 1, 2019]. Matthew Lipman is regarded as the founder of doing philosophy with children. See Matthew Lipman, Ann Margaret Sharp, and Frederick S. Oscanyan, Philosophy in the Classroom (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1980); Matthew Lipman, Philosophy Goes to School (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1988). 4



2. Focus Groups Kammeyer invited small groups of kindergarten children who had some affinity with the theme of praying, to come and reflect with her on what it means to pray. She used the method of working with focus groups for this (see chapter 4, secion I.9 for a discussion). Kammeyer asked the children questions, but also gave them drawings as a conversation aid, and had them re-enact how they pray, for instance at home before going to bed, or in church. e results that this form of research yields are not representative for the population as a whole, in this case toddlers. ey do provide a rich image of how that specific group thinks. An alternative method to study children’s prayer could be participatory observation. Kammeyer did not use this, because she specifically wanted to look at children’s theological reflection on prayer. e following is a fragment of one of the ensuing conversations, somewhat freely translated:6 D.: How do you think that prayers “get through” to God? Lars: God is everywhere. Ken: I know! D.: Oh, okay. So he receives the prayers everywhere. Ken: What people say is written down in a letter, and then you send the letter up, and then he opens the letter (pauses briefly, then silence), then the letter speaks. D.: Okay. Leo (laughs) Ken (speaks explicitly): Speaking letters fly to God. D.: Maybe you could attach the letter to a balloon with some gas inside, and then it will fly up. How far would it have to fly before it gets to God? Lars: Into space. Leo: Into heaven. D.: And that’s where God is? Leo (affirmative): hmmm. Ken: No, he’s in space. Leo: He’s in the church. Ken: Yes, the “Pflaumkirche” (this refers to a church with a characteristic spire near where Ken lives) (jumps up). I’ve been to a church. Leo: You know what, God is in the letter, or no, no, the letter goes up and the ducks bring it up, and then the Holy Spirit opens it, and that’s, that’s where God is, in the letter. Ken: And that funny tower, it goes up. Leo: And then the silly door also says something, the speaking door. Ken: And that blue door wets herself.7


Cf. Kammeyer, ‘Lieber Gott, Amen!’. For a critique of this, see also Friedrich Schweitzer, Kindertheologie und Elementarisierung: Wie religiöses Lernen mit Kindern gelingen kann (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2011). 7 Cf. Kammeyer, ‘Lieber Gott, Amen!’, 424.



From the perspective of developmental psychology, this conversation is a good example of children’s fantasies. e pedagogical-didactic advice was traditionally to allow children to associate freely, but to ultimately provide a more ‘orthodox’ answer, in order not to leave them with absurd ideas.8 From the perspective of children’s theology, however, the things these children say can be analyzed by asking: what does this tell us about children and their theological thought, and what can it tell us about prayer? Kammeyer has described how various ideas are expressed here about where God is. God is everywhere, but God is also in heaven, in space, or in the church. Similarly, there are many ways of having contact with God: God puts himself in different places (in the letter), or God is in fact always with us, there is no distance between people and God, or the words of the prayer are a form of communication between God and human beings.9 Kammeyer has analyzed the different text fragments that she has collected, and has identified patterns in them. She has then brought the results of her research and analysis into dialogue with theological research of prayer. As a true practical theologian, a ‘frontier worker’, she has engaged with multiple disciplines within theology. At the same time, she has compared her results with research of other groups of children, for instance discussing the content of prayer, and the petition to God to look aer people. Children also speak about the limits of God’s help — as the classic theodicy debate did very extensively. For centuries, people have struggled with the question why God allows suffering and does or does not intervene, and how God’s omnipotence, goodness, and reasonableness can be compatible with innocent human suffering. ese topics also surface in the comments children make about prayer, and the children even come up with answers. us they say “it’s impossible to hear two things at the same time” to explain God’s limitations when it comes to intervening in the lives of people. Other children emphasize God’s power and say, for instance, that God can do magic, because he has made every country.10 3. Critical Reflection e German Protestant religious-education scholar Friedrich Schweitzer has looked at Kammeyer’s interpretation from a critical perspective. He has asked whether she has not over-interpreted her findings on the basis of adult theological categories. He has contended that children are 8

Cf. Schweitzer, Kindertheologie und Elementarisierung. Cf. Kammeyer, ‘Lieber Gott, Amen!’, 424-425. 10 Cf. ibid., 430. 9



influenced by the media, and that their fantasies are colored by images that adults present to them through TV commercials.11 Schweitzer has questioned whether the underlying principle of children’s theology, that children’s own ideas should be observed, acknowledged, and le to stand without correction, is in fact sensible. He has argued that uncritically doing so confirms images influenced by the media. Schweitzer has pointed to the importance of looking at what children learn and how they can be helped in their learning process. e children’s theology approach rightly encourages researchers and educators to look for children’s own perspective and discourages them from looking at children from a ‘not yet’ perspective, or from a comparison with adult faith. At the same time, Schweitzer believes that children should be stimulated to think critically — he thinks the children’s theology approach can benefit from a critical learning perspective.12 e example of Kammeyer’s research and Schweitzer’s critical reflection on it shows that studying the theology or spirituality of children is about more than just observing or analyzing. Following the three steps of practical theology, Kammeyer has suggested two follow-up steps. Her study also contains elements of evaluating or bringing her findings into dialogue with existing theological views, as well as an attempt to stimulate new practices with children. In this sense, ‘observation’ (as in the title of this section) is only a limited part, even if it is the most important one, of what she does in her research. Our focus here has nonetheless been on the aspect of observation; we will look more closely at the two other elements of the practical theological method in sections II (‘evaluate’) and III (‘stimulate’). 4. British Research of Children and Spirituality Research of children and spirituality/theology has also been done in other contexts. In particular, we will look here at the study carried out by the British researchers David Hay and Rebecca Nye.13 For these and many other researchers in the Anglo-Saxon world, the central term is spirituality rather than theology, and this, moreover, is interpreted in a very broad sense. Nye has described children’s spirituality as “an initially natural capacity for awareness of the sacred quality to life experiences. is awareness can be conscious 11

Cf. Schweitzer, Kindertheologie und Elementarisierung, 25. Cf. ibid., 26. 13 Cf. David Hay and Rebecca Nye, The Spirit of the Child (London: Jessica Kingsley, 2006). 12



or unconscious, (...) but in both cases can affect actions, feelings and thoughts. In childhood, spirituality is especially about being attracted toward ‘being in relation’, responding to a call to relate to more than ‘just me’ — i.e. to others, to God, to creation or to a deeper inner sense of Self. is encounter with transcendence can happen in specific experiences or moments, as well as through imaginative or reflective activity (thoughts and meaning making).”14 Hay and Nye’s research, and indeed that of many other researchers, shows that children engage with spirituality from a very young age. Nye interviewed 38 children in two non-denominational schools, 18 of whom were around six or seven years of age, and 20 between ten and eleven years.15 About three quarters of the children did not belong to any specific religious denomination. A quarter belonged to the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, or were Muslim. She spoke with each child three times for about thirty minutes each. She had already got to know the children’s classes beforehand and was able to take the children aside for a while in the context of her research. Unlike Kammeyer and a number of other researchers,16 Nye chose to speak to each child individually. She regarded it as important to have a certain degree of privacy, because she thought the topic of the conversations was somewhat out of the ordinary.17 She showed the children pictures, and then asked them open questions. e pictures for instance showed a child beside a dead pet, or a child looking at the stars, or an image of scenery. At the end of the interview she asked a few explicitly religious questions. In this way, she obtained a broad picture of the children’s experience of spirituality. 5. Grounded Theory In her study, Nye used a method called grounded theory.18 is is a form of qualitative empirical research in which the researcher maps a littleknown domain, and then develops a theory on the basis of the results of the semi-structured interviews. is is done by analyzing the transcripts of the interviews and coding the text fragments. is involves the 14 Rebecca Nye, Children’s Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters (London: Church House Publishing, 2009), 6. 15 Cf. Hay and Nye, The Spirit of the Child, 86. 16 See for instance Jane Erricker et al., The Education of the Whole Child (London: Cassell, 1997). 17 Cf. Hay and Nye, The Spirit of the Child, 88. 18 See for instance Anselm Strauss and Juliet Corbin, Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1990).



researcher assigning a summarizing key word (code) to each text fragment, and then looking for coherence and cross-connections between the codes. Researchers oen begin with multiple codes, which are then reduced to a smaller number of codes or key words. In other words, the researcher moves from the complexity of the text material to a more coherent and succinct whole. Connections between the various concepts are presented schematically and then further developed. In this way, the researcher is able to develop a theory or coherent vision that provides an interpretative framework for the complex data from the interviews. is grounded theory approach is popular in practical theology because it is strongly inductive, meaning that it tries to stay close to people’s actual experiences and forms of lived religion. During her interviews with children, Nye discovered that relational consciousness was a key element in children’s spirituality. She means that for children, spirituality has mainly to do with belonging, with relationships with others, and with their reflection on and wonderment at these. Nye’s analysis of the interviews produced a list of five major categories that further characterize this relational consciousness. ese categories were put forward as core aspects — that summarize and help to make sense of the children’s comments — on the basis of very diverse research material. ey involve contexts, conditions, strategies, processes, and consequences. Nye takes contexts to mean the awareness of the child-God, or child-world relationships. She includes in conditions religious language, but also the language of play, or the language of values or of science and technology. Strategies means concentration or philosophizing, or, more implicitly, dreaming, playing, or looking for meaning. Processes include arriving at a conclusion, and Nye takes consequences to mean wonderment, gratitude, but also internal conflict.19 In order to understand the meaning of these main aspects, it is important to study Nye’s work. Here we limit the description to the steps she takes in her methodological process. 6. Supporting and Stimulating the Natural Openness to Spirituality Hay and Nye have used a broad description of spirituality as a general human phenomenon. Others have observed that children must first be taught a vocabulary and a number of spiritual practices, similarly to learning a language, before they can develop spiritually. Spiritual experience and tradition are connected, and mutually influence each other. is is


Hay and Nye, The Spirit of the Child, 114.



also true for children. Saying that children are ‘naturally’ spiritual beings does not mean, therefore, that children automatically experience spiritual development, or that this development will be identical for each child. is would of course give a much too romantic and idealized picture of children or of spirituality. Most authors who emphasize children’s spirituality are eager to show that spirituality is not something that emerges only at age 6, 12, or 25, but that everyone is open to it. is openness has to be utilized, however, and children’s spirituality can be stimulated by giving them scope for wonderment, for consciously experiencing relationships with themselves, with others, with nature, or with God. In order to do this, they need to be given a language, a tradition, and practices, but more is needed than just cognitive knowledge. Nye has used the word spirit to highlight what is important when stimulating spirituality: space, process, imagination, relationship, intimacy, and trust. Each of these aspects is an important precondition for appropriately stimulating children’s spirituality and for doing justice to children’s own identity and their own capacities. Question Try to remember what elements of spiritual experience were important to you when you were a child.

II. Evaluation: Theology about Children Research into children’s spirituality shows how children themselves think and experience spirituality. It also demonstrates that children are subjects and are capable of theological thinking. is research is influenced by the images that researchers have of children. We will therefore focus now on practical theology about children, in dialogue with perspectives from other subdisciplines within the wider field of theology. We will be enquiring whether sources from theology and the humanities can support a perspective on children as subjects and not just as objects. Section I was primarily descriptive in tone, but this section will propose a normative vision. Or, in other words: we will try to answer the question why and how children can be seen as subjects, as people with a dignity of their own, and with capabilities for action that do not entirely depend on others, but as people who can take decisions themselves and are allowed to take part in broader social life.



1. Childhood Studies What image of children emerges from and underlies research of children’s spirituality? Research that describes and analyzes children’s spirituality in dialogue with theological perspectives starts from a vision of children as competent subjects. is is consistent with the approach of so-called childhood studies. 1. Protection or Liberation? Children sometimes become victims of injustice, for instance in situations of poverty or if they are used as soldiers or end up in prostitution. Even within family contexts children can become victims, for instance if they are subjected to physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. We encounter strong advocacy to care for children and to fight injustice. is approach, which posits that relationships with children are best conceived from the angle of the interests of vulnerable children, has been called the caretaker perspective.20 In addition to the vision of the child as a (potential) victim, an awareness has arisen in Western society that children are active subjects or agents. Many policy makers and researchers have argued for greater participation of children in families, at school, and in society.21 is approach has been called the child liberator perspective,22 and it involves a protest against keeping children down. Rather than speaking about children as passive objects and as not-yet-adults who must be socialized, authors who work within this liberation perspective speak of children as active subjects.23 e specific competences of children on an emotional, intellectual, social, and moral level are emphasized to a much greater degree than it happens in the prevailing image of children as beings who are less competent than adults. 20 Cf. Jantine C. Hemrica, Kind-zijn: Tussen opvoeding en recht: Een grondslagenonderzoek naar kindbeelden in discussies op het grensvlak van opvoeding en recht (Antwerp and Apeldoorn: Garant, 2004), 16-19. 21 Cf. Leen Ackaert et al., ed., Kom je dat thuis eens vertellen? Visies van ouders en kinderen op het dagelijks leven in het gezin (Louvain: Acco, 2003); Reinhard Fatke and Matthias Niklowitz, ‘Den Kindern eine Stimme geben’: Partizipation von Kindern und Jugendlichen in der Schweiz: Im Auftrag des Schweizerischen Komitees für Unicef (Zurich: Pädagogisches Institut der Universität Zürich, 2003). 22 Cf. Hemrica, Kind-zijn, 18-19. 23 Cf.  Constance L. Shehan, ed., Through the Eyes of the Child: Revisioning Children as Active Agents of Family Life, Contemporary Perspectives on Family Research 1 (Stamford, CT: Elsevier, 1999).



It is the achievement of childhood studies that it has provided insight into the complexity of the images of children that have been described above; this was in fact the very aim in developing this discipline.24 e term childhood studies refers to a set of subdisciplines dedicated to children. e theme of the child was long neglected in sociology, philosophy, history, psychology, and even in the pedagogical sciences. For a long time, pedagogy focused on the responsibilities and activities of educators, and less on children themselves. Childhood studies have also had an impact on practical theology, especially since 2000. 2. Angels or Monsters? One of the results of research within childhood studies is an awareness of the ambiguity of the dominant image of the child in Western society. Children are sometimes regarded as a nuisance. ey make noise, demand lots of energy from parents, cost money, and can harm their parents’ careers. Another associated negative image is the idea that children are not just a nuisance, but a burden. Parents sometimes jokingly call their children little monsters. Some adults think that children mainly break things, do not listen, and constantly display socially unadjusted behavior. e growing number of restaurants and hotels that ban children are a reflection of this image of children. On the other hand, in some parts of society children are welcomed with open arms: they stimulate the sale of certain products, consumption, and the economy. Children are not always regarded as a burden, but sometimes also as an advantage. Supermarket chains develop special products for children, and advertising slots before and aer children’s programs is highly sought-aer. is might be regarded as proof that children are taken seriously: children have their own range of products and services, entertainment specifically targeted at them, there are special products: cookies, ice cream, etc. At the same time, this range is mainly offered for commercial purposes, and in fact, children are being instrumentalized. A paradox appears whenever we begin to enquire into what it means to take children seriously. ‘Especially for children’ seems valuable at first sight, but oen it masks a commercial logic that is far from placing children’s interests first. Similar paradoxes can be found when we look at other images of the child that seem, at first sight at least, to be positive. Children are different from adults, need special attention, need to play, to be educated and schooled, and deserve special protection. e French historian Philippe 24 Cf.  Bruno Vanobbergen, Het kind van onze dromen: Hoe we kijken naar kinderen zegt alles over onszelf (Louvain: Lannoo Campus, 2014).



Ariès spoke in the 1960s of the discovery of the child, which he dated to the seventeenth and eighteenth century.25 In the preceding period, Ariès argued, children had oen been viewed as little adults. He based his conclusions mainly on an analysis of paintings in which children were oen depicted in the same way as adults. His theory proved contentious, and on the basis of medieval objects that have been found, historians currently believe that children were in fact seen as children, that parents loved their children, and that children occupied a special place at least in the family. Nevertheless, there have been many changes over time. 3. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and Participatory Rights e rise of a whole world especially focused on children is a relatively recent phenomenon. e early twentieth century saw the start of a movement that focused on the protection of children. Children deserved special protection, because they were particularly vulnerable to violence, poverty, exploitation etc. is resulted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1989, and which is binding on all states that have ratified it. In practice all countries of the world have done so, except the United States and Somalia. e run-up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child saw fierce debates on the way children should be regarded. In theory, everyone agreed that children deserve special attention and respect, and that they have a dignity of their own. e 1989 UN Convention contains three kinds of rights, each of which begins with a ‘p’: protection (the right to protection), provision (the right to be provided with enough food and care), and participation. ese participatory rights are new and continue to be the subject of debate even today. When children are regarded only as people who must be protected or socialized, the emphasis is primarily on their weakness, on what they not yet are, or what they are not yet able to do. A short poem by Toon Hermans points to a different vision: ‘What do you want to be’, the teacher asked, it was in third grade, I looked at her and didn’t know, I thought I was something already.26

25 Cf. Philippe Ariès, L’enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (Paris: Plon, 1960). 26 Cited in Bruno Vanobbergen, Geen kinderspel: Een pedagogische analyse van de vertogen over de commercialisering van de leefwereld van kinderen (Ghent: Academia Press, 2003), 77.



Children are more than not-yet-adults. ey have their own voice and this is increasingly being heard. In the quest for what it means to view children as subjects, it is important therefore to complement a caretaker perspective that emphasizes protection and socialization of children with a child liberator perspective, which focuses more on participation by children. Children have a relatively large say in many countries. Some municipalities (for instance in Belgium, or in India) have a children’s municipal council.27 Many schools organize specific forms of participation for children. But many people equate the idea of children’s participation with letting children decide everything themselves without guidance; in other words, asking too much of them; or giving children power that adults have traditionally exercised. In the United States, some (oen from explicitly Christian backgrounds) argue that defending the rights of children is destructive of the family and of proper relations within families. In their view, children and families do not need additional rights and the accompanying external supervision.28 On the contrary, others contend that a focus on family life and on children’s rights are perfectly compatible.29 Arguing that children are more than not-yet-adults and that they have participatory rights means acknowledging that children are more than cute angels who live in their own protected rose-colored world, or nuisances that should be kept at arm’s length by adults. Does this mean that children are best off today if they are treated like adults? No, it does not. Children absolutely need protection and an education that is suited to their needs. At the same time, they should not be wholly insulated from the adult world. is tension can be clarified by looking at the terms of pedagogization and adultism. 4. A Paradise for Children? Insulated from Adults, or in Contact with Them?30 Pedagogization is a characteristic of modern Western society. It means that many activities are geared to educating children so as to turn them 27

See for instance for the Indian context: Children Parliament, http//www. [accessed July 11, 2018]. 28 Cf. T. Jeremy Gunn, “e Religious Right and the Opposition to U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Emory International Law Review 20 (2006): 116-117. 29 Cf. Hans Van Crombrugge, “De gezinspedagogische betekenis van het Verdrag inzake de Rechten van het Kind,” in Het gezin en de rechten van het kind, ed. Maria Boeverne-De Bie et al. (Louvain and Amersfoort: Acco, 1999), 13-58. 30 Cf.  Marc Depaepe et al., “Over pedagogisering gesproken… vanuit het perspectief van de pedagogische historiografie,” in Pedagogische historiografie:



into future citizens. Examples are an intensive focus on education, extracurricular pedagogical activities, and the creation of a separate children’s world. Children are oen insulated in a world of their own, separate from that of adults, where they can practice, learn, and prepare for socalled real life later. Children are viewed as precious possessions. At the same time, they are regarded as vulnerable and as beings who must be socialized. ey are relegated, as it were, to ‘pedagogical islands’ where they are expected to grow into autonomous people, but where they are also infantilized. But contemporary forms of multimedia — particularly relatively easy access to the internet — make it difficult to insulate children and to control their discovery of the world in a special pedagogical context. Many critics therefore argue that children should not simply be shielded from the adult world. Instead, they should be taught to look at this world critically. Of course, children deserve special pedagogical attention, but this does not necessarily have to mean insulation in a danger-free mini-world.31 e term adultism can be used for situations where children are unjustly barred from things that adults have access to, or treated differently or discriminated compared to adults. Adultism is a concept that indicates that children are discriminated against because they are not yet adults. It is a concept that points to the empowerment of children. e term adultism exists by analogy with the terms racism, sexism, and speciesism.32 In all these cases acts are based on an arbitrary distinction: that of belonging to a certain race, a sex, a species (human, animal, or vegetable), or an age category (adult or child). e notion that this distinction is in fact arbitrary already expresses a moral judgment. e term adultism, like racism, sexism etc., has strongly negative connotations. e American pastoral theologian Bonnie Miller-McLemore has described it as “anything that causes children’s diminution.”33 Adultism is first and foremost a lack of appreciation for children and young people. een socio-culturele lezing van de geschiedenis van opvoeding en onderwijs, ed.  Angelo Van Gorp et al. (Louvain: Acco, 2011), 36-76. See also: Annemie Dillen and Anne Vandenhoeck, “Le paradox de la pédagogisation et les conséquences pour les soins pastoraux en pédiatrie,” Counseling et spiritualité/ Counselling and Spirituality 32 (2013): 11-25. 31 Cf. Vanobbergen, Geen kinderspel. 32 Cf. Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 158. 33 Ibid.: “Feminist theology has defined sexism, or anything that leads to women’s disparagement, as sinful. But reimagining children warrants naming adultism, or anything that causes children’s diminution, as sinful.”



It points to the moral inadmissibility of viewing children and adults as two radically different kinds of people, of assigning a greater number of basic rights to those who meet the criterion of adulthood, and of withholding respect for young people. Adultism primarily refers to an attitude and a feature of the institutional structure of society. It is very difficult to designate individual acts as adultist, but a few examples can nevertheless help to understand the concept. When adults enter a school or a children’s facility, they oen only greet the adults and ignore the children. When a child does something wrong, it is oen immediately corrected, sometimes even with the use of physical violence. When adults do something wrong, this rarely triggers the same response. is example shows that adultism can be detrimental to the protection of children, which is important from a caretaker perspective. Similarly, children usually are expected to adapt their behavior, for instance by making less noise, instead of the adults. e work that adults do is generally regarded as more important than children’s play. is last example shows that thinking in terms of adultism is based primarily on a child liberator perspective. People who warn against the dangers of adultism want to stress that children contribute to society as children, with their own way of thinking and acting. e category of adultism should not be used to rule out any distinction between children and adults at all. e rule that children are not allowed to serve in the military as soldiers is an important protective measure for children, a measure that is suited to their own character and specific qualities that are relevant to the decision. Children have many things in common with adults, but they are not the same as adults, just as women are not the same as men, animals are not the same as humans, and people of foreign origins do not have the same experiences as people from an ethnic majority. In many situations, it is ethically relevant to make a distinction. is is the case for instance for separate sports competitions for women and men. e physical differences between the sexes are not arbitrary when it comes to sports, but constitute essential differences. It would be unjust to require women to compete with men in this field. Similarly, it is right to distinguish between adults and children in sports. But the fact that someone is a woman or ‘only’ fourteen does not mean that she cannot be a member of the sports club’s festivities committee. However, it is not always easy to decide whether the difference between adults and children is essential to the field in question. e category of adultism criticizes the absence of sensitivity to the participation of children, a sensitivity that is still little cultivated in our society, because of the creation of separate spheres of life for adults and



children. It would be regarded as morally unacceptable in our society for a restaurant to display a sign that reads ‘Foreigners not admitted’. But a sign that reads ‘Children not admitted’ is experienced as much less of a moral problem. Speaking about adultism can be an eye opener that inspires us to take account of children as children when we make decisions, instead of just focusing on adults. It is important, therefore, to find a balance in the way we approach children. Whenever the focus is too much on socialization, protection, and care, or indeed on participation, there is a risk that children will not really be able to be themselves. If they are approached exclusively from the perspective of socialization, their own contribution is not given proper consideration. If they are approached exclusively from the perspective of participation, their capabilities may be overestimated, and it can seem as if children are able to do everything themselves, as if they were equal to adults. If children are approached from the perspective of protection, their weakness rather than their strength is emphasized. It is best, therefore, to find a balance between these three approaches, and to allow criticism of the socialization and protection perspective from the participation perspective and vice versa. Or, to return to what we observed in section I: children can think as theologians themselves, but at the same time, they need specific formation and coaching in the field of religion and spirituality. 2. Childhood Studies and Practical Theology A lot has been published about children, theology, and spirituality since the beginning of the twenty-first century.34 ese publications are oen on children’s theology, but also on theological thinking about children. e points made below can therefore only be regarded as examples. ey do not represent theology about children in its entirety. Instead, what we will be stressing is the complexity of the issue. Children can be regarded as people who straddle boundaries: they live in their own children’s world, but they also live in and contribute to the adult world. We will be showing how this status of children as persons who straddle boundaries can sometimes have unjust consequences for children, but also how it can be a good thing if it is interpreted properly.

34 See for instance Marcia  J. Bunge, ed., The Child in Christian Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001). See also the online Journal of Childhood and Religion [access November 25, 2019].



1. Let the Children Come to Me When Christians are asked what associations they have about the theme of children in the Bible, many will spontaneously refer to Jesus’ message, “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:13). Children are welcomed by Jesus, not because they are sweet or cute, but because they are oen victims of oppression. In Jesus’ time, children were usually assigned a very marginal place in society. Moreover, many of them were poor, lived on the streets, and could therefore be easily chased off.35 e meaning of this story seems simple: the world is unable to deal properly with children, and Jesus calls on us to counteract this, giving the example himself by placing a child in the center. But the issue is not as simple as this. Various images of children appear in the Bible, some problematic, some less so. What we are proposing here is a practical theological reflection on children on the basis of their need for socialization and care, but also of the importance of participation, based on the picture we painted above. 2. Socialization and Protection Children need socialization, education, and formation. is is something that is strongly emphasized in the Jewish and Christian traditions. e formation in question is mainly conceived as faith formation and transmission of corresponding values. In the Old Testament, teaching children is an important theme. To give one example from the book of Proverbs 22:6, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” e book of Deuteronomy oen mentions the necessity of teaching children: “Let these words of mine remain in your heart and in your soul; fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a headband. Teach them to your children, and keep on telling them, when you are sitting at home, when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are standing up.”36 In the New Testament, it is mainly the letter to the Ephesians that comments on adults’ relationships with children. us Eph 6:4 says, “Fathers, never drive your children to resentment, but bring them up with correction and advice inspired by the Lord.”

35 Cf.  Joyce A. Mercer, Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2005). 36 Deut 11:18-19.



In the history of theology, it was Calvin,37 among others, who emphasized the importance of the formation of children, because they, like adults, had been touched by original sin and had to be guarded against a sinful life. Original sin meant each human being’s capacity for sin or for damaging their relationship with God. According to Calvin and others, this capacity was there from the very beginning of life, and it was for this reason that children needed to be taught the right moral rules. In practice, Calvin’s emphasis on discipline has oen functioned as a justification for harsh discipline including physical punishment, but Calvin actually meant first and foremost that children should be given a good education to serve the Kingdom of God. What is interesting about Calvin’s vision is that he regards children as moral beings who, like adults, are capable of sin, but who also need special formation. is is an approach that takes children seriously in their moral competencies. e practical theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher,38 whom we described in chapter 3, section II.2 as the father of this discipline, offers a totally different perspective. He regarded children as a category apart, assigned a very high status to them, and wanted to protect them against the evils of the world. Socialization can also be attempted on the basis of this perspective, and in fact this oen happens today, with children being almost totally isolated on pedagogical ‘islands’ (cf. supra ‘pedagogization’, p. 139). Adults not only have the task of raising children in a suitable way, but also the task of protecting them against injustice and danger. It is easy to find theological reasons for the idea that children require protection and care: for instance, in the preferential option for the poor and the weak, in the care for orphans, and in the wider biblical view that challenges social structures of power. ere is a lot of debate about what socialization, protection, and care actually mean. e practical implementation of these principles has changed over time due to cultural and societal views. In contemporary thinking about responsibilities toward children from a theological perspective, it is good to 37

Cf.  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed.  John T. McNeill (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960). See also Jerome W. Berryman, Children and the Theologians: Clearing the Way for Grace (New York: Morehouse, 2009), 98-104. 38 Cf. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Die Weihnachtsfeier: Ein Gespräch, Libelli 11 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaliche Buchgesellscha, 1806/1984); see also Dawn DeVries, “‘Be Converted and Become as Little Children’: Friedrich Schleiermacher on the Religious Significance of Childhood,” in The Child in Christian Thought, ed.  Bunge, 329-349; Berryman, Children and the Theologians, 147150.



be aware of the child’s value as a child, i.e. as more than a not-yet-adult, as a person with his or her own competencies, but also with his or her own forms of vulnerability. Participation plays an important role in this concept. It raises the question whether there are elements from Christian theological perspectives that can support this thinking in terms of participation. 3. Children as a Gift from and Image of God From a practical theological point of view, it is possible to provide supporting arguments for the image of children as competent subjects. is is based not only on empirical research of children and their spirituality on the basis of experiences that parents, catechists, and teachers have had doing theology with children, or on a prior ethical approach like the one we have developed above. e dialogue with a more systematic theological and biblical reflection can also yield arguments for the notion that children are subjects and for the importance of participation. Every human being, and therefore every child, can be called an image of God (imago Dei). e creation story tells how God created humans in his own image, in his own likeness (Gen 1:26). e term ‘image’ can be seen as an expression of the dignity of each human being, while the term ‘likeness’ can be interpreted as a challenge for human beings.39 Every person — including every child — has the right to strive for likeness with God. ere is no implication that adults are more alike God than children are. To say that children are created in God’s image and likeness means that they refer to God as such, as children. It also means that they are not simply holy in the sense of morally perfect. ey, too, face the challenge of striving to become more like God. In the New Testament and in Christian theology, love of one’s neighbor is motivated by reference to God’s love for people.40 People should love each other as God loves them. Christians are called therefore to love children, as God loves them and has created them in his image and likeness. Christians also use the metaphor of ‘child of God’ for every human being. ese theological concepts (image and child of God) offer a framework for the importance of taking responsibility for children. is responsibility is oen expressed in caring for children in their vulnerability (protection and socialization). 39

Cf.  Roger Burggraeve and Ilse Van Halst, Al de vragen van ons leven: Een ethiek voor het dagelijkse leven (Tielt: Lannoo, 2005), 9-11. 40 Cf. Don S. Browning et al., From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 273.



e concept of child of God has in the past given rise to social criticism that demanded greater attention to children in their vulnerability.41 For Christians, this concept today, in dialogue with the image of children as competent subjects, can be an extra motivation to demand greater attention in society and in the church to approaching children as subjects, as people who have a right to participate without constantly having to conform to adult norms. If only the negative aspects, the not-yet, the temporary are highlighted, and not the current positive elements, as well as the competency of every child, then the image of God remains an ideal for later but has little meaning for the child as it is. e metaphor of ‘child of God’ points to the fundamental equality of all people as children of God and should in this sense be interpreted as a force that counters the binary distinction between child and adult, and as an impulse to respect children as they are, with the competencies that they have. 4. The Giving Child Children are also seen in the biblical and theological tradition as a ‘gi from God’. is perspective is important when it comes to the protection of children. It is also important, however, to speak about the ‘giving child’ and to appreciate the active contribution that children can make themselves. ere is little biblical support for this, but the image of the giving child does appear for instance in the contextual therapeutic thought of the Hungarian-American psychiatrist Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, who has contended that it is important to acknowledge the giving that children do themselves.42 Nagy has pointed out the many ways in which children can give to their parents, for instance by smiling when they are a baby, by making a drawing, by listening, or by offering a consoling word. e concept of the giving child is not only relevant for a general analysis of parent-child relationships but also applies to faith communication. ere is increasing recognition of this in recent theological literature on faith communication, as our discussion in section I has shown where we examined and articulated children’s own theological visions. Children can give in several specific ways. ey can teach parents that perfection is impossible, that every parent also makes mistakes. Children 41 Cf.  Hubertus Lutterbach, Kinder und Christentum: Kulturgeschichtliche Perspektiven auf Schutz, Bildung und Partizipation von Kindern zwischen Antike und Gegenwart (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2010). 42 Cf. Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and Barbara R. Krasner, Between Give and Take: A Clinical Guide to Contextual Therapy (New York: Brunner and Mazel, 1986).



teach parents to deal with the unexpected, the ambiguity, and sometimes even the chaos of life. e presence of children as such is especially important to acquire these insights. Parents can learn much about religion from children’s ‘being there’, or from the experience of raising children in general, according to the British Religious Education scholar Jeff Astley.43 e daily care for a child can help parents to value a person “who, in the world’s eyes, has no status, power or possessions — that is, a child.”44 Furthermore, Astley has commented that caring for a child oen makes people more aware of the child in themselves, and better able to recognize the child in others. ese interpretations of the impact children can have on adults to a certain extent acknowledge that children can also give to adults, and that education is not a one-way street. It is oen pointed out in this context that the Bible presents children as an example to adults in relation to the faith.45 However, this interpretation of children’s ability to give is rather limited. Certain characteristics, like openness and trust, are assigned to children on the basis of which they are then viewed as a model for adults.46 It is a good thing that children are treated not on the basis of what they will become, but of what they are. But there is a danger here that emphasizing what children are causes a kind of reductionism. e actual child is not seen and is overshadowed by what the child is supposed to be in general: vulnerable, trusting, dependent, open to the transcendent etc. Speaking of children as models for the faith — however important this vision is — is at risk of ignoring the ways in which children actually give in specific relationships with others. Most texts by the Catholic magisterium speak of the ‘transmission’ of the faith from parents to children. And yet children’s own contribution is sometimes also mentioned. us Apostolicam actuositatem (1965), the Second Vatican Council’s document on the lay apostolate, says that parents have the task of making God’s love known to their children and of teaching them in this way to care for others (AA 12). Children must learn that as Christians they also have a responsibility for others. 43 Cf. Jeff Astley, “e Role of the Family in the Formation and Criticism of Faith,” in The Family in Theological Perspective, ed.  Stephen C. Barton (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 187-202. 44 Ibid., 197. 45 Cf.  ibid., 196. See also Christoph Kähler, “Wenn ihr nicht werdet wie Kinder…: Kindsein als Metapher im Neuen Testament,” in Schau auf die Kleinen…: Das Kind in Religion, Kirche und Gesellschaft, ed. Rüdiger Lux (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2002), 102-117. 46 Cf. DeVries, “‘Be Converted and Become as Little Children’,” 164.



e challenge is to further develop the notions of the giving child and of children as active subjects in theological thinking and in pastoral and societal actions, without falling into the trap of idealizing children. Research of children’s own ideas and experiences, such as the research we described in section I, is one example. e specific action-oriented approaches to children that we will discuss below equally demonstrate how children can be approached as subjects. Question Look for a commercial or advertising poster that features children. How are they represented? Assess this on the basis of the visions presented above.

III. Stimulation: Theology with Children e way children have been approached in the Bible and throughout the history of theology can clearly be called ambiguous. is is also true for current pastoral practices that involve children. Pedagogization also occurs in pastoral activities targeted at children in parishes. Children are sometimes given separate treatment — at their own level — in the form of children’s services during liturgical celebrations. ey are present for part of the celebration of the Eucharist but are then relocated for the remainder of the service. In many parishes, children’s catechesis in preparation for confirmation or first communion is organized in separate spaces, without much collaboration with adult catechesis. Oen, catechesis is something that adults associate exclusively with children. ere are trends at the moment to bring adults and children together by organizing all forms of catechesis on Sunday mornings, by stimulating intergenerational learning, and by no longer holding separate services for children. e big challenge is, of course, how justice can continue to be done to children’s specific needs. Children are, on the one hand, alike adults, and therefore have a right to participate in liturgical celebrations and to receive spiritual guidance. But at the same time, they are different from adults and have specific needs. 1. Toward Greater Inclusion of Children? A Complex Struggle beyond ‘Separate’ or ‘Together’ We are faced here with questions that always arise whenever inclusiveness is at stake. Should children be treated separately or should they



simply be part of the greater whole and be treated similarly to others? One example is the place we assign to people with disabilities in society and in the church. Do we organize special work places, tailored to their needs? Or do we subsidize enterprises and other employers to recruit staff with disabilities so that they take part in the regular labor process? And within the church: do we organize separate liturgical celebrations for people with intellectual disabilities? Or do we invite them to participate in ‘ordinary’ services, which may or may not be adapted to these ‘special guests’? A frequent reply to these questions is that it should not be either/or, but both/and. is is also true for children. Some things are best organized separately for children, such as education or certain sports. Other forms of leisure time can be spent with adults and children together, like yoga for parents and children together. Parishes could decide to organize special children’s services from time to time, and not on other Sundays. It is oen educational and fun for children to be able to experience things at their own level. In certain Protestant communities, there are special prayer services for toddlers.47 ese services, which are customized to them together with their mothers and/or fathers, allow them to experience the joy and the special atmosphere of worshiping together. According to the advocates of this model, this will lower the threshold for them to join ordinary parish services in the future. When children experience some event together with adults, they see that it is not just something especially for children, but is for adults too. A viable degree of variation seems the best policy. 2. Diversity and Participation: Beyond the Adaptation Discourse Striving for inclusiveness, i.e. including groups who have limited possibilities of participation or who do not really participate, is noble, but it is not enough. Studies have shown that diversity increases the productivity or potential of a group.48 Religious communities, such as parishes, that consist not only of men and women of an average age of sixty or older, but also attract young people and families with small children are oen regarded as more vibrant. At the same time, it is important that the existing group (oen older adults) are prepared to look critically at pre47 See for instance Hannegreth Grundmann, Mit den Kleinsten Gottesdienst feiern (Hannover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 2010). 48 See for instance Vivian Hunt et al., “Delivering rough Diversity (January 2018),” delivering-through-diversity [accessed July 15, 2018].



vailing — oen implicit — views, from an explicit concern to avoid adultism. How do we treat each other? How do we come to agreements and make decisions? What are our quality criteria? When do we meet? It is important to look at mechanisms that can prevent certain minority groups from feeling unwelcome or unheard. It makes a difference whether a community bases itself on an ideal in which a certain group has an established vision and modus operandi (center), and then looks for openness toward certain minority groups, such as children in the church (periphery), which are tolerated and accepted, or seeks a wholly new model in which various groups meet each other in dialogue, without a dominant role for the majority group. In this latter vision, the ideal is to have a model in which forms of dominance and power from an adult-oriented perspective are avoided as much as possible. 3. Communities Learn from Children is analysis, inspired for instance by postcolonial thought which focuses primarily on reflecting on power distribution,49 can also be relevant to thinking about children, although this context makes it even more complex. Children are clearly different than adults but will, in due course, become adults. What can we learn from this analysis about the position of children in groups in church and society? In the first place, it can make us aware of the importance of including children. Listening to the voice of children oen helps us to become sensitive to issues that we might otherwise overlook. Groups in which children participate exude vibrancy and dynamism. is is true in particular for faith communities. e future looks bright for these groups.50 Paying attention to children’s participation thus appears as a key to the future. But there is more. If children are only tolerated, they are forced as it were to adapt to existing norms. e community does not reflect critically on its own values and norms, for instance the importance of being a community, of being welcoming, or of the specific value attached to silence or to care. Whenever communities are open to participation by children, this oen enriches the community itself. An example can demonstrate this. At the sign of peace, a three-year-old girl always goes to shake most people’s hand in the church. is behavior is a little strange, and walking around the church infringes the implicit norms, but it does bring about something 49 50

See also chapter 7. Cf. Mercer, Welcoming Children.



positive. Whenever more attention is given in liturgical celebrations to comprehensibility, to appealing to the senses (more visual elements for instance, or working with scent), or to movement (whether or not this is done explicitly on the basis of care for children), this is oen a welcome change for many other people too. 4. Allowing Children to Give to Others Communities are enriched if children are allowed to participate, but participating is also important for the children themselves. It is a way of taking them seriously, not just as future citizens or believers, but also with their capabilities in the here and now.51 e dignity of children comes to the fore. We can say on the basis of Nagy’s contextual thinking that children — and people in general — need to be allowed to give to others.52 As we contended in section II.2, people receive much from others, but should also be given the chance to give in return. For parents it is important that they take their child’s giving seriously. ey should do this in the context of the family, where parents face the challenge of acknowledging children when they help to tidy up, make a drawing, or console a parent. In situations in which children have to give a lot, for instance, when they have to assume the role of new partner as it were aer their mother’s divorce, or when they have to care for their brothers and sisters, an unjust balance of giving and taking can arise. If there is no acknowledgement in the long run of children’s giving, of the efforts they undertake, children may become adults who only take, or who develop destructive behavior toward others. is is also true for the faith community: children are not just receivers; they are capable of giving. ey are able to pray for others, they can bless their parents by tracing a cross on their foreheads, and they can also help their parents in their experience of spirituality, if only indirectly by allowing the parents to regard their care for their children as a diaconal service or spirituality.53 One example of a church practice in which children actively participate is the tradition of Sternsingen or caroling as it has been developed


Cf.  Annemie Dillen, “Children are the Future ... and the Present: Challenging Pastoral Practices with Children,” Counseling et spiritualité/Counselling and Spirituality 28 (2009): 129-148. 52 Cf. Boszormenyi-Nagy and Krasner, Between Give and Take. 53 Cf. Annemie Dillen, “Care and Responsibility for Children as a Challenge to a Sacramental eology,” Questions Liturgiques/Studies in Liturgy 89 (2008): 180-193.



by Missio, a Catholic organization dedicated to ‘mission and solidarity’, which also endeavors to mobilize children and young adults for this cause.54 Sternsingen is particularly popular in Germany, but the tradition also exists in Belgium. Around the feast of Epiphany (January 6), groups of children go from home to home, singing a song and collecting money for charity, usually one of Missio’s solidarity projects. In Germany, the children also give a blessing to each home, and they write the letters C+M+B (Christus Mansionem Benedicat) and the year in chalk on the doorframe. is campaign allows children to be active themselves and to contribute in a very concrete way to diaconal work and evangelization. Children are not just a target group to which the church should pay extra attention, but they themselves are bearers of ecclesial activity. is expresses the agency of children. It is of course an activity that has been set up and organized predominantly by adults, and that specifically concentrates on children as carolers. is is a different situation than when a parish delegation of singers (children and adults) goes to a prison or hospital to sing carols. In that case, adults and children act together. Nevertheless, the Sternsingen-project is a good example of how children can actively contribute to a church project. It is also a good example of how children can simultaneously give and receive. ey are not required to organize everything themselves, and there are adults present to accompany them. Children are vulnerable and do not know everything themselves. Adults explain to them what projects they will be singing for, tell them about the wider world, and about the meaning of Epiphany and Christmas. At the same time, the children do more than just listen and take. ey are bearers of a blessing. If caroling is made obligatory, for instance for all children who take part in confirmation preparation, this raises the question whether each child’s own talents are being fully appreciated. Another example of children’s active participation in a parish is one where children are allowed to choose which project they want to become involved in as they prepare for their confirmation. e project could be collecting money for a good


Cf.  Klaus Kiessling and Klaus Krämer, ‘Die Sternsinger, wenn’s die nicht gäbe!’: Positionen und Perspektiven (Ostfildern: Matthias Grünewald, 2012); Klaus Kiessling and Michael Mähr, ‘Die Sternsinger, wenn’s die nicht gäbe!’: Eine Empirische Studie (Ostfildern: Matthias Grünewald, 2012); Stefan Gärtner, “Lernort ‘Dreikönigssingen (Sternsingen)’,” in Lexikon der Religionspädagogik, ed. Norbert Mette and Folkert Rickers (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukichener Verlag, 2001), 1221-1224.



cause, but it could also be serving mass, or visiting elderly people in a nursing home, or helping out with a conservation group for a few days. Not every child will make the same choices, but every child can contribute in one way or another. Projects like Sternsingen, but also other diaconal projects that involve children, challenge participants to reflect on how the active presence of children can be more than an interesting complement to ordinary ecclesial life. In other words: they invite people to think about how this project and these children can challenge existing perspectives or actions, or how they can listen actively to children’s perspectives and suggestions. 5. Doing Theology with Children For catechists, teachers, parents, and pastors, taking children’s own voice seriously means allowing room for children’s own questions and experiences when talking about and experiencing the faith. is presupposes an open attitude in which the answers are not predetermined. Doing theology with children presupposes engaging in a dialogue with them, perhaps on the basis of specific impulses, such as a Bible story, a work of art, or a symbol. Children are constantly challenged to articulate their position, to answer ‘why’ questions, and to reflect further in confrontation with other people’s insights. It is important to ask questions when doing theology with children. In practice this is not always easy. One Belgian educator recounted a catechist’s reaction to a new approach to confirmation catechesis in the parish — in many parts of Belgium this usually takes place around the age of 12. e catechist said that she thought the program was very interesting. But, she said, the new approach challenged everything else. ey had their materials ready to work with the children, but they had never before asked children themselves what they expected from the catechesis. Many catechists still think they have to transmit things to the children, and that children have to learn and be socialized into Christianity, instead of thinking in terms of a constructive dialogue that can give rise to a process of mutual learning. 6. Godly Play One form of doing theology with children is Godly play. is approach originated in the Anglo-Saxon world, and shows that openness and Christian stories do not necessarily exclude each other, and that content and accessibility can easily go together. e aim of this approach is to



bring children playfully into contact with biblical texts and aspects of the Christian faith like the sacraments. But it is more than a method and more than a didactic tool for children. Godly play was developed by Jerome Berryman, an American Protestant hospital chaplain. His aim was to convey to children in a creative way the image of God as One who is always there for people. He wanted to stimulate children’s trust and drew on Maria Montessori’s pedagogical vision for inspiration. In the Montessori approach, children can discover and learn at their own level on the basis of stimulating materials. Confidence in the competencies and possibilities of each child are the primary focus. e coach’s task is to stimulate the children in their own quest. is approach is a participatory one: children are taken seriously, enter into conversation with each other without any predetermined answers or truths, and participate in practices and views of the broader Christian traditions. In Godly play, this happens through using rewritten Bible stories. Godly play books contain beautifully composed stories, including instructions for accompanying actions.55 e narrator sits in front of a semicircle of children and tells the story, while playing with custom-made artifacts. In the Exodus story, the narrator uses a bag of sand and wooden human figures to enact the story. e narrator does not make eye contact with the group of children, but focuses on the story and on the way it is being played out. e children, and indeed adults and teenagers, oen listen very attentively and focus on what they see. is strong visual component makes Godly play accessible. It can be played with children of three years and older. In a subsequent step, the narrator asks questions: ‘I wonder whether…’. e questions are about what the children liked about the story, where they would situate themselves in the narration, and perhaps what could have been omitted. Participants are invited to think, to reflect about their own response, and to share something that struck them. But even participants who remain silent can take a lot from the process. Aerwards, there is room for creative free processing on the basis of the materials of the Godly play stories that are available for the children to play with, of drawing and cra materials, or by reading in the bibles that are available, by writing or simply by quietly reflecting. e session is concluded with a festive moment, usually a shared meal. 55 Cf. Jerome W. Berryman,The Complete Guide to Godly Play: An Imaginative Method for Presenting Scripture Stories to Children (Denver, CO: Morehouse Education Resources, 2002-2006); id., Teaching Godly Play: How to Mentor the Spiritual Development of Children (Denver, CO: Morehouse Education Resources, 2009).



Godly play gives scope for children’s own thinking and acting. It takes children seriously in their own capabilities. At the same time, it also offers a language and a traditional framework. e image of God who does not abandon people, who bears people, and journeys with them, is expressed very beautifully. Of course, it requires training and practice. Question Describe the ideal local church community for children. What should/ could be possible there? Further reading Jerome W. Berryman, Children and the Theologians: Clearing the Way for Grace (New York: Morehouse, 2009). Joyce A. Mercer, Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2005). Rebecca Nye, Children’s Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters (London: Church House Publishing, 2009). Karen-Marie Yust, Aostre N. Johnson, Sasso Eisenberg Sasso, and Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, eds., Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality: Perspectives from the World’s Religious Traditions (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).

 Chaplains as Frontier Workers in Prisons Stefan Gärtner

Now that we have discussed children as subjects rather than objects of pastoral care and of religious education, we will continue with a more traditional topic of practical theology. As has been demonstrated, in the past, the discipline of practical theology focused primarily on the activity of pastoral professionals. ere are many good reasons to broaden this focus, as we have learned by looking at children as subjects of (practical) theology. But of course, it does not follow that reflection on prison chaplains has lost its importance as a topic. To facilitate our understanding of the professional field of prison chaplaincy, section I will take a newspaper article as its point of departure. Section II will describe the hermeneutical method in practical theology, which we will use to analyze this article. We will do this using the by now familiar three steps of practical theological discourse: observation, evaluation, stimulation (sections III-V).

I. Case Who else would have them? Why Michel Lelièvre sought refuge in God Veerle Beel Brussels – After Michelle Martin, Marc Dutroux’s ex-wife who was accommodated in a convent, it is now Michel Lelièvre’s turn. He has sought refuge in Protestantism. According to his probation file, which De Morgen has seen, he has been taking Bible lessons and a gospel music course. Lelièvre has made several attempts to secure his release in the past, and his next attempt will be at the end of this month. Previous attempts failed because on each occasion he was found in possession of small amounts of drugs. The former heroin addict himself denies that he had anything to do with this and claims he was set up by others. (…)



Perhaps Lelièvre is hoping that his conversion will serve as a get-out-of-jailfree card? Or, in other words: how seriously should we take the news of his conversion? And why do prisoners often seek refuge in the faith or in a monastery? Professional Secrecy “Prisoners have a lot of time on their hands,” says Antoon Vandeputte, a Catholic chaplain in Bruges prison. “Of course they begin to think about themselves. And it’s really important that they can talk. That’s where we come in: we listen. We let them tell their stories, again and again. This is how many of them gain insight.” “One advantage is that prisoners can talk freely to their chaplain. More freely than to a prison psychologist, who records everything in their file,” Vandeputte says. “We have professional secrecy. That doesn’t mean we don’t challenge them. Sometimes I say to them: what you’ve just told me, you should tell that to your lawyer.” Every prison has a chaplain from each denomination. Prisoners can choose themselves who they talk to. “Sometimes it’s pure coincidence, because you happen to meet them in the corridor,” says Vandeputte. “Practicing a certain faith is not a precondition,” he adds. “But if people ask me why we listen to them, then we answer on the basis of our faith: because you are a human being to us, and human beings are greater than the sum of their actions or crimes.” Many of the prisoners that he has visited attend Mass. It helps that they have a lot of time. Some of them continue to do this after they have served their time in prison. Many spend some time in a monastery, as a way to bridge the transition to their new lives. (…) A Stay at the Inn Is Always Temporary “These stays are always temporary,” according to Vandeputte. “As the rule of Benedict says: you have to be an innkeeper to whoever comes by. But you don’t stay permanently at an inn.” “Where else would they go? Legally, ex-prisoners are given the chance to start over, but society isn’t open to that. This is why the church assumes this old task of giving asylum, because no one else will.” Only Chance Henk Van Andel, the Protestant chaplain in the prisons of Ieper and Bruges until August, is even sharper in his criticism of society: “I know a



prisoner who will be released soon and who has written a hundred letters to institutions, but none of them will take him. That man is scared. He’s asking: please let me stay here. There is precious little support for ex-prisoners in Belgium. The laws are great, but the implementation is flawed.” He is not surprised that people are looking to faith communities instead. “It’s almost their only chance.” Michel Lelièvre initially also wanted to go to a monastery. He asked Archbishop Léonard, but got no answer. Protestants do not have monasteries. “We don’t give shelter to ex-prisoners very often,” Van Andel says. “It’s voluntary work. There is no structural support at all; unlike in the Netherlands.”1 Question Formulate your own answer to the questions this journalist asks in her article: how seriously should we take the news of Michel Lelièvre’s conversion? Refer in your answer to what the two chaplains say about their work.

II. The Hermeneutical Method in Practical Theology Hermeneutics is about understanding texts. If this method is to be used in practical theology, a broad definition of what is considered as a text is required. Musical compositions, gestures, celebrations, life stories, pastoral conversations, the religious motifs in commercials, or buildings are all ‘texts’ that can be suitable for practical theologians to study. Even in exegesis, the Bible is no longer studied in isolation, but such things as archeological findings are taken into interpretive consideration. us, the hermeneutical method is not just about written or spoken texts alone, like the newspaper article just quoted. e term also has to be broadened in a second way. In practical theology, hermeneutics is not just a method, but also a way of thinking. e hermeneutical approach is a particular perspective on pastoral and religious practice, as well as a way of scientifically interpreting this practice.2 ese two aspects cannot be separated. What practical theology does with this method depends on how it regards the church, pastoral care, and religion, and vice versa. 1 Veerle Beel, “Wie anders wil hen nog,” De Standaard, January 28, 2013 (own translation). 2 Cf. Sally A. Brown, “Hermeneutical eory,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology, ed.  Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 112-122.



1. Reality as Interpretation e hermeneutical method assumes that reality is not fixed as something self-evident. Our reality is a network of interpretations that people use to make sense of their world and of events that take place. Practical theology attempts to identify these interpretations. ere is no such thing as reality pure and simple, although of course at first sight it does seem like that to us. One example of the relativity of your own perspective is when you are having an argument with your partner, and it turns out he or she has a totally different view of the conflict. An experience like this reveals that the world is, to a certain degree, human interpretation. Every hermeneutical theory therefore begins by acknowledging that there is no Archimedean point from which we can definitively explain the world. Every explanation rests upon assumptions and prejudices about what reality is like. Objective certainty is impossible.3 Of course, we base our everyday lives on many apparent certainties: ideas about how people in a particular culture regard reality. at offers some direction. But from a hermeneutical perspective, such opinions are relative and provisional. 2. Diverging Meanings of Texts e meaning of texts that represent our reality is not fixed either. When different people read the same text, different interpretations are conceivable and even required. e Nativity story, for instance, was understood in a different sense by medieval Christians than it is by late modern Christians. It means something different to children than to adults. It is read differently in Africa than in Europe. Even people who come together on Christmas Eve to attend a service will have different associations with this pericope. If you have just experienced childbirth, for instance, the story about the events in Bethlehem are likely to evoke very specific associations for you. Of course, parishioners on Christmas Eve also have a lot in common. e minister presents a certain interpretation of the text in his sermon, and parishes tend to be rather homogeneous socially. And yet there will be differences in perception. A hermeneutical approach is sensitive to this plurality. is method of doing practical theology does not attempt to harmonize diverging views, but wants to respect diversity.

3 Cf.  Gijs Dingemans, Manieren van doen: Inleiding tot de studie van de praktische theologie (Kampen: Kok, 1996), 150 and following.



From a hermeneutical point of view, therefore, there are many different realities. According to the founder of modern hermeneutics, HansGeorg Gadamer, we see the world and actions on the basis of a certain perspective or prejudice.4 Everyone has their own framework from which they interpret not only texts, but also their own life as a whole. Our world does not just exist, but it emerges, and it emerges over and over again. How a person tells their life’s story, for example, will change as they grow older, even though they might be discussing the same event that happened when they were young. 3. The Role of Traditions and Communities On the other hand, our individual convictions about the world never exist in isolation from each other. Otherwise, agreement about any text would be impossible, and there would be no sense in coming together on Christmas Eve to celebrate the Eucharist. Of course, that is not the case. Even though our reality is a product of our perspective on it, there is always a relationship between the meaning that we assign to reality and the things that reality hands us.5 In the case of a verse from the Bible, it is not only interpreted by its readers or hearers, but if the word of God touches these readers or hearers existentially, they are themselves interpreted by it, so to speak. eir faith will change. A process will begin in which their self-understanding is at stake, because “to understand is to understand oneself in front of the text.”6 We will return to this point in section V when we look at the role of the Bible in prison chaplaincy. When people in pastoral and spiritual care attempt to understand each other, they will first have to attune their individual realities to each other. ankfully there are certain common agreements about the meaning of texts that we can fall back on. We do not have to invent these each time we encounter a text, but we can fall back on ideas that are conventional within our culture.7 Our own reality takes shape through a combination of our own views and collective convictions. Any passage from the Bible has already been interpreted by others, and these interpretations to a large 4 Cf. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik, Gesammelte Werke I (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990). 5 Cf. Dingemans, Manieren van doen, 46 and following. 6 Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 143. 7 Cf. Eckart Gottwald, Didaktik der religiösen Kommunikation: Die Vermittlung von Religion in Lebenswelt und Unterricht (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2000), 25-66.



extent color our own perspective. is is why you are likely to interpret the Nativity story not just as a story about childbirth under difficult circumstances, but also as something that contains a Christological message. e Christian faith does not exist as such, but it exists as the faith of specific people. God is dependent on the human mediation of revelation. is mediation “varies, depending on place, society and period, but it nevertheless enters into the interpretation of faith which is presented on each occasion.”8 In our time, our task is to build a bridge between the past and our late modern context. is requires a critical correlation between Christian traditions and our current experiences, as a result of which “presentday society and culture enters the understanding of revelation.”9 is is how Edward Schillebeeckx relates faith in the context of the past with faith in the context of the present. e link between the original revelation and people’s ever-changing situation is like a pendulum swinging. And believing together means that Christians at any given moment will more or less agree about how they interpret the gospel. us, we always understand texts within a certain tradition and community, and this is how we attune our visions to those of other people. It can nevertheless sometimes be a challenge to understand other people. It is an exercise that happens in a frontier zone.10 We have seen in chapter 1 that late modern cultures are characterized by a greater plurality of views than cultures in the past. ese views sometimes contradict each other, because there is a clash of interests or because one perspective is more influential than another. 4. Practical Theology as Contextual Theology It follows from these hermeneutical reflections that practical theology acknowledges the contextuality of theology itself:11 it studies texts from the viewpoint of the diverging settings in which people interpret them. Using the hermeneutical method means asking about the specific way a text is embedded, because texts can only be properly understood as contextual things. Context is the co-author of every text, so to speak. 8 Edward Schillebeeckx, Church: The Human Story of God, e Collected Works of Edward Schillebeeckx 10 (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 38. 9 Ibid., 40. 10 Cf. Michael Bongardt et al., eds., Verstehen an der Grenze: Beiträge zur Hermeneutik interkultureller und interreligiöser Kommunikation (Münster: Aschendorff, 2003). 11 Cf.  Annemie Dillen and Robert Mager, “Research in Practical eology: Methods, Methodology, and Normativity,” in Invitation to Practical Theology: Catholic Voices and Visions, ed. Claire E. Woleich (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2014), 301-328.



One example is the newspaper article quoted above. Reading it does not give the reader an experience of what prison chaplaincy is really like, but of how it is presented in journalism. Imagine other occasions where prison chaplains might do what they do in the article, i.e. talk about their work: for instance a team meeting in which colleagues share experiences so as to learn from each other; at home, where a chaplain tries to explain to family members what he or she does on the job; an empirical study in which an academic interviews professionals who work in a prison; a local community party where a chaplain is asked why the church cares for people on the margins of society; a conversation with the chaplain’s own bishop when he comes to visit. Obviously in each of these situations, chaplains will speak about their work in slightly different ways. Context influences communication, and practical theologians should take this into consideration when they are analyzing texts. eir task is to understand a text from within reality itself, from within the question as to what meaning people give to reality. Practical theologians study their convictions about chaplains, the higher things in life, illness, spirituality, prayer etc., and how they express this in texts. What do these texts say about people’s religious reality? is is what practical theologians try to find out by using the hermeneutic method. Question Describe the situation prisoners find themselves in on the basis of the newspaper article and of additional material found on the internet. Compare your description with the prior image you had of detention centers. Has your image been confirmed? What surprised you?

III. Observation: Prison Chaplaincy through the Eyes of a Journalist – A Practical Theological Interpretation It follows from our hermeneutical reflection that the journalist who wrote the newspaper article, like anyone who has ever written a text, has certain interests.12 In this book, for instance, our purpose is to introduce readers to practical theology in an accessible and inspiring way. In other texts, our goals might be different, e.g. gaining scholarly insight into a pastoral practice. Sometimes different interests have become intertwined, 12 Cf. Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests (Cambridge: Polity, 2007).



and other things are at play in the background, like the requirement for academics to publish a lot. All these things will affect the final text, even though a scholarly text claims to be more objective than a personal letter. Similarly, readers’ interests also color their perceptions of a text. If you are required to read this book for your theology degree course, then it will probably be an easier read if you are interested in pastoral ministry or if your lecturer is passionate about the subject. 1. The Journalist’s Interests What are Veerle Beel’s interests? e journalist who wrote this newspaper article begins with the Marc Dutroux case, a famous case that still evokes strong emotions in Belgium. He is serving a life sentence for kidnapping six girls, among other charges. Michel Lelièvre, a drug addict, was an accomplice as was Michelle Martin, Dutroux’s ex-wife. Dutroux locked the girls up, raped them repeatedly, and eventually murdered four of them. In 1996, Laetita Delhez was found in his house and set free shortly aer she was kidnapped, along with Sabine Dardenne, who had been a hostage for three months. Lelièvre was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2004 for his role in the crimes committed by Dutroux and his gang. e journalist is therefore bringing back some very painful memories. It is a way of getting readers involved in her text. e sentencing of the perpetrators may not have given Belgian society closure on the Dutroux case, but it did relegate the case to a specific place: prison. e wounds were reopened when Dutroux’s ex-wife Michelle Martin requested early release, followed by Lelièvre. ere are a number of fundamental issues at play in the background of this article, issues about (extreme) guilt and forgiveness, grace, retribution and reparation, and about the relationship between society and convicted criminals. Amid all these themes, the journalist addresses religion and Christianity. She implies that she has little confidence in Lelièvre’s sincerity and in the way he is appealing to his conversion to God to back up his request for early release. His previous attempts failed because he was found in possession of drugs, and even for this he was unwilling to take responsibility. e religious ‘conversion’ then seems little more than a ploy to increase his chances of success. e journalist’s obvious doubts (which most of her readers probably share) all come together in the questions that she poses at the end of her introduction. ey form the link to the quotes from the two chaplains, which deal not so much with the Lelièvre case but with the situation of prisoners in a broader sense, the image that society has of them, and the tasks



of prison chaplaincy. As it turns out, the critical tone of the first part is gradually neutralized in the article by the views of the two prison chaplains. Society and Crime e chaplains’ comments can be situated in the context of a social struggle over how to deal with people who have committed serious crimes. Should convicts be given the opportunity to start over, or is deprivation of the prospect of ever getting out of prison a just punishment for pedophiles and murderers? is question sets the scene for the newspaper article, and indeed for the prison chaplains’ work, especially when they become involved in the debates taking place outside prison about guilt, punishment, and reconciliation. e social climate is becoming tougher.13 People expect the government to offer them fail-safe protection against criminal violence, but they do not want this to affect their personal freedom either. In other words, we are faced with a paradoxical combination of safety versus self-development, although this latter aspect does not apply to serious criminals. Late modern society has a different view of them. e ideal that all prisoners should have the opportunity to reintegrate and that their time in detention should be spent preparing for that is gradually declining. Instead, people advocate ever tougher sentences. Society demands security and even wants pre-emptive protection against criminals. Zero tolerance and longer custodial sentences are popular, even though there is no evidence to indicate that tougher sentences really have a deterrent effect. 2. Prison Chaplaincy Work Practices We will now look at what the two prison chaplains have to say about prisoners and about their own role. e newspaper article mentions various work practices that are used in prison chaplaincy: Bible lessons, a gospel music course, Sunday liturgy, and conversations. Chaplains run the whole gamut of concepts of pastoral care, from liturgy and the sacraments to coaching and counseling.14 Some chaplains have to limit themselves to presiding at the Eucharist because they have been appointed for a limited number of hours or because

13 Cf.  Ryan van Eijk, Menselijke waardigheid tijdens detentie: Een onderzoek naar de taak van de justitiepastor (Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2013), 20-29. 14 Cf.  Christine Drexler, “Den Gefangenen die Entlassung verkünden? eologische und soziale Bedeutung von Gefängnisseelsorge angesichts offener und verborgener Gewaltstrukturen,” Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift 153 (2005): 172-183, at 178-180.



the church expects them to do this. Others focus more on counseling prisoners, i.e. on individual contacts and group conversations. ere are important differences in what prison chaplains do in correctional facilities, depending on the prison, availability, personal preference, and competence. e Catholic prison chaplain in the article described his pastoral work as ‘being reliable’ and ‘being able to listen’. It is important that prisoners are able to express themselves, so as to obtain insight into their situation and their deeds. It is a precondition for successful resocialization. But Antoon Vandeputte is not advocating a ‘so’ approach: he is ready to confront the prisoners where necessary. Challenging them from time to time has proven to be fruitful. It is a way of taking the prisoners seriously, because they can then contradict him in turn, and in that way determine their own position. It is also a way for the prison chaplain to take himself seriously, because it is obvious that he will hear things in prison that cannot remain unchallenged. e professional secrecy to which prison chaplains are bound is an important precondition for this concept.15 Unlike the prison psychologist mentioned in the article, prison chaplains are not obligated to notify third parties of things they hear from prisoners. is confidentiality requirement can lead to problems and crises of conscience. Does it apply to what prison chaplains happen to hear informally as they talk to people, or only to what they hear in pastoral conversations in their role as prison chaplains? What are the limits of secrecy when a prison chaplain discovers that a prisoner poses a danger to him- or herself or to others? 1. Presence versus Restorative Chaplaincy? Vandeputte’s listening-oriented approach is quite common in prison chaplaincy. It is also called the presence model.16 Many chaplains try to be there for the other they encounter, without predetermining the course their conversations will take. ey do not focus only on people who belong to their own church; even though, officially, they were appointed for that purpose, but they are open to everyone. In other words, a majority of prison chaplains work per ward or corridor and not per denomination, i.e. without limiting themselves to members of the same church. “Practicing a certain faith is not a precondition,” according to Vandeputte. is attitude is beneficial to people, certainly if they have experienced in their lives that no one listens to them anymore. 15 Cf.  Jacques Schenderling, Beroepsethiek voor pastores (Budel: Damon, 2008), 151-162. 16 Cf. Andries Baart, Een theorie van de presentie (Utrecht: Lemma, 2004).



Critical questions have been raised, however, in relation to the presence model in prison chaplaincy. Does it not weaken the prison chaplain’s denominational profile? And should prison chaplains not also contribute to restoring the ruptured relationships between prisoners and their victims, or between them and society? e underlying concept of restorative justice or restorative chaplaincy originates in the Anglo-American context and is becoming increasingly influential in Belgium and the Netherlands, certainly at the managerial level.17 At the very least, it allows chaplains to justify their work vis-à-vis the correctional facility and fellow professionals who work there, because they are contributing to the possible reintegration of prisoners. It appears that Vandeputte’s vision is different to that of restorative chaplaincy. He has good reasons for his view. Pastoral actions have a significance in themselves, which exists even before they contribute to realizing external goals, such as the reintegration of prisoners in society. Prison chaplaincy can certainly have a therapeutic effect or cause behavioral change, and there is empirical research to prove it.18 But prison chaplaincy is important even apart from these results. e function of a liturgical celebration for instance is not to improve the atmosphere in the ward, even though this is an effect that could easily occur. e liturgy is meaningful in itself: it is about the salvific encounter between God and humans. Chaplaincy therefore has a dignity of its own, even before it contributes to any external goals such as the restoration of ruptured relationships, although it is, of course, all the better if it does. 2. The Message of Orthopraxy is independence of prison chaplaincy also implies that the message that it seeks to convey is not fixed beforehand, as it is in other forms of communication in prison.19 Any topic might potentially become the subject of a pastoral conversation. Prisoners are free to express themselves and to raise any subject they want. Vandeputte is confident that his listening attitude will prompt prisoners to ask questions — questions about his motivation. is is a missionary attitude that has very old credentials. e early church already sought to provoke questions by giving asylum to refugees, by prac17 Cf. Pieter De Witte, “Restorative Justice and Catholic Prison Chaplaincy: eoretical and Practical Reflections,” in For Justice and Mercy: International Reflections on Prison Chaplaincy, ed. Ryan van Eijk, Gerard Loman and eo W. A. de Wit (Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2016), 157-173. 18 Cf.  Tobias Brandner, Gottesbegegnungen im Gefängnis: Eine Praktische Theologie der Gefangenenseelsorge (Frankfurt a.M.: Lembeck, 2009), 94-99. 19 Cf.  Samuel Buser, Psychotherapie und Seelsorge im Strafvollzug: Unterschiede und Gemeinsamkeiten (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), 159.



ticing hospitality, or by looking aer the interests of the sick and of children. e first element is referenced in the article when the chaplain speaks about the function that monasteries can have in accommodating ex-prisoners. A certain form of orthopraxy, i.e. living the faith visibly, can become a form of proclaiming the gospel as soon as people begin to wonder what Christians do, or as soon as they become annoyed at it. According to the newspaper article, the chaplain expresses his motivation in relation to the prisoners as follows: first and foremost, you are a human being; as a Christian, I distinguish between you and your deeds. Prison chaplains possibly recognize the theological basis for this attitude: Christians believe that everyone was created in God’s image, and therefore has an indelible dignity as a creature. We have already seen this in chapter 5 in relation to children. is is also what chaplains try to convey to people in detention. eir unconditional openness can then become “a symbol of God’s unconditional acceptance without having to mention this explicitly on every occasion.”20 God’s mercy is always there, even if someone has committed a punishable crime.21 at is the prison chaplain’s motive for assisting prisoners, for approaching them as human beings rather than criminals, not to condemn them, to give them space, and accept them as persons — without condoning their deeds. Chaplains personify presence, not just their own presence, but also the divine presence. is is why the very “existence of prison chaplaincy is in itself a witness: every human being has a soul that is loved by God and that deserves care, from the person him- or herself, but also from others and from society.”22 3. The Liturgy in Prison Vandeputte then points out that his approach can build a relationship of trust. us, prisoners start coming to the Eucharist or to other services held in prison. Spiritual and existential questions are very much at the 20

Ralf Günther, “Gefängnisseelsorge: Eine Seelsorge auf der Schwelle zwischen einander fremden Diskurswelten,” in Entwickeltes Leben: Neue Herausforderungen für die Seelsorge, ed.  Michael Böhme et al. (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2002), 309-336, at 332. 21 Cf. Stephen T. Hall, “A Working eology of Prison Ministry,” The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling 58 (2004): 169-178, at 172-174. 22 Erik Borgman, “Een bevrijdende God in de gevangenis? eologische reflecties op justitiepastoraat,” in ‘Graag een normaal gesprek’: Geestelijk verzorgers aan het werk met gedetineerden, ed. eo de Wit et al. (Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2012), 11-22, at 17.



fore in a correctional facility, and the number of religious activities is usually relatively high.23 Many prisoners not only are faithful churchgoers, but they read the Bible, meditate, participate in pastoral discussion groups, and are interested in spiritual issues. Lelièvre’s motivation for his parole request is certainly not unusual. Seen against the background of this interest, presiding at the liturgy is an important task for prison chaplains. Celebrations interrupt the daily course of life, and penetrate the secularized setting of the detention center by a different layer. e incense that can be used during the service can be a symbol of this: it can be smelled outside the chapel, too. Especially in moments of crisis, such as aer a suicide, the ritual competence of prison chaplains is important to help deal with the experience. is is not only true for the prisoners, but also for the staff. As one would expect, prisoners have a wide range of diverging motives for taking part in a service.24 e chaplain in the newspaper article mentions boredom, which can be relieved by going to a liturgical celebration. Another motive that prisoners have can be that they want to curry favor with the prison administration, which has the power to evaluate every prisoner’s every move to assess their moral and mental state. is also influences liturgical participation. Empirical research has demonstrated, however, that the religious motive is paramount.25 Oen a gradual shi takes place over time: initially, prisoners go for non-religious reasons, later they go for explicitly religious motives. Naturally, these motives cannot always be totally separated from each other. 4. Reception of Former Detainees Veerle Beel concludes the article with an urgent problem, one which Lelièvre is also facing. Because society is not very forgiving, it is becoming more difficult to grant early release. Outside the prison, prisoners are still regarded as criminals. Society stigmatizes them, even if they have 23

Cf. Brandner, Gottesbegegnungen im Gefängnis, 79-99. Cf.  Irene Becci and Joachim Willems, “Gefängnisseelsorge in der sich wandelnden ostdeutschen Gesellscha: Eine Analyse der kulturellen, theologischen und sozialen Spannungen,” International Journal of Practical Theology 13 (2009): 90-120, at 97. 25 Cf.  Leo Spruit, “Het religieus profiel van gedetineerden, met het oog op herstelgericht pastoraat,” in Handboek justitiepastoraat: Context, theologie en praktijk van het protestants en rooms-katholiek justitiepastoraat, ed. Fred H.M. van Iersel and Jan D.W. Eerbeek (Budel: Damon, 2009), 155-170, at 160 and following. 24



fully served their sentence. According to Henk Van Andel, this has gone so far that detainees want to stay in prison once their term is over. Legally, they are permitted to begin a new life, but in fact, society denies them this opportunity. One aspect of the problem is that there are not enough places where former detainees can go. Monasteries in particular function as a kind of hostel where people can stay for a short period of time. According to the two chaplains, there is no structural support from the churches or the government for this, even though the legislation for this is in place. Monasteries fill the gap, something they also did in earlier periods of church history. As Van Andel points out at the end, the situation with regard to the reception of ex-detainees is different in the Netherlands. e Netherlands has a Christian-inspired organization called Exodus, which offers follow-up care to people who have been released from prison.26 On the one hand, Exodus offers them shelter and counseling in its hostels. On the other, it has a network of volunteers who support detainees and their families within and outside prison. e approach Exodus takes can be defined through its key terms of living, working, building or rebuilding relationships, and spirituality. ere is evidence that this approach works, particularly in the long term, for instance in reducing recidivism.27 Another comparable Dutch initiative for ex-detainees is Kerken met Stip.28 Question ese observations on the work of prison chaplains have been made on the basis of a newspaper article. Imagine that you are a prison warden: how would you look at these observations? Address the restorative justice model of prison chaplaincy in particular.


Cf. Exodus, [accessed November 14, 2019]. Cf. Sigrid van Wingerden et al., Recidive en nazorg: Onderzoek onder oudbewoners van Exodus, DOOR, Moria & Ontmoeting (e Hague: Boom Juridische Uitgevers, 2010). 28 Cf. Reijer J. de Vries, “Samenleven in geschonken vrijheid: Hoe geloofsgemeenschappen in de nazorg de verbinding met ex-gedetineerden kunnen versterken,” in Niet storen? Geestelijke verzorging in borderline times, ed.  eo W. A. de Wit et al. (Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2017), 71-83. 27



IV. Evaluation: The Institutional Place of the Prison Chaplain – Standing at Boundaries Now that we have analyzed the newspaper article, we can concentrate more fully on the work that prison chaplains do.29 e prison context poses challenges for chaplains quite different from a spiritual center or a parish. Prisons are total institutions. ese have certain characteristics: life in a total institution is fixed and limited, time is clearly structured, individual decisions are reduced to a minimum, there is a clear hierarchy with various complementary roles (for instance guards versus prisoners), and the leadership of the total institution decides what happens.30 1. The Special Position of Prison Chaplains in Total Institutions Prison chaplains occupy a special position within the total institution of a detention center: within certain limits, they have the means to create a sanctuary. ey are more autonomous than the prisoners, but also than their fellow professionals. Prison chaplains can create scope for detainees to be themselves, for instance through the confidentiality that they promise to keep on the basis of their professional secrecy and the seal of confession. Welfare workers or people who organize cultural activities in their own way also offer this kind of scope to prisoners. At the same time, the experiences of volunteers in prisons can be a source of inspiration and enrichment to the church outside.31 On the one hand, prison chaplains belong to the institution, but on the other hand, they are outsiders, because they are able to move through the prison spontaneously and without having to account for themselves to the administration, and because they are able to make contact with prisoners themselves. Prison chaplains occupy a special position within the hierarchy of the total institution, and they also personify life outside. ey are a personal bridge between two worlds: during the day they live among the detainees, but at night they go home. 29 For the following see also Stefan Gärtner, “Wat doet een justitiepastor? Reflecties op zijn werk in inter-personeel, systemisch-contextueel en ecclesiologisch opzicht,” in Twee heren dienen: Geestelijke verzorgers en hun beroepseer, ed. eo de Wit et al. (Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2011), 73-93. 30 Cf.  Erving Goffman, Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968). 31 Cf. Tobias Brandner, “Volunteer Visitors in Prison: Prison Ministry as a Ministry to the Community,” in For Justice and Mercy, ed. van Eijk, Loman and de Wit, 131-146.



Furthermore, chaplains work in the prison with a mission from a particular church. at is the legal basis for their special position, and it gives them an autonomous status that is guaranteed by the government. is status is not absolute, however, because it is always dependent on the good will of the prison administration. When it comes to the liturgical services they offer, for instance, the administration can easily sabotage these by excluding prisoners from attendance by way of punishment, or by refusing to make a suitable space available. e prison chaplain’s special role is therefore characterized by ambivalence. Prison chaplains have difficult intermediary positions; they are ‘frontier workers’. In a sense, chaplains are strangers in prison without wanting to be outsiders. “e particular challenge that prison chaplaincy faces is to endure this tension personally and professionally, without attempting to realize one-sided solutions.”32 Prison chaplains are caught in a crossfire. is is a problem, but it is also an opportunity that their work offers. Divided Loyalties Prison chaplains have divided loyalties.33 In Belgium and e Netherlands they are paid by the government, but at the same time, they are affiliated to a church or some other religious or spiritual body. ey have to wear two hats: as a civil servant and as a church minister. is sometimes makes them feel like tightrope walkers, and on occasion, that is what they are.34 We have already mentioned this ambivalence of chaplaincy in chapter 2. eir religious affiliation means that prison chaplains have a denominational embedding, and that they have been sent to minister to the members of their church who need spiritual care and counseling in prison. e newspaper article already demonstrates that this approach is not always viable, because the target group of prison chaplaincy is multireligious, multicultural, and multi-ethnic. In many cases, chaplains from various backgrounds work together. Prison administrators regard 32 Michael Klessmann, Seelsorge: Begleitung, Begegnung, Lebensdeutung im Horizont des christlichen Glaubens (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2008), 369. 33 Cf.  Ryan van Eijk, “Twee heren dienen: Pastor en ook nog ambtenaar? Hoe twee heren geloofwaardig dienen,” in Twee heren dienen, ed. de Wit et al., 7-24. 34 Cf. Ralf Günther, Seelsorge auf der Schwelle: Eine linguistische Analyse von Seelsorgegesprächen im Gefängnis (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005), 256-298.



chaplains as experts on religious issues, on religion and contingency in general (i.e. apart from any denominational affiliation).35 is is not to say that there are no detainees — for instance from Latin America or from Islamic backgrounds — who specifically expect to meet a priest or an imam. It is also part of prison chaplains’ ambivalent intermediary position that they are appointed to minister to the prisoners. As chaplains, they want to be advocates for these people, both within and outside the total institution. On the other hand, prison chaplains also want to be welcoming toward staff and colleagues in the penitentiary.36 ese people sometimes also need spiritual care. In addition, chaplains in prisons need to maintain good relationships with all the staff, because if they do not, they might not get very far — both literally and metaphorically. 2. The Impact of the Setting A further aspect of the ‘frontier position’ of prison chaplains is that the context greatly affects their work. ey do their work in a manipulative, oen strongly male-dominated environment. In their interactions with others, prisoners oen exercise the pressure they themselves feel from the total institution. One example is that they communicate very directly and brashly. Language is oen coarse, and this is only one aspect of the enormous impact that the context has on pastoral and spiritual care in prison. Another example is the habit of certain detainees to always justify themselves. ey adopt a strategic attitude: they try to present their life’s story and their deeds in as good a light as possible, because that is what they are used to doing when talking to representatives of the institution. A further aspect is that communication is increasingly in ‘legalese’: many experiences in prison are narrated in legal language, and this also affects chaplaincy work. A fourth example of how the context of the correctional facility influences the work of prison chaplains is the time regime, because that also determines the rhythm of pastoral and spiritual care. ose who avail themselves of chaplaincy services in prison are not masters of their own time.

35 Cf.  Becci and Willems, “Gefängnisseelsorge in der sich wandelnden ostdeutschen Gesellscha,” 102-109. 36 Cf. Willi Nafzger, “Gefängnisseelsorge als theologische Herausforderung,” in Nachdenkliche Seelsorge – seelsorgliches Nachdenken: Festschrift für Christoph Morgenthaler zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Isabelle Noth and Ralph Kunz (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), 170-183.



3. A Sanctuary as a Niche in the System? Within these limits, many chaplains do succeed in creating a sanctuary within the prison. However, this is only a niche in a system to which the people who come to them are totally and permanently subjected. e prison administration may or may not give detainees a small degree of autonomy for practical reasons, for instance on how they pass their leisure time. But detainees nonetheless always remain “objects of frequent information. ey are never subjects in communication.”37 It is therefore a paradox of prison chaplaincy that even though chaplains can guarantee an open space, in doing so they contribute to propping up the detention system as a whole. For instance, they may offer consolation and support, or channel prisoners’ aggression. ese things can make the situation bearable again for detainees, and in this very way, prison chaplains assist in securing the stability of the total institution. At the same time, many chaplains are reluctant to be uncritical cogs in the wheel of the prison system. In practice, it is not easy to give concrete expression to this reluctance. Unlike parish pastors, prison chaplains work in a context of subjection (like their colleagues in the military). Resistance, or even taking a critical attitude, are difficult to sustain in these settings. A chaplain, for example, who files a complaint against the way a guard treated a prisoner, would create a serious conflict. On the one hand, prison chaplains with their special role can guarantee a place of sanctuary in prison, where prisoners have space to breathe again. On the other, in doing so, prison chaplains stabilize the total institution, and thus they also contribute to keeping it alive.38 On this issue, too, they have to risk crossing boundaries, because there is no escape from the conditions that the prison dictates. In this respect, there are certain similarities between prison chaplains and the people they encounter. 4. Possibilities of Prison Chaplaincy Without anticipating the next section (stimulation) too much, it is clear at this point that it is important that prison chaplains act responsibly when, inevitably, they have to cross boundaries within the total institution. e challenge is to make optimal use of the available space within this system. Although strict rules mean many things are fixed, prison chaplains can make a personal impact in a prison. eir unrestricted presence on wards is one example. e Catholic chaplain in the newspaper article pointed to 37 38

Drexler, “Den Gefangenen die Entlassung verkünden?,” 174. Cf. Günther, Seelsorge auf der Schwelle, 200-203.



the importance of the resulting possibility of low-threshold first contact — although this only works in prisons with an open cell system. Such initial contact creates the conditions for subsequent pastoral encounters.39 It allows prisoners to size up the chaplain, but the spontaneous small talk that it involves also establishes symmetrical communication, and the value of this must not be underestimated. For detainees, mutual contact is only very rarely possible with representatives of the institution. Seen against this background, the small talk in which prison chaplains (and other professionals) engage with detainees is very significant. It symbolizes this: we are talking to each other as equals, even though we are different. In conversations about the weather or about Champions League results, everyone is an expert with the same authority. In doing so, prison chaplains point to an alternative to the axioms of the total institution. ey treat the other as a fellow human being and not as a criminal. Normally, detainees are equated with their crimes in prison, and prisoners are constantly confronted with this identification. While they are secretly reflecting on how to get out as quickly as possible, the total institution expects them to engage in an honest confrontation with the question of how they can become better people.40 Critical self-reflection and acknowledgement of the crimes they have been punished for are regarded as conditions for successful resocialization. Of course these things are necessary. But this focus can lead to detainees adopting this habit of equating the crime and the perpetrator and integrating it in their own self-image as a kind of stigmatization. “Aer a few career years, many prisoners have become artefacts of the justice and prison systems. ey have successfully adapted to this system, because it builds on prior deformations and frictions in their personalities.”41 ey are at risk of having their lives reduced to being-a-criminal. Prison chaplaincy as an unconditional offer to everyone questions this reduction. For the chaplain, the human being is the central focus. Prison chaplains also look for people’s good intentions and positive skills, and in this way, they can make a difference in the prisons they work in.

Cf.  Johannes Rehm, “Kirche im Gefängnis: Seelsorge in einer ‛totalen Institution’,” in Theologie im Gespräch: Eine Agenda für die Zukunft, ed. Bernd J. Hilberath and Karl J. Kuschel (Frankfurt a.M.: Lembeck, 2006), 248-262, at 258 and following. 40 Cf.  Martin Hagenmaier, “Seelsorge im Gefängnis,” Wege zum Menschen 59 (2007): 212-234, at 218 and following. 41 Ibid., 231. 39



Question Compare the context of prison chaplaincy with the situation in a parish or another setting that you are familiar with. What similarities can you think of, and what differences?

V. Stimulation: Communicating across Boundaries in Prisons At the conclusion of the previous section, we asked how prison chaplains can act responsibly in detention centers and what motivations they might have for their actions; the current section will look more closely at this issue. 1. Chaplains as Translators Chaplains are needed in correctional facilities as translators. Sometimes this is true in the literal sense of the term: when they happen to know a foreign prisoner’s native language and are thus able to help him or her communicate. It is also true metaphorically. Chaplains can mediate in conflicts between prisoners, or they can act as interpreters between prisoners and their relatives. But there is also a third way in which chaplains can act as translators. ey can be interpreters between the Christian traditions and prisoners’ life stories.42 ey try to translate Biblical texts, songs, experiences, symbols, or rituals from their own religious tradition into the usually different religious perspective of prisoners, and vice versa. 1. Incongruity between Chaplain and Prisoner is perspective on prison chaplains as interpreters entails that no common reality is implied at the beginning of a pastoral contact. is aspect has already been mentioned in the methodological reflection in section II. Chaplains have a different perspective of the institution than detainees, because they are not incarcerated themselves. is becomes evident in diverging ways of speaking, because language reflects reality. We have pointed out that communication tends to be more direct in prisons than in the outside world. One example is that chaplains can expect to receive immediate feedback on their sermons, through interruption or applause. 42 Cf.  R. Ruard Ganzevoort and Jan Visser, Zorg voor het verhaal: Achtergrond, methode en inhoud van pastorale begeleiding (Zoetermeer: Meinema, 2007), 95-98.



A common reality and a common language that chaplains and prisoners share must first be discovered. In prison chaplaincy, “people communicate with each other from different worlds, from different institutional roles, from very diverse expectations of what is normal, diverse values and norms, and experiences and habits of interaction. is is why the (…) incongruity between the interlocutors is particularly clearly visible.”43 We have spoken in chapters 1 and 2 about this characteristic of late modern society: the radical experience of difference. e other is unlike me. What is true in general for contemporary pastoral care is even more strongly visible in the context of a prison. is is yet another reason why prison chaplains are permanently in a frontier zone. ey carry their own language, ideas, faith, expectations, and desires into the penitentiary institution. At the same time, they have to be capable of understanding other people’s language, ideas, faith, expectations, and desires, at least at a basic level. e same is true for detainees with regard to the chaplains. If all parties are prepared to engage with this task, mutual communication will be successful, and mutual trust can begin to grow. It is a process of rapprochement and negotiation, a search for common ground between two worlds, which will remain different. In this search, the differences between chaplain and prisoner sometimes prove greater than the mutual understanding, and they will remain strangers to each other. eir individual understanding of reality will remain different. Oen this is due to the fact that they each ascribe conflicting goals to pastoral care. To take once again the example of the presence model: prison chaplains use this to symbolize the attention that God has for every person. But detainees can interpret this attitude in a different way. Many of them are not used to talking about painful experiences. ey interpret the chaplain’s unconditional and disinterested presence as weakness.44 In some cases, they hope to use the chaplain for their own purposes. is example shows that the divides that separate the various parties involved in prison chaplaincy are not easy to bridge. 2. Communication in Prison Chaplaincy On the other hand, true communication does occur in prison, as the result of a negotiating process that is oen implicit. All parties have to be willing to temporarily bracket their own expectations of normality to 43

Günther, Seelsorge auf der Schwelle, 262. Cf. Marion Grant, Personzentrierter Umgang mit Schuld in der Gefängnisseelsorge (Münster: LIT, 2002), 111. 44



become acquainted with an alien way of speaking and thinking. Without this, one party can easily overwhelm the other. For instance, prison chaplains could impose superficial theological language upon the experiences of detainees. Conversely, detainees could abuse chaplains as punching bags for their frustrations and aggression. What is lacking in both cases is a real quest for mutual contact. e prison chaplain thus fulfils the role of a translator. His or her task is the “staging of contact between diverging discursive worlds.”45 In this process, one world cannot be allowed to oppress the other. Instead, chaplains should be multilingual: they have a certain responsibility and ability to create space for the experience of the other person in pastoral care, but they should also be able to make themselves understood. Even if they succeed in doing so, only a partial convergence is likely to occur between the realities of the detainees and their own reality. 2. Spirituality as a Frame of Reference for Prison Chaplaincy In their role as interpreters, the involvement of prison chaplains in the experience of prisoners primarily takes place at a very particular level. eir primary frame of reference can be described as ‘spirituality’; even though they may also have secondary frames of reference, for instance in the field of psychology.46 Our point here is to address a holistic approach to people in which the different aspects of a person’s life’s story are all viewed in conjunction with each other. e spiritual is one of these aspects. 1. What Is Spirituality? Prison chaplains are sometimes called spiritual caregivers or counselors for a reason, even though it is not always immediately clear to outsiders what this means. And this in itself is no surprise, because the concept of spirituality is used in different contexts. So what meaning are we using? It is clearly not a self-evident category.47 We have nevertheless chosen it because spirituality is broader than religion, faith, or sensitivity to the transcendent (these concepts are strongly reminiscent of a Christian background). is is why we prefer spirituality, even though the concept is not sacrosanct for us. 45

Günther, “Gefängnisseelsorge,” 316. Cf. Jan H. M. Mooren, Geestelijke verzorging en psychotherapie (Utrecht: De Graaff, 2008). 47 Cf.  Hans Schilderman, Wat is er geestelijk aan de geestelijke zorg? (Nijmegen: Radboud Universiteit, 2009). 46



It is a comprehensive term that receives specific meaning in everyday practice: someone is a Catholic, a humanist, a Muslim, an atheist etc. It  is wise to distinguish between the concept in itself and the various particular interpretations of it. is distinction makes it possible to engage prisoners in a conversation about the spiritual even if they say that God means nothing to them. ey possibly do have spiritual thoughts and experiences without using any religious language. is flexibility is in fact an advantage of the broad term that ‘spirituality’ is. It means something to everyone, even if it appears vague at first sight. Spirituality is an anthropological constant. It can be regarded as something that simply belongs to someone’s life.48 Chaplains who suppose that people have a spiritual sensibility will approach people in a different way than if they look primarily for distinguishing features of their own denomination. In the first case, they expect to have something in common with the persons they meet. In the second, they are likely to concentrate on shortcomings. 2. A Holistic Anthropology Spirituality does not exist in separation from other perspectives that detainees use to interpret themselves and their situation behind bars. Although everyone experiences themselves as a whole, at a certain distance we can distinguish several mutually intertwined aspects within this unity. is is what we mean when we speak of a holistic anthropology. Spirituality is only one aspect of life, but it is an aspect that is integrated into life. It is part of the reality of prisoners. e fact that detainees are cut off from ordinary life outside confronts them with the relevance of existential questions. Empirical research has shown “that their level of religious practice had increased in prison compared to outside.”49 Everything they experience there also affects the spiritual dimension of their life story. is dimension sheds light on this one aspect of a comprehensive reality. e same is true for other dimensions, such as the somatic, mental, sexual, relational, psychological, biological, ethical, esthetical, or social.50 Human beings interpret their experiences at 48 Cf.  Larry VandeCreek and Laurel Burton, “Professional Chaplaincy: Its Role and Importance in Healthcare,” The Journal of Pastoral Care 55 (2001): 81-97, at 82 and following. 49 Irene Becci, “Religion’s Multiple Locations in Prison: Germany, Italy, Switzerland,” Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions 56 (2011): 65-84, at 79. 50 Cf.  Ren van Schrojenstein Lantman, Levensverhalen in het ziekteproces: Over geestelijke verzorging en interdisciplinaire samenwerking (Dwingeloo: Kavanah, 2007), 51-65.



various levels, even though we are normally not conscious of this. It only becomes clear once the interplay between two or more levels is disrupted: a prisoner becomes the victim of bullying in prison (social level) because he or she is old, and cannot keep up with younger detainees’ physical toughness (biological level), and this makes him or her ill (somatic level). Guilt is another example. In prison, this has relational aspects such as the loneliness and isolation that detainees experience, but the relationship (or lack thereof) with their victim or victims is also part of it. e legal dimension of guilt is strongly present in daily life as well, for instance in relation to penalties, parole, or rewards for good behavior. Moreover, prisoners experience their punishment at the somatic level: they are incarcerated, are subject to the institutional time rhythm, have no or difficult access to medicines, cannot cook any meals themselves or wear personal clothing, and they have little or no possibility for sexual contact. In addition to these aspects, the experience of being guilty has a spiritual dimension, which may take the form of questions about meaning or longing for forgiveness and reconciliation. is example shows that experiences always have different interlocking aspects. 3. Chaplains Are Experts in Spirituality Prison chaplains are regarded as experts in the field of one of these aspects. eir primary frame of reference is situated at that level. Chaplains focus on spirituality in the lives of prisoners, but in doing so they include all other levels in the pastoral care they give. ey will deal with any subject, as long as the process of accompaniment retains an openness to the spiritual dimension. Prison chaplains do not speak at a remove from reality; they try to identify the spiritual dimension within the specific experiences that detainees have.51 ey may have a good pastoral conversation without mentioning the name of Jesus Christ even once. Even so, something may have changed at the spiritual level. In this way, the spiritual is integrated into the various other levels of someone’s life.52 is is the basis of the expertise of prison chaplains. In the same way, the other professions that can be found in prisons represent other specializations. e primary frame of reference of prison 51 Cf. Henk Veltkamp, “Domein, identiteit en passie van de geestelijke verzorging,” in Nieuw handboek geestelijke verzorging, ed. Jaap Doolaard (Kampen: Kok, 2006), 147-159. 52 Cf. Sibylle Rolf, Vom Sinn zum Trost: Überlegungen zur Seelsorge im Horizont einer relationalen Ontologie (Münster: LIT, 2003), 111-113.



psychologists consists of psychological issues, but these issues cannot be isolated from physical complaints, for instance. Religious aspects are increasingly included in treatments and therapies, too.53 In the same way, chaplains start from the spiritual dimension to address other aspects of reality as it exists for prisoners. Conversely, they also give prisoners the opportunity to explore the spiritual aspects of experiences they are accustomed to interpret at other levels. What are the advantages of this perspective on spirituality, which incidentally applies not only to prison chaplaincy? An important one is that it makes it possible to clarify — in the secular context of a penitentiary institution — what prison chaplaincy stands for, without having to use Christian language and without clinging exclusively to one’s own frame of reference. A narrow attitude is unlikely to suffice as justification for prison chaplaincy in late modernity, but a holistic anthropology offers opportunities for alternative strategies of legitimation. On this basis, chaplains can work together very well with other professionals. is view corresponds to the latter’s approach to their own disciplines.54 Every profession uses its own framework, but also possesses secondary frames of references that connect with the expertise of other professions. By being attentive to the many layers that exist in people’s lives, prison chaplains can create a strong profile for their own expertise, and at the same time work together on an equal footing with other professions in correctional facilities. 3. Mediating Christian Traditions Spirituality as a comprehensive term can thus greatly assist prison chaplains to define their role. On the other hand, they also represent a specific denomination. Chaplains are rooted in Christian traditions and have received a mission from a faith community. ere is no reason why this contradicts what we have just said about spirituality, as long as we regard the faith as one of the many possibilities to articulate this dimension of someone’s life’s story. Even within denominations, there exists a diversity of views in late modern society. Catholic detainees sometimes have a different way of believing than prison chaplains, perhaps as a result of a different ethnic or cultural background. 53

Cf. Margreet de Vries-Schot, Gezonde godsdienstigheid en heilzaam geloof: Verheldering van concepten vanuit de psychologie, psychiatrie en de theologie (Del: Eburon, 2006), 31-73. 54 Cf. Buser, Psychotherapie und Seelsorge im Strafvollzug, 106-131.



An additional factor is that it is not a given that the spiritual dimension will always be present in pastoral contact. Prisons are total institutions where spiritual issues are rarely on the official agenda, unlike in monasteries for instance. Also, prisoners may well be unversed in this aspect of their life story, a feature that is true for late modern society as a whole. “Spiritual baggage has become very lightweight, or is all jumbled up.”55 is is why prison chaplains should beware of simply equating spirituality with the Christian faith. 1. Articulating Spirituality On the other hand, we have pointed out that questions about meaning and religion are in fact very important for many detainees. is is not to say that their repertoire is necessarily Christian, but prisoners do not invent their own repertoire themselves. ey use language, symbols, rituals, and stories that they encounter in the various religious traditions and in late modern culture. ere is a range of options in the field of spirituality. Prisoners may use these for their own spiritual language and actions. ey will appropriate something that comes from outside to articulate what lives inside them. is can then manifest itself in very traditional ways, as Latin American, Eastern European, or Islamic prisoners show. For others, the spiritual aspects of their lives are fluid and ambiguous. Prisoners sometimes choose the language that suits them from seemingly contradictory sources, with very heterogeneous results. A third category of prisoners will give chaplains only the briefest of glimpses into their spiritual world, like the drug addict who told a chaplain in a light-hearted moment that he always said a Hail Mary before shooting up. As translators, prison chaplains can lay open the various ways in which prisoners express the spiritual aspects of their lives.56 Moreover, prison chaplains can propose texts, symbols, images, stories, and rituals that help detainees to articulate this level of experience. ey could for instance connect a prisoner’s current situation with a story from the Bible, or with some other spiritual source. Prisoners can find characters in these stories with whom they can identify.57 Aer all,

55 Hetty Zock, “Leven van verhalen: De narratieve benadering in psychologie en pastoraat,” in Op verhaal komen: Religieuze biografie en geestelijke gezondheid, ed. Ad van Heeswijk et al. (Tilburg: KSGV, 2006), 78-88, at 83. 56 Cf.  Nafzger, “Gefängnisseelsorge als theologische Herausforderung,” 173 and following. 57 Cf. Gerhard Scholte, “David in spagaat: Davids leven als bron van reflectie in het justitiepastoraat,” in Bijbel & Vast: Over Bijbel en gevangenispastoraat, ed. eo van Dun et al. (Budel: Damon, 2010), 168-191, at 186-190.



as far as the gospel is concerned, its main character, Jesus Christ, is also a convicted criminal. One condition for this process of identification is that chaplains learn to understand the spiritual profile of the prisoners, at least at a basic level. Prison chaplains should be attentive to those moments when the spiritual suddenly comes to the fore in pastoral contact. Acceptance and critical respect for their fellow human beings are other conditions. We have already said that prison chaplains should look for the human being behind the prisoner, for the person behind the behavior. Moreover, a reliable relationship is the indispensable foundation for all pastoral communication. 2. What Prison Chaplains Have to Offer Once these conditions have been met, prison chaplains also try to present the offer of a specific spiritual language based on Christian traditions. Prison chaplains want to break down aspects of these traditions to make them comprehensible to detainees. Chaplains will seek to connect with a certain set of beliefs, stories, memories, experiences, songs, gestures, and rituals. e Christian faith is the frame of reference within which they interpret spirituality. Renouncing this frame of reference would neglect their own identity as chaplains. Neither would it fully respect the prisoners. Chaplains who do this would, in effect, be disregarding their responsibilities. ey would not truly be taking the prisoners seriously in the necessary process of rapprochement and negotiation that we outlined above. e chaplain would be abandoning his or her own position. But there is no such thing as a general form of pastoral care. What being would a ‘neutral prayer’ address, for instance? Prison chaplains have a particular denominational profile, although of course this can and should evolve. Spirituality for them has a concrete meaning, even though they may be critical of the church as an institution, or find it difficult to connect certain doctrines with their own personal spirituality. e same is true for the detainees. ey too will give personal shape to the spiritual layer, even though they may have fewer words at their disposal than the chaplains do. Some are not familiar with Christian language, but tap in to other resources, whether these are religious or not. Others are very interested in Christianity without being believers themselves. And for a third category it may be the case that even rejecting the prison chaplain’s spiritual language can be part of successful pastoral contact. Contradiction can be an incentive to come to new insights.58 58 Cf. Stefan Gärtner, “Prophetic Pastoral Care: Resistance Potential in Late Modernity?,” in Prophetic Witness in World Christianities: Rethinking Pastoral



It can help chaplains to understand their faith in a different light. Also, it is oen the case that spontaneous rejection of the chaplain can subsequently become the basis for a good pastoral conversation as long as the chaplain is able to deal with the initial rejection. 3. Christian Traditions as a Change of Perspective By explicitly referring to their Christian frame of reference, prison chaplains can connect the situations of people in prison with a wider story. is can clarify for prisoners that they face challenges that others have faced too; others who found answers that can be meaningful even today.59 Prisoners’ lives are connected with a perspective that transcends them and shows that they are not alone in their experiences of loneliness, guilt, sadness, shame, bitterness, or rage. ese experiences manifest ordinary human challenges; they are not exclusively linked to their current detention. Chaplains can mediate the gospel as a source of such salutary knowledge and praxis. It contains the attitudes, experiences, strategies for action, and rituals of other people that can offer orientation to detainees. ese could become specific models of interpretation and behavior for the prisoners. “Everyone can ‘learn’ from the substantive and ritual treasures of a tradition like the Christian without therefore having to be a believer in God or first having to become a Christian.”60 is tradition can present a way to prisoners of acquiring a new interpretation of their situation, a situation which in fact offers little room for maneuver. A new perspective on reality can be salutary, even though the specific circumstances of life remain unchanged: crimes cannot be undone and detention will continue. Prison chaplains and the Christian faith can offer the possibility of effecting a change in perspective in the midst of such situations. One example is prisoners’ possible acknowledgement of their own guilt on the basis of God’s preceding acceptance of the perpetrator, as God distinguishes between the sinner and his deeds. God does not seek to judge or condemn; in mercy, divine love extends to the whole person.61 is experience creates a space where the need to suppress failure is no longer felt. Care and Counseling, ed.  Annemie Dillen and Anne Vandenhoeck (Münster: LIT, 2011), 23-29, at 26 and following. 59 Cf.  Anne-Mie Jonckheere, “Pastoraat in een justitiële jeugdinrichting: Ruimte scheppen voor levensvragen en spirituele groei,” Praktische Theologie 32 (2005): 57-74, at 65-71. 60 Ibid., 72. 61 Cf. Spruit, “Het religieus profiel van gedetineerden, met het oog op herstelgericht pastoraat,” 156 and following.



e  chaplain’s unconditional presence can symbolize this space behind bars.62 God wants to save the individual from his or her guilt. His mercy makes mutual reconciliation between people possible, without diminishing the crime that has been punished and its consequences for the victims. Interpreting this experience for detainees is one example of how the gospel can be a salutary influence in prison chaplaincy. Question Compose a job advertisement for a prison chaplain. What requirements should the suitable candidate meet? 4. Translating the Bible in Prison We will conclude this chapter by illustrating the chaplain’s role as a cross-boundary translator with a second example.63 We will look for this at the basic document of the Christian faith: the Bible. Prison chaplains oen observe that individual prisoners take a greater-thanaverage interest in the Book of Books. In prison chaplaincy, the Bible is primarily used in services and, to a lesser degree, in group meetings and pastoral conversations.64 1. Interpreting between Text and Situation e Bible may seem old-fashioned. Its frequently odd language points to a world that seems far removed from reality in prison. Together with prisoners, chaplains face the task of interpreting between the old, sometimes difficult text on the one hand, and the current situation behind bars on the other. is is not always easy. Many prison chaplains feel sometimes that the Bible has little relevance to the context of the penitentiary, and many detainees surely feel the same way, with certain exceptions. People in late modernity experience a deep chasm between the Bible and their own world. is is all the more so for people who live in a total institution. Prison chaplains have to assess this distance correctly. e old texts do not have immediate solutions for the problems that detainees 62 Cf. Isolde Karle, “Wenn es keinen Ausweg gibt: Seelsorge im Gefängnis,” Wege zum Menschen 63 (2011): 230-245. 63 Cf. Stefan Gärtner, “Communiceren met de gedetineerde: Grondbeginselen en concretiseringen,” in ‘Graag een normaal gesprek’, ed. de Wit et al., 29-32. 64 Cf. van Dun et al., Bijbel & Vast: Over Bijbel en gevangenispastoraat.



face. e word of God should not be translated into ready-made answers that prisoners simply have to adopt. Chaplains who think they can find these kinds of answers in the Bible run the risk of misleading the detainees (situation) and remaining blind to the meaning that the Bible (text) could have today.65 e Christian faith is not a fast answer to all the problems that prisoners face in relation to guilt, violence, illness, loneliness, injustice, or tragedy. Instead, it is a way of dealing with these questions without becoming cynical or passive. It offers a certain perspective on reality. Prison chaplaincy cannot deny or resolve the limitations of a life behind bars. What prison chaplaincy can do, however, is to offer a way of accepting this contingency that goes beyond peddling cheap consolation. Having faith does not mean believing that the brokenness of existence will be healed before the end of time, but that it is possible to bear this brokenness in life. 2. Reframing through the Bible e cold facts of life oen do not change, but prisoners may come to adopt a new perspective on reality because the Bible has introduced a new viewpoint: God wants to have a relationship with every human being. e Bible wants to be an invitation to effect this perspectival shi, even if prisoners may not read the gospel as a faith text. is implies a certain tension, to the extent that every text (as the newspaper article discussed above shows) expresses a certain interest: the Bible wants readers to accept the faith. is becomes very explicit whenever chaplains read and explain the word of God in their homily during a service. is kerygmatic dimension will only be credible to a minority of the prison population. However, the Bible can be meaningful even if it is not used as a faith document. e incongruity that exists between the old text and the current context can be productive. “e connection with God’s story provides alternative ways of looking at your own life and at the problems you encounter there.”66 Prisoners may come to see their situation in a new light, precisely because the Bible is so different from what they usually encounter. is brings to light possibilities of action and perspectives on their own lives that were previously hidden. As a ‘strange’ book, the 65 Cf. Herbert Anderson, “e Bible and Pastoral Care,” in The Bible in Pastoral Practice: Readings in the Place and Function of Scripture in the Church, ed.  Paul Ballard and Steven R. Holmes (Cambridge and Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 195-211, at 196. 66 Ganzevoort and Visser, Zorg voor het verhaal, 143.



Bible introduces a new element. e gospel can be useful in prison chaplaincy to “abruptly interrupt a deadlocked pattern of experience or action in a salutary way, or in some cases even to disrupt it altogether.”67 e word of God can impact detainees, even if they do not (yet) believe in this text. It invites them to effect a change of perspective. is tension between a prisoners’ situation behind bars and the promises of the Bible can be provocative. “God has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives” (Luke 4:18). What effect does this have when you read this in prison? For a start, it sounds strange, because prisoners normally only attain liberty at the end of their term. But precisely for this reason, this pericope can be provocative in the sense that it provokes a reaction among detainees: protest, opposition, or ridicule, but perhaps also hope, trust, and future. e incongruity of the Bible challenges prisoners’ lives all the more radically. It gives rise to a surprising perspective. e customary logic that rules life behind bars is confronted with an alternative logic, and this can trigger a process of questioning and reframing.68 Reframing means that the normal frames in which detainees interpret their lives and specific experiences in prison are questioned. What looked obvious only a minute ago is now no longer self-evident. A new framework for these experiences has become credible, another spiritual perspective appears, and a new praxis seems possible. is is one way in which the word of God can be meaningful in prison, even though the dimension of faith will remain obscure for many detainees. Question Do you recognize this experience that a passage from the Bible or another text can cause a change in perspective? Further reading Tobias Brandner, Beyond the Walls of Separation: Christian Faith and Ministry in Prison (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014). Ryan van Eijk, Gerard Loman and eo W. A. de Wit, eds., For Justice and Mercy: International Reflections on Prison Chaplaincy (Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2016). 67

Peter Bukowski, De Bijbel ter sprake brengen: Een basisvraag in het pastoraat (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 2003), 56. 68 Cf.  Donald Capps, Reframing: A New Method in Pastoral Care (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1990), 55-107, at 147-168.

Part IV Frontier Zones: Practical Theological Perspectives

 The Boundaries and Possibilities of Power in Pastoral Care Stefan Gärtner

In part III, we mentioned two examples of subjects of practical theology: children and prison chaplains. is part will take a different approach, which we call frontier zone. It is about perspectives that transcend pastoral tasks, institutional settings, or ecclesial practices. Power, for instance, essentially belongs to our existence and is present in all human actions, including religious actions. In this chapter, the boundaries and salutary possibilities of power will be the subject of a practical theological investigation. As in previous chapters, section I will begin with an empirical example: the initial stage of pastoral contact in a hospital. e practical theological method of case study that can be used in education and research to analyze this situation will be discussed in section II. We will then use this method in sections III through V (observation, evaluation, and stimulation) to examine the risk of the abuse of power as well as the possibilities of pastoral empowerment.

I. Case A theology student is doing a traineeship as a hospital chaplain. She goes to see patients on her own initiative, even if she feels a little uncomfortable doing so. She does this on the basis of the right that chaplains have to make contact with patients on their own initiative, without a referral or indication, and without involving any consultation structures. At the same time, she does also attend the multidisciplinary meetings where the medical situation of patients is discussed. e patient in question is seriously ill and has undergone surgery the day before. e operation failed, meaning that there is no further treatment for the tumor in her abdomen. e student consults the



gynecologist beforehand to discuss whether the patient is already able to have a conversation so shortly aer the operation. According to this specialist, she is. e student also speaks to a nurse, who tells her that if she finds the woman asleep, she can just wake her up. e student’s expectations are that she will talk with this patient about the bad news, and that this will clarify whether the patient requires pastoral or spiritual care. In the aernoon she goes to the ward, knocks on the door and walks into the room where the  patient is lying, still dozing as she recovers from the anesthesia. e student approaches her and soly wakes her up by calling her name. S1: M1: S2:

Ms. O., I am a chaplain at the hospital and I’ve just come to see how you are. at’s very kind of you. I was planning to go to church on Sunday, but I had to cancel. No, that’s not what I’m here for. I’ve come to ask how you’re feeling. I come to this ward every week to offer support to people who need it. I come to see the people on the ward, and now I’ve come to see you. ere’s no obligation.

e student then sits down and the patient starts talking about her medical history and about last week’s events. is clearly tires her out quickly. M2: S3: M3: S4:

Would you mind coming back next week, I’ll be in a better condition for this then. I will do that. I hope you won’t hold it against me if it’s too much. I won’t hold anything against you, I’ll be on the ward next week anyway and I’ll come to visit you then. Bye, Ms. O.

e student later comments on this conversation saying: My message to this lady, both at the beginning and at the end of our encounter, was that she is free to indicate whether she wants to have contact or not. In this first encounter it was difficult to establish whether she really wanted to see a chaplain or not, especially because it was so shortly aer the operation.

e patient subsequently confirms this by saying: “Would you mind coming back next week?” Question Who has power in this situation, and how does this power manifest itself?



II. Case Study as a Method in Practical Theology We have shown in chapter 3 and 4 that there are various ways of doing practical theological reflection. In this case, we have a report derived from pastoral practice. e method that we will be using to analyze it is that of the case study.1 Within practical theology, this approach is used primarily in the study of pastoral and spiritual care and in pastoral diagnosis. It involves making a written analysis of a situation on the basis of a systematic set of questions that focus in-depth on a number of aspects and themes. is method is used a lot in practical theology, particularly in formation programs for pastors or chaplains, and in postgraduate training courses. It originated in the medical and therapeutic world and was first adopted by theologians in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.2 It is about learning to reflect on specific situations, especially if the parties involved have a bad feeling about a situation, which could indicate that something was wrong. ere is sufficient reason, therefore, to analyze the case and to ask whether it is possible to come to a changed praxis 2. Scholars, as well as people who work in pastoral and spiritual care themselves ask questions to gain insight into what happened. ey want to discover what went well, but also what the pitfalls were and what alternative courses of actions might have been possible. In this way, practical theologians try to identify the religious profiles in a case: what underlying theology do the people involved espouse, and how is this reflected in their actions and words? e method of case study depends on the context. When pastors and chaplains reflect on their own practice, this situatedness in a specific setting is clear. Academic theologians will also draw conclusions for more general questions of practical theology from individual cases. In  those instances, case studies are an inductive method of carrying out qualitative research that is closely practice-based.3 It is important to remain modest: you cannot make general statements about what all people experience in late modern pastoral care on the basis of one 1 For a survey of the various concepts, see: Johan Bouwer, Pastorale diagnostiek: Modellen en mogelijkheden (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 1998). 2 Cf. Daniel S. Schipani, “Case Study Method,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology, ed.  Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 91-101. 3 Cf. John Gerring, Case Study Research: Principles and Practices (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Robert K. Yin, Case Study Research: Design and Methods (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2013).



individual case. A pastor or chaplain with a different profile would probably deal differently with the situation. 1. Working with a Case ere are many ways of composing a case description, just as there are many questions that practical theologians can ask of a case, and many ways of analyzing a situation.4 One is to carry out an individual analysis, but this method is used more oen in a team context, with the group following a step-by-step plan. A certain variety is possible, but a number of elements will always be part of this plan. Someone proposes a case, sometimes in connection with a specific problem. e participants then have the opportunity to ask questions to clarify things that are ambiguous, and then they give their personal feedback on the situation. Other practical theological or social scientific sources are used that might shed new light on the case. e group attempts to chart the pastoral and spiritual profile of the pastor in question and of the other actors. en alternative courses of action are discussed. e analysis is concluded with an evaluation in which the pastor or chaplain in question has the last word and defines his or her lessons learned. A case study can thus be used to describe and improve professional behavior in parish ministry or chaplaincy from a practical theological perspective. is is not to say of course that acting in a Christian manner is something only pastors or chaplains have to do. On the contrary, every Christian is called to act as pastor in a broader sense of the word. It is important to mention not only the similarities but also the differences between these two groups. Pastors and volunteers both represent the calling that Christians have, for instance, to mercifully support people in need, or to proclaim the gospel. ey do this on the basis of their baptism and confirmation, but pastors or chaplains additionally receive a mission to perform these actions from the faith community and they 4

Cf.  Corja Menken-Bekius and Henk van der Meulen, Reflecteren kun je leren: Basisboek voor pastoraat en geestelijke verzorging (Kampen: Kok, 2007), 96-126; 333-345; Frances Ward, Lifelong Learning: Theological Education and Supervision (London: SCM, 2005), 119-128; Monique van Dijk-Groeneboer and Hanneke Schaap-Jonker, “Hoe schrijf ik een casus?,” in Ervaring leert: De casus als instrument voor theoloog, pastor en geestelijk verzorger, ed. Corja MenkenBekius and Hanneke Schaap-Jonker (Kampen: Kok, 2010), 41-54; Martin Walton and Jacques Körver, “Dutch Case Studies Project in Chaplaincy Care: A Description and eoretical Explanation of the Format and Procedures,” Health and Social Care Chaplaincy 5, no. 2 (2017): 257-280.



do so on the community’s behalf. ere are differences as well as similarities between these two groups also in respect of qualifications. We will now give one example of a template that is used for case study. Admittedly, our introductory question about the power relations in the hospital situation described focused only on one aspect out of many. But this is the perspective that we will use to analyze our case. A practical theologian might decide to carry out a more thoroughgoing analysis by letting the various aspects from practical experience speak for themselves, in dialogue with theoretical reflections. e method of the case study is particularly suited to bring theory and practice together, the abstract and the concrete, and the unique and the general.5 It is an approach that is used in academic literature, but also in education and in the further formation of pastors or chaplains. e concept of practical theology in its different meanings therefore also applies to case studies. 2. An Example of an Analytical Model e following sample questions can help to analyze a case, here from the perspective of a pastor or chaplain. A. Prior to the situation 1. How did the situation arise? What happened beforehand? 2. What did I know about the situation beforehand? What were my expectations, intentions, and feelings?

B. e situation itself Give as accurate a description of the situation as possible. Such a description not only means reproducing the events as they occurred, but also relating feelings, pauses, tone, disturbances, body language, spontaneous impressions and thoughts. is could involve the (possibly literal) transcription of a conversation, a team meeting, or a specific observation from the work field. e pastor’s or chaplain’s own plan — for instance for a sermon or service, a letter, a blog or a comparable document — can also be used. It is important to include any relevant background information and to avoid interpreting this information. Furthermore, details should be anonymized where necessary. 5 Cf.  Hanneke Schaap-Jonker, “De casus in methodisch perspectief,” in Ervaring leert, ed. Menken-Bekius and Schaap-Jonker, 27-39.



C. Reflection on the case a Contextual dimensions 1. How did the expectations and opinions of others (employer, colleagues, family, institution, parish, neighbors etc.) affect my actions? 2. What relationship do the people in this case have to other areas of society: church, healthcare system, media, politics etc.? 3. What relationship do the people in this case have to the specific institutional context in which the situation occurred (for instance the parish, the military base, or the hospital)? How did this affect the case? b Interactive dimensions 1. What was my pastoral role? What type of pastor/chaplain was I and what type did I want to be? How did I position myself in the tension between proximity and distance to the other? 2. How can communication in this case be characterized? 3. Who was in charge? Who decided what? c Substantive dimensions 1. How can the case be structured, i.e. beginning, climax or climaxes, and end? Also mention turning points, disruptions, ambiguous phases, open ends etc. 2. What was the situation about? For me, for the others? Were there any underlying themes? 3. What perspectives on pastoral and spiritual care, on ministers, pastors and chaplains, and on the church emerge from this case? d Personal dimensions 1. What feelings did I have during the situation? When did these change? 2. Was I happy with my performance as pastor/chaplain? 3. What were my messages and my goals? Did I get them across or realize them?

D. Pastoral diagnosis is part is about the religious profile of the actors involved: What perspectives on faith, religion, and spirituality emerge from this case? What are the convictions, presuppositions, theories, and theologies of the people involved? For example, how do they see God, the future, happiness, forgiveness, dependence, prayer? How can one interpret these ideas, and what criteria are used for this? What light does this case shed on existing practical theological theory and vice versa?



Question Apply this template to a specific situation from parish ministry or chaplaincy that you have experienced yourself. Not all questions are equally important for each case. Apply your own focus, but do not drop a question too quickly if it does not look relevant at first sight.

III. Observation: Practical Theological Observations on the Case is case is hardly a very spectacular one. A theology student takes her first steps in what might in the future become her work environment. She wants to work as a chaplain. She is doing reasonably well already, even though we do not know the whole story, but only the beginning and the end of the situation. Apparently, she is successful in making contact both with the patient and with the other professionals who work in the hospital. 1. The Initial Stage e initial stage of pastoral contact is important, because this is where mutual relations are determined before a word has even been spoken. Body language is particularly important.6 In our case, what is at stake is the encounter between someone who is passive and confined to bed, and who is also still groggy aer an operation, and a chaplain. e chaplain is able to physically walk toward the other person. It is all the more important to ask how she approaches the client. e student has to negotiate the boundary between distance and proximity. How much distance does she think is necessary or desirable to the other, and what do the patients, colleagues, and hospital managers think about this? is boundary between distance and proximity is usually fixed spontaneously whenever one person encounters another, although people are not always conscious of this. Does the chaplain for instance shake the patient’s hand, or place their hand on a lying patient’s shoulder, or do they avoid all physical contact? Another aspect is whether the hospital chaplain remains standing or sits down, as the student did in our case. And if they sit down, do they sit on a chair or on the bed? Do they ask permission to do this? As there is a connection between proximity 6 Cf. Elisabeth Naurath, Seelsorge als Leibsorge: Perspektiven einer leiborientierten Krankenhausseelsorge (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2000).



and power or abuse of power in pastoral and spiritual care, it is important that a chaplain acts responsibly when initiating first contact.7 Usually, for instance, there is consensus that sitting on a patient’s bed is not an appropriate attitude, because it intrudes on the only private space that people have in hospital. Non-verbal communication is very significant, but it is also ambiguous, and this means it is sometimes difficult to negotiate. Moreover, some chaplains are not very aware of their own body language. All the more reason, therefore, to reflect explicitly on the meaning of body language. is also involves questions about the appearance of chaplains or volunteers, i.e. their dress, hairstyle, or jewelry. A habit sends out a different message than wearing a cross or not wearing any visible Christian symbol at all. And sexy clothing evokes all kinds of connotations that play a part in determining the power balance between chaplain and patients. Mutual relations are defined in the initial stages, and this also raises the question of power. It may not immediately be clear to everyone that this is the case, because power is oen a taboo subject in pastoral care.8 But the asymmetrical situation of the encounter — lying down vs. standing up, ill vs. healthy, groggy vs. alert, passive vs. active, client vs. (beginning) professional — also reflects the difference in power between patient and student. Of course, there is asymmetry in the other direction as well, because the case is about a young, inexperienced chaplain who encounters an older woman. 2. The Beginning before the Beginning e situation in our case had already started before the chaplain even knocked on the hospital room door. is was preceded by an overture in two parts. e first part involves transference and countertransference between student/chaplain and patient. Both parties project things onto the other, and conversely react to the other’s projections. A patient might ascribe to the chaplain the role of an advocate who will help him or her vis-à-vis the ‘angry doctor’. For a chaplain it can be tempting to play along with this transference. In this way, the image that a patient has of chaplains, and the image that the chaplain has of the patient, can determine — at least partially — the communication between them. “Both interlocutors have certain 7

Cf. Heribert Wahl, “Macht und Dienst aus pastoralpsychologischer Sicht,” Wege zum Menschen 65 (2013): 49-60, at 51-54. 8 Cf.  Maria E. Aigner, “Macht,” in Grundbegriffe der Pastoraltheologie, ed. Maria E. Aigner et al. (Munich: Don Bosco Medien, 2005), 136-137.



expectations of the other. ese expectations have a lot to do with previous experiences. People are never blank sheets.”9 In our case, the patient and her expectation pattern ascribe power to the student. By apologizing for her absence at church on Sunday, the patient labels chaplains as people with authority. She perceives the chaplain as someone who is coming to check on her religious behavior. is attitude is surely based on previous experiences with pastors and with the church. e patient thus puts the student in a position of power, in which the student is clearly uncomfortable, as her answer in S2 shows. Her own reaction is possibly also based on experiences of power positions linked to religious figures. is creates a tension between the student’s emphasis on the absence of obligation, and the authority that the patient ascribes to her through transference. e second part of the overture that preceded this situation is also related to power. e chaplain in fact places herself in a position of power. Before the conversation with the patient, she goes to see her fellow professionals in the hospital. On the one hand, this means creating the conditions for good teamwork, which is necessary to provide comprehensive care, of which healthcare chaplaincy is a part. On the other hand, it means collecting knowledge about the alleged or real needs and the condition of her interlocutor, and she bases her approach on this information. Specifically, she wakes the dozing patient, something you normally do only if you know a person intimately. According to the logic of a hospital, professionals may transgress this boundary of intimacy if the rhythm of their work requires it. e student in our case also follows this logic. She herself worked as a nurse before she began her theology course. Most pastors in a similar situation would probably leave and come back later. Yet chaplains, as the religious-affairs experts in the organization, have the authority, the legitimately assigned power that comes with their profession, just as other professionals have this on the basis of their respective professional qualifications. 3. The Power of the Patient e patient in our case is not just the object of the chaplain’s power. Although she is passively confined to bed and is helpless, she, too, has power. Chaplains and volunteers are dependent on the people who come 9 R. Ruard Ganzevoort and Jan Visser, Zorg voor het verhaal: Achtergrond, methode en inhoud van pastorale begeleiding (Zoetermeer: Meinema, 2017), 134.



to them and thus confirm them in their role as religious virtuosi.10 is dependency is evident from the student’s motive for initiating contact, articulated here as wanting to know whether this patient requires pastoral or spiritual care. Similarly, the church as a whole is dependent on people who accept her position of power, otherwise this power would vanish, or the church would only be able to maintain her position through subtle or open violence.11 In our case, we see a similar attribution of power in M1. e patient regards the chaplain as an authority, and this means that the patient has the power to attribute authority to the other, or to withhold this attribution. Furthermore, at one point the patient in M2 also takes charge of the conversation: she ends it when she becomes too tired, and she takes the initiative for a follow-up appointment, although the tenor of M3 is once again apologetic. But she herself decides that the student is free to return. e fact that no fixed time is agreed for this says something about the relationship between professionals and clients in hospitals. Both sequences show that power is a mutual construct. Both parties contribute to creating and maintaining power. Chaplains and volunteers are powerless if no one makes use of their services. ere is evidence, for example, that the younger patients are, the slimmer the chance is that they will ever encounter healthcare chaplaincy at all.12 In this context, the right of chaplains to initiate contact with patients on their own account is an important power resource. Only a small percentage of patients asks to meet a chaplain, and this is caused, for instance, by the fact that they have not been properly informed of the possibilities or do not know what pastoral contact could mean. Chaplains can overcome this problem by taking the initiative themselves, as the student in our case does.13


Cf.  Stefan Gärtner, “Powerful and Dependent: Ambivalence in the Religious Leader,” in Religious Leadership and Christian Identity, ed. Doris Nauer et al. (Münster: LIT, 2004), 157-167. 11 Cf.  Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970). 12 Cf.  Désiree van der Loo et al., De geestelijk verzorger in het algemeen ziekenhuis: Een praktijkstudie naar functie-uitvoering van geestelijk verzorgers en waardering daarvan door patiënten (Utrecht: Trimbos-instituut, 1998), 13. 13 Cf. Lena van Gastel and Fred van Iersel, Vier besturingsmodellen voor de geestelijke verzorging in de zorg: Een onderzoek naar de invloed van omgevingsfactoren op de organisatiemogelijkheden van de geestelijke verzorging in het nieuwe zorgstelsel en de daarmee samenhangende beleidskeuzes (Budel: Damon, 2007), 33 and following.



Question Imagine you are the patient. How would you have experienced the student’s actions? Would you have responded differently to them?

IV. Evaluation: Three Forms of Power is case is not a spectacular one, as we have noted. At first sight, it is not very clear how power is distributed in this situation, but the power dimension is certainly present. How can we interpret this? 1. The Power of the Ordinary e first thing we encounter is the ‘power of the ordinary’. e way in which the various parties in this case act, the student and the patient, but also the gynecologist and the nurse, appears at first sight self-evident and predictable. e same is true for the behavior of people in other situations that are not clearly characterized by immediate coercion. But all these cases are governed by the power of the ordinary. is power “is both strong and shapeless.”14 It is present always and everywhere, even if you cannot always point it out specifically. is power becomes visible when you cross the boundaries of what is defined as normality. In these situations, the implicit presence of this power suddenly becomes visible. 1. Normal Behavior It is normal not to disturb other people with your political beliefs on a station platform. If you are determined to make your views known to absolutely everyone, you will first have to cross a boundary, and this means overcoming barriers within yourself. On the contrary, it is part of the ‘normal behavior on a station platform’ code to ask a fellow passenger what the announcement was because you could not hear it. Another example of the power of the ordinary is the degree of conviviality that is permitted or required. At work, this is rather limited, oen to birthdays and leaving parties. During leisure time, it is precisely the other way around. Aer a sports match, joining the team for a drink and a chat is 14 Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), 57.



normal, and not participating is difficult. A third example is switching off your smartphone at a wedding or a funeral. is example also shows that the boundaries of the ordinary are subject to change. More and more people look at their smartphones during services, and fewer people regard this as offensive behavior. At moments like these, we begin to understand that our everyday world is permeated by power. We feel it as soon as we begin to behave slightly differently than others. is is also true for the actions of chaplains and other professionals or volunteers, and for the behavior of hospital patients. ere are tacit rules and norms for this that are implicitly accepted by everyone. By contrast, traditional ways of thinking about power in pastoral care assume that there is one dominant party and then there are victims of its dominance — and pastors are usually in the former category. is bipolar form of power has not yet disappeared (we will return to this in the following section), but the concept of bipolar power relations must be adjusted. Today we are being confronted by much more diffuse forms of power: including the power of the ordinary. “Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.”15 It works by influencing the conceptions we have of what is usual, forbidden, normal, healthy, antisocial, and permissible. is power no longer excludes people to punish their erroneous behavior, but it includes everyone. What is at stake is that which we interpret as our everyday reality and which affects every relationship. Ultimately, we integrate these conceptions into our identity.16 It allows us to know how people behave on a station platform, to know that drinking with colleagues should not get out of hand, and that you should not be sending text messages during a wedding or a funeral. 2. The Asymmetry between Chaplain and Patient In our case, this subtle form of power is evident in the fact that the student/chaplain believes it is obvious that she can wake the patient. As a professional in a healthcare institution, you are allowed to do that. ere 15 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 93. 16 Cf.  Christie C. Neuger, “Power and Difference in Pastoral eology,” in Pastoral Care and Counseling: Redefining the Paradigms, ed. Nancy J. Ramsay (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2004), 65-85.



is a role-specific asymmetry between staff and volunteers on the one hand, and clients, residents, or patients on the other. e normal behavior of one party usually coincides perfectly with that of the other. People in hospital automatically meet each other as caregiver and as client-inneed-of-care.17 If healthcare chaplaincy adopts this pattern, then it contributes to a way of thinking and acting that is based on concepts such as utility, efficiency, and client-centeredness. e client has certain care needs, and the various practitioners work to meet these. Chaplains are seen as a particular category of practitioner. is gives rise to a cycle of expectation and fulfilment that has a dynamic of its own, in which the congruence between care needs and care provision becomes the dominant criterion. e fact in itself that there is chaplaincy becomes the decisive factor. is can lead to the paradoxical situation in which chaplains are interested in continuing their activities only because this allows them to perpetuate their power as professionals. e authority that is invested in their actions lures them into striving primarily for this authority itself. In order to realize this, they need to retain patients as clients, because otherwise they would lose their relevance as chaplains. On the other hand, it is almost impossible for professionals to ignore the expectations of clients. As clients, patients have power over caregivers, and thus they contribute to maintaining the cycle of expectation and fulfilment. 3. The Deficiency Model of Care In adopting the typical mindset of healthcare institutions, chaplains also adopt the conceptions of illness, helplessness, pathology, antisocial behavior, and abnormality that are prevalent in this context. is means approaching human beings on the basis of their deficiencies. It  is the chaplain-expert who can help solve these deficiencies or spiritual distress. In this deficiency model, reintegration into normal life becomes the self-evident goal of care.18 is is yet another expression of the power of the ordinary. Many chaplains have therefore consciously taken a step back, for example in peer-to-peer coaching or supervision, to reflect on this and to try to approach the deficiency model of care critically.

17 Cf.  Christian Bauer, “Macht und Gnade: Versuch einer Klärung der Begriffe angesichts von Ohnmacht und Gnadenlosigkeit heute,” in Macht und Gnade: Untersuchungen zu einem konstitutiven Spannungsfeld der Pastoral, ed. Rainer Bucher and Rainer Krockauer (Münster: LIT, 2005), 45-60, at 54. 18 Cf.  Henning Luther, Religion und Alltag: Bausteine zu einer Praktischen Theologie des Subjekts (Stuttgart: Radius, 1992), 224-238.



However, the incentive to adopting the implicit logic of this model is very strong, because chaplains want to work together with other caregivers both methodologically and organizationally. We have already argued that this is important to create a comprehensive and integrated care package. But one possible consequence of this partnership is that people are pinned down in their object role as clients: others act for them. ere is no ambiguity about who is the caregiver and who is the person in need of care. ere is no third option. If chaplains work according to this logic, they negate the skills that people have, because their clients will regard themselves as passive and helpless by analogy with the chaplain’s behavior. Of course, patients in fact are passive and helpless, but at the same time they are seldom without skills to help themselves — even though these are not always noticed. is reveals a paradox of professional care: within an asymmetrical relational structure, the liing of this asymmetry is a goal that is pursued, i.e. to make the client healthy, better, more articulate, more mobile, and more social.19 Chaplains, as well as other professionals, try to avoid this paradox to a certain extent by focusing on empowerment as the goal and method of their professional actions. 4. The Power of the Professional One side effect of this paradox is that a culture of pastoral expertise is likely to emerge. Professional activities are euphemistically concealed behind an aura of exclusivity and complexity, and volunteers are almost too intimidated to try their hand at it. Responsibility for pastoral and spiritual care has been assigned to professionals from the beginning. is, too, is part of the axioms of the public healthcare system. It strengthens the position of power that professionals occupy. At the same time, this turns people who need pastoral care into ‘real cases’ who have to be treated by an expert. When the power of professionals is used for good purposes, and contributes to supporting people in their own power, then this is the positive use of power. If all forms of pastoral care are le to volunteers — who are not always properly trained — there is a risk that patients might experience insufficient support or are confronted with inadequate forms of care. is can even facilitate the abuse of power on the part of volunteers who are not always used to reflect on how to deal with the boundaries of proximity and distance. 19 Cf.  Herbert Haslinger, Diakonie: Grundlagen für die soziale Arbeit der Kirche (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2009), 343 and following.



5. The Relieving Effects of the Power of the Ordinary As has been seen, the integration of chaplaincy in care facilities means that chaplains and clients will encounter typical forms of power. But we want to avoid a wholly negative tone. We have already mentioned empowerment, and the fact that patients, clients, and residents attribute a certain role to chaplains, and behave toward them accordingly, does not always have only restrictive effects. is kind of power also has a relieving effect, because all parties know the script. People accept and perpetuate the power of the ordinary by being prepared to adapt their own behavior accordingly. As a consequence, they can receive effective care, or present themselves as a professional with a particular specialism. at this is about power only becomes evident when someone does something out of the ordinary, for instance if a hospital patient refuses to accept treatment. is reveals the permanent, if hidden effect of the power of the ordinary. ere can also be advantages to pastoral relationships if both partners accept the usual distribution of roles. us accepting this can contribute to the trust that people put in a pastor or chaplain;20 a trust that becomes manifest in their willingness to discuss intimate issues like their own religious views or physical ailments with total strangers. is role-specific asymmetry, which also includes the chaplain’s professional secrecy, facilitates trust and, consequently, good pastoral contact. Chaplains who break out of this framework by speaking about themselves too much, or by permanently showing their emotions, will betray the trust of people, who are entitled to expect a professional attitude. At the same time, we can identify this attitude as a form of power. 6. Criticizing the Power of the Ordinary in Chaplaincy ere are pastoral concepts that question the division of roles between chaplain and client as we have described it. ey criticize all interventionist forms of action. ese may perfectly correspond with the power of the ordinary in hospitals: chaplains who act as professional practitioners, contributing on the basis of their own specialization to the care provided. But chaplains are likely to overlook how strongly this kind of action is permeated by power, and that it means (usually unconsciously or unintentionally) defining patients in the role of objects. 20 Cf. Isolde Karle, Der Pfarrberuf als Profession: Eine Berufstheorie im Kontext der modernen Gesellschaft (Freiburg i.Br.: Kreuz, 2008), 59-133.



is is why some chaplains choose to practice the presence model of chaplaincy that we have described in chapter 6.21 ey try to accompany people without establishing any pre-ordained goals. ey do not provide ready-made answers, but want to symbolize through their presence that the other is not alone. ey accompany the patient, and in doing so hope to be significant to the individual journey that every patient has to make. is presence approach, which was originally developed in Dutch urban pastoral ministry, can only be used to a limited degree in hospitals, however. If chaplains are to continue to work as professionals, they will have to become part of the system, meaning that they will have to demonstrate the added value of their interventions with figures and through registering certain required formal issues.22 As we have described them, presence (‘being there’ without any preconceived goals) and intervention (more results-driven pastoral care) appear to be contradictory approaches, but this is not actually the case. In practice, presence and intervention can go hand in hand. Presence itself is of course also a form of intervention that can have important results for patients. In order to deal adequately with the power of the ordinary, it is important therefore that pastors/chaplains and volunteers look for hybrid forms. 2. Bipolar Power e case described above also revealed traces of the traditional, bipolar effects of power: pastoral minister or church versus powerless client or believer. We use the term ‘pastoral minister’, a category which includes both hospital chaplains and parish ministers, because power issues are germane to pastoral care in general and not only to specific institutional situations. At the same time the case shows how both, student and patient, contribute to perpetuating this duality. Yet we argued that this form of power is less visible in late modern pastoral and spiritual care. is does not mean it has disappeared altogether. 1. Erosion of Traditional Power Structures Unlike in premodern and modern societies, clients, patients and residents in care facilities as well as parishioners are autonomous with regard to the institutional church. You can choose as a Christian whether to afford 21

Cf. Andries Baart, Een theorie van de presentie (Utrecht: Lemma, 2004). Cf.  Johan Bouwer and Bert de Haar, eds., Kwaliteit van zorg: Optimaal zonder levensbeschouwing? (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2010), 101 and following. 22



authority to a church or not. If you wish, you can simply decide not to participate in the faith community. at was an option that came at a high cost in the past: especially in traditionally Catholic countries or regions, it meant becoming an outcast because the faith dominated everything and everyone. In late modernity, by contrast, “neither internal personal sanctions, set up for example by means of a ‘pastoral’ approach based on fear, nor the threat of social ostracism compel people today to become involved with the church.”23 e directive and controlling function that the Catholic church exercised over all aspects of life has disappeared. In the specific case of hospitalization, this means that some people do not request any pastoral or spiritual care at all. is mentality shi also has consequences for individual pastoral caregivers and this not only in chaplaincy. e traditionally central role that church ministers played, especially within the Catholic church, is no longer a feature of the age. ey are no longer naturally regarded as authoritative, and their role has been seriously challenged. eir authority has received many dents in late modern society.24 It follows from this that the bipolar approach to power has only very limited relevance in evaluating this phenomenon. 2. Criticizing the Bipolar Concept of Power e presupposition that the pastor has power and the faithful are powerless is also open to criticism itself. If one party is the only one that has power and the other party is reduced to simply reacting to this power, this leads to an impasse in their mutual communication. ere is an unambiguous and one-sided division of influence, from the top down. As our case shows, however, things are different in reality. We have seen that the patient herself places the student in a position of power. Moreover, she takes back the initiative at one particular point. Even the bipolar power that does exist in pastoral ministry is perpetuated by both parties together. is reciprocity remains, even though we have observed the existence of asymmetry in the relationship between chaplains and clients, an asymmetry which is particularly characteristic of chaplaincy. e two parties are not equal, but the typical behavior of one party corresponds 23 Rainer Bucher, “Body of Power and Body Power: e Situation of the Church and God’s Defeat,” in The Structural Betrayal of Trust, ed.  Regina Ammicht-Quinn et al. (London: SCM, 2004), 120-129, at 121. 24 Cf. Hermann Steinkamp, Die sanfte Macht der Hirten: Die Bedeutung Michel Foucaults für die Praktische Theologie (Mainz: Grünewald Verlag, 1999), 15-17.



with and presupposes appropriate behavior on the part of the other and vice versa. In this process of give and take, the parties together assign power to each other.25 ere is another aspect that makes it necessary to question the bipolar approach to power. In this model, power is interpreted as a constant factor: the total sum remains the same, and if one party acquires more of it, the other will have less.26 But this way of looking at power ignores the fact that people can also complement and strengthen each other in such a way that both parties ultimately profit. is is not so much a power struggle but mutual empowerment. e relationship between parents and their children can be seen in this way. Parents rightly have greater influence over their children than vice versa. But this serves the purpose of raising children to become adult persons themselves, a goal that is not to the detriment of the parents. On the contrary, parental authority leads to empowerment by which all parties grow in autonomy and responsibility. Power is thus not bad or dangerous in itself but can be used with good intentions or to further communal interests. In pastoral care, for instance, everyone benefits if the dominant role of ministers in the church is downplayed. is encourages other Christians to consciously shape their Christian faith themselves, rather than leaving this to the ordained ministers as they oen used to in the past. is gives the message of the gospel more credible and wider support. is possibility is oen overlooked in the bipolar approach to power in pastoral relationships. is bipolar approach is being undermined not just because more and more people leave the church, but also because it is contradictory within itself, as it regards the distribution of power as a closed system of communicating vessels. 3. Institutional Power Our case sheds light on how professionals in chaplaincy are confronted with institutional power. Chaplains are dependent on the recognition of two institutions: the church and the secular institution. is can sometimes put them in a difficult position, for example, when one party expects them to provide pastoral care to people who are preparing for euthanasia, whereas the other party has serious misgivings about this. We have seen that ordinary Christians in late modernity are less and less subject to institutional power, because, unlike pastoral professionals, they can simply take their distance from 25 Cf.  Michael Klessmann, “Macht und Ohnmacht in Seelsorge und Beratung,” Wege zum Menschen 67 (2015): 344-357, at 346 and following. 26 Cf. Karle, Der Pfarrberuf als Profession, 165-168.



the institutional church. is is much less the case with regard to the secular institutions. Prisoners, for example, may distance themselves from the church, but they cannot escape dealing with the institutional power of the penitentiary. is aspect of institutional power over ‘ordinary people’ is a topic we will not explore further here; our focus will once again be on the institutional power of and over chaplains. 1. The Ambivalence of the Ecclesial Mission Chaplains are faced with this form of power by virtue of their role as ministers who work in a secular organization with a mission from their church. Chaplains represent the institutional church in the organization where they work. is even applies when they personally keep a certain distance from the institutional church, like the student in our case, and in fact like some chaplains do.27 Chaplains then present themselves primarily as professionals, hoping to secure recognition from the secular institution in this way. As employees with a mission from a church or denominational group, i.e. an external mission, chaplains cannot avoid being somewhat of an exception. e fact that chaplains have the right to visit members of their own denomination on their own initiative, without deferring to consultation structures, is at cross-purposes with the logic of care facilities, which focuses on interdisciplinary collaboration and referrals. Chaplains in care facilities also participate in this, but at the same time they are outsiders: some fellow professionals and clients regard them instead as representatives of the church. is was also borne out in the case described above. e two hats that chaplains wear, that of the church and that of the healthcare institution, can lead to conflicts. ese conflicts are still a feature of chaplaincy today, regardless of the church’s diminishing significance in a strongly secularized healthcare sector. is argument about the chaplain as a church authority has both positive and negative implications.28 How the specific pastoral relationship plays out depends not so much on the person of the chaplain, but on the experiences that people have had with the church and its representatives in the past.29

27 Cf.  Wim Smeets, Spiritual Care in a Hospital Setting: An EmpiricalTheological Exploration (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 116-207. 28 See also Stefan Gärtner, “De pastor: tussen macht en onmacht,” Collationes 43 (2013): 311-326. 29 Cf.  Stephen Pattison, A Critique of Pastoral Care (London: SCM, 2007), 73-79.



We have already spoken of the dynamics of transference and countertransference. e setting in our case had already been colored by the patient’s prior stigmatization of the chaplain before she even arrived. is example shows that the church’s mission and the accompanying authorization of the pastor’s status have an ambivalent effect. ey automatically affect the pastoral relationship, even before the two parties have encountered each other. Even chaplains who are unwilling to work on the basis of the authority of the institute are forced into this role by people’s patterns of expectation. is means that they will have to experience their ecclesial mission in an ambivalent way. 2. Legitimizing Power ere is yet another reason for these feelings of ambivalence. e power that the church confers upon pastors is a legitimizing power. It is external (it comes to those who have it from the outside), public (it is transferred through a rite, a certificate, or an employment contract), and institutional (it is conferred with the authority of a social organization).30 is legitimation enables the exercise of power within pastoral care and chaplaincy: it relieves chaplains of the burden of having to operate in their own name; instead, they act as representatives of a faith community. At the same time, pastors and chaplains only have conferred power, which exists because the church has given it to them. e institution can also strip them of this power, or limit it. eir power as authority-legitimated-by-the-church thus creates a paradox for chaplains: as ministers they are powerful, and the church expects them to exercise this power, but at the same time, their influence is limited by the institution that has sent them. Chaplains are powerful and dependent. is paradox is even more acute in cases in which there is insufficient “convergence […] between being-responsible-for and being-skilled-in,”31 where, in other words, the institutional authority does not go hand in hand with the skills required to perform the tasks delegated. is experience increases the ambivalence that we have described. Pastors and chaplains have to conceal the dissatisfaction that they experience in their work because they do not have the skills to live up to their responsibilities.


Cf. Martha E. Stortz, PastorPower (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1993). Hermann Stenger, “Führen und Leiten zu allen Zeiten: Vom Wandel der Machtausübung in der katholischen Kirche,” Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift 157 (2009): 18-26, at 20. 31



3. Power Struggle within the Secular Institution Such mixed feelings will grow stronger once chaplains are sent with the authority of their church to work in the public healthcare system.32 In some countries, the church that sent them is itself part of this system, or there may be healthcare facilities that have Catholic origins. But apart from these cases, chaplains are dependent on the authorization they receive from the secular organization to work there as professionals. Once chaplains have managed to cross this threshold, it becomes a matter of how they exercise their role in the healthcare institution in practice. is role is no longer uncontested. Psychologists, doctors, social workers, and, increasingly, volunteers, also offer their services. ey have oen adopted tasks that used to be the obvious and exclusive domain of the chaplain. us, therapists increasingly involve the spiritual aspects of people’s lives in their treatment.33 On the one hand, this gives chaplaincy new opportunities to work together with colleagues, and the distinction between primary and secondary frame of reference that we made in chapter  6, section V can be a successful basis for this. On the other hand, a  struggle is likely to occur between the various professions over evertightening financial budgets in the healthcare sector. 4. Professionalization as a Strategy of Power is has immediate consequences for chaplaincy. e first challenge that chaplains face is to secure their position within organized healthcare. Many do this with a clear awareness of power structures, and the trend toward professionalization within their training and practice is part of this. In a power-oriented interpretation, these trends can be appreciated as an attempt to defend the place of chaplaincy within the public healthcare system and to secure recognition by the secular organization.34 It is a matter of consistency that chaplains should focus in doing so on standards that also apply to the psychosocial and medical fields. With regard to communication


Cf. Haslinger, Diakonie, 100-161. Cf. Margreet de Vries-Schot, Gezonde godsdienstigheid en heilzaam geloof: Verheldering van concepten vanuit de psychologie, psychiatrie en de theologie (Del: Eburon, 2006), 31-73; Hetty Zock, Niet van deze wereld? Geestelijke verzorging en zingeving vanuit godsdienstpsychologisch perspectief (Tilburg: KSGV, 2007), 22-25; Samuel Buser, Psychotherapie und Seelsorge im Strafvollzug: Unterschiede und Gemeinsamkeiten (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), 106-131. 34 Cf. Hans Schilderman, Religion as a Profession (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2005). 33



skills, for instance, they might adapt humanist psychology with attitudes like empathy and congruence.35 is will enhance their ability to provide good pastoral and spiritual care. is way of professionalizing will, however, lead to a development in which pastoral care increasingly resembles the other forms of care. What difference would this leave between a chaplain and a psychologist or a social worker? is role uncertainty must be interpreted as the result of pastoral professionalization and of the integration of pastoral care in a secular organization.36 Such conflicts do not arise within a closed ecclesiastical pastoral environment in which religion is regarded as the exclusive responsibility of pastors. In view of the competition with other professions, it is important that the distinction between chaplains and other caregivers remains clear. is can be done by emphasizing the chaplain’s own identity: this is a way to make chaplains indispensable. Specifically, chaplains can do this by focusing in particular on hopeless cases, where their ‘competitors’ have reached the limits of what they can do. Another possibility, from the perspective of the theology of ministry, is to stress the importance of the liturgy and the exclusive role that church-authorized ministers have in this.37 In conclusion, pastoral professionalization can also be interpreted as an attempt to further the interests of chaplains as a professional group in the process of  distributing institutional power within the public healthcare system. Question We have argued in this section that traditional bipolar power in late modernity is less important than the other two forms: the power of the ordinary and institutionalized power. Do you agree with this argument? Base your answer on observations of your own environment as well as of society.


Cf. Stefan Gärtner, “Staying a Pastor While Talking Like a Psychologist? A  Proposal for an Integrative Model,” Christian Bioethics 16, no.  1 (2010): 48-60. 36 Cf. Karle, Der Pfarrberuf als Profession. 37 Cf. Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger, Evolving Visions of the Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 61-78.



V. Stimulation: Dealing Appropriately with Power in Pastoral Care We have pointed to aspects of power on three different levels in our case. As it turns out, it is a phenomenon that permeates everything and everyone. is is why the question must now be raised how people in pastoral and spiritual care can deal responsibly with power, that is: use power in the positive sense of empowerment. It is not possible to give an exhaustive vision of how this can be done, because concrete situations in late modernity are very diverse. But what we will do, by way of conclusion, is to examine the traditions of the Christian faith to look for general criteria for appropriate use of power. Pastors/chaplains or volunteers, but also the church as a whole, can find orientation for this in Jesus Christ and in the way he dealt with power. He used it as a service to others, and in particular to the poor, the ill, the sinners, the excluded, the weak etc. In this way, he became a model for the actions of Christians.38 We will now explain this contention in greater detail. 1. Power between Calling, Task, and Fulfilment Our point of departure is the calling that every human being receives from God, whether he or she is a Christian or a non-Christian, a believer or a non-believer, an ordained minister or a layperson in the church.39 is calling is the assurance that God is and always remains committed to each one of us. He enters into a relationship with us and has his own story with each of us. From this arises the task that human beings have to articulate this assurance in their own existence: every calling requires a fitting reply. 1. Freedom and Responsibility in the Church and in Pastoral Care What is the essence of this calling? In a nutshell we could say: God gives us freedom out of love for us. is is why people can and must give shape themselves to their divine calling in their own lives. e challenge we face is to find a fitting answer to this initiative by God. is means taking responsibility for our existence, for our fellow human beings, and for our

38 Cf.  Richard Feldmeier, Macht – Dienst – Demut: Ein neutestamentlicher Beitrag zur Ethik (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), 50-63; Wahl, “Macht und Dienst aus pastoralpsychologischer Sicht,” 56-60. 39 Cf. Ulrich Feeser-Lichterfeld, Berufung: Eine praktisch-theologische Studie zur Revitalisierung einer pastoralen Grunddimension (Münster: LIT, 2005).



world. We are not simply divine marionettes. For a start, this would not correspond with loving relationships between human beings, and even less with the covenant that God has entered into with each human being. Part of this is the freedom that every individual has to make his or her own choices, even to decide not to accept God’s offer in faith. Even then, the calling remains intact as a loving promise to which we as human beings can respond. ese assertions form the backdrop to the use of power in pastoral and spiritual care, and not only there. It is not about oppression, violence, abuse or tyranny; as creatures, human beings must use their power in a way that corresponds to the creator’s intentions.40 As we were called to life, we were also entrusted with power. is precedes the mission that the church gives to chaplains to work in a hospital, which we have discussed above. e mission by the church in fact gives expression to the calling by God to work in pastoral care.41 Part of this is that pastors or chaplains receive power. It is their own responsibility as to how they subsequently exercise this power, but what is clear in any case is that it is never about absolute freedom. e responsible exercise of power is not only limited by the concrete circumstances of the job, for instance the competition with other professions in the public healthcare system that we mentioned, or chaplains’ own professional codes of conduct, or those of the facilities where they work. e charge to use power responsibly in pastoral and spiritual care results first and foremost from the giver of this charge: God.42 Power should be used in pastoral and spiritual care for the good, as empowerment, so that people will benefit from it. What we are encountering here is a polarity between on the one hand the human responsibility to use power, and on the other God’s wish that this should be done in the right way. In the practice of pastoral care, this means: using power as God intended it to be used. at is the guideline for human actions, and it makes it possible to clarify the positive effects of power. It belongs to the freedom and creativity of human beings — 40 Cf.  Frederik O. van Gennep, De terugkeer van de verloren Vader: Een theologisch essay over vaderschap en macht in cultuur en christendom (Baarn: Ten Have, 1990), 428-432. 41 Cf.  Stefan Gärtner, “De parochieassistent(e) in zwaar weer? Praktischtheologische uitdagingen voor religieus leiderschap,” Collationes 39 (2009): 145158, at 150-152. 42 Cf.  Nicholas King, “eology and Power: A Biblical Perspective,” in Theology and Power: International Perspectives, ed. Stephen Bullivant et al. (New York: Paulist, 2016), 1-15.



that is one pole. At the same time, it remains bound by God’s higher power — that is the other pole. 2. Fulfilment of Human Power by God Just like the origins of the use of power lie in the divine calling, so too the fulfilment of power in pastoral care ultimately lies in God’s hands.43 Christians believe that God will make up for whatever is lacking in the actions of pastors, whenever human beings are limited by powerlessness. is at least is what belief in God’s eschatological promise means. is does not remove experiences of contingency (like the failed operation in our case) or experiences that are specific to chaplaincy, but they do place them in a different light. e eschatological perspective makes it clear that the momentary powerlessness will not be the last word, but that God promises salvation for all in a renewed creation. is prospect can perhaps offer consolation and hope in the here and now. is aspect will be addressed at greater length in chapter 8. us the eschatological perspective, too, implies a fundamental authority to use power in pastoral care. In a certain sense, the church does this in order to anticipate the promised future in the kingdom of God. At the same time, her power is limited: it is embedded in a greater power. 3. Abuse of Power e possibility to abuse human power is grounded in our freedom. Pastors, chaplains, and volunteers are not, as we have seen, marionettes of divine power, even though the church’s mission expressly refers to acting in the name of God. But they must shape this task themselves, in a responsible way. e church as a whole is also called time and again to find an appropriate framework for her authority, as historical and social conditions change. Sometimes she has been successful in this, but oen she has failed. is is why the abuse of power will always be a dire reality in the church, one which must be combated and prevented as much as possible. e abuse of power can be interpreted both from the perspective of the theology of vocation and of eschatology as senseless use of power, i.e. as the use of power against the grain of its purpose, which is to point toward the good, as God intended. To put it in positive terms: people 43 See Stefan Gärtner, “Verdammte Macht: Zum Umgang mit einem heiklen ema in der Kirche,” Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 63 (2012): 353-362, at 354-356.



have the task to use power for the benefit of the whole creation. at is our task, even though as sinners we will always continue to fail, and as human beings we will always continue to have experiences of powerlessness and contingency. But we must not yield before this experience, or before the possible abuse of power in the church. In this way, the use of power in pastoral and spiritual care is integrated in and oriented by a transcendent perspective: God’s salvific action. 2. Jesus Christ as the Model e practice of Jesus Christ gives a concrete example of these general pronouncements about the way power should be used. His actions are a model for the church and for ministers or volunteers, even though we should be wary of trying to apply the gospel directly in late modern pastoral care. e differences between then and now are too great to be ignored. Moreover, the Biblical stories about Jesus Christ can oen be interpreted in many different ways. A certain hermeneutical reticence is therefore important in the sections that follow.44 1. Jesus’ Paradoxical Use of Power If we look at the gospel with these caveats in mind, it soon becomes clear that Jesus himself acted with exousia, with full authority, i.e. with a clear claim to and consciousness of power. However, the gospels show how he used power in a provocative way that diametrically contradicted existing views. His power is demonstratively paradoxical: as the shepherd, he becomes a lamb; as the king, he becomes a servant; as the master and the lord, he becomes a slave who washes people’s feet. “His extreme powerlessness on the cross paradoxically turns out to be the true power that overcomes the earthly powers and that brings salvation.”45 Power is expressed by Jesus in a way that looks like the opposite of power to our human conceptions. “is strange coherence of power and powerlessness permeates the whole gospel.”46 Jesus exudes authority by doing things that look strange at first sight, for instance by serving 44

More on this in chapter 6, section II. Ulrich H.J. Körtner, “Macht,” Zeitschrift für Evangelische Ethik 59 (2015): 292-295, at 292. 46 Hans-Joachim Sander, Nicht verleugnen: Die befremdende Ohnmacht Jesu (Würzburg: Echter, 2001), 25. 45



others, especially those in need, the outcasts, the sinners, the poor, and the orphans. He is not interested in power for its own sake, but he wants to help those who are oppressed by all kinds of powerlessness. He uses his full authority mainly for them, as a symbol of the future — which has already begun — in the kingdom of God. It is a power that becomes effective as soon as someone divests him- or herself of their power and begins to serve, working to overcome restrictive and unjust situations both individually and at a social level. In this consciousness, Christians use God’s power.47 Pastoral care is a service to others, and in particular to those without power. 2. Power in Pastoral Care as a Service For Christians, humans’ calling by God becomes tangible in the person and actions of Jesus Christ. is means: power should be expressed as a service in imitation of Jesus. Church authorities have a particular responsibility and an exemplary role in this: they should exude authority by being at the service of others.48 Diaconal service then becomes a defining dimension of all the church’s actions, and being at the service of others becomes a fitting basic attitude for all pastoral work.49 Chaplaincy especially offers an excellent opportunity to express this form of power. But speaking about pastoral and spiritual care in terms of service is not without risks. e conviction that a pastor or chaplain has no power but is simply there for others can become an ideology that obscures the asymmetry in pastoral relationships that we have discussed above, or indeed power imbalances in the church.50 Another risk is that diaconal service goes over the heads of those who are in need and are vulnerable. In section IV we discussed the deficiency model of help. In this model, there is no attempt to establish dialogue; people simply have to accept the pastor’s or chaplain’s offerings gratefully and without asking questions. e pastor or chaplain can paternalistically decide what is good for the objects of his or her diaconal service. But good service always presupposes good dialogue

47 Cf. Machteld Reynaert, “A Kenotic Use of Power in eology: Dangerous or Not?,” in Theology and Power, ed. Bullivant et al., 33-48. 48 Cf. Mark 10:42-45. 49 Cf.  Ottmar Fuchs, Im Innersten gefährdet: Für ein neues Verhältnis von Kirchenamt und Gottesvolk (Innsbruck and Vienna: Tyrolia, 2009), 78-82. 50 Cf.  Annemie Dillen, “De zelfgave van pater Damiaan als inspiratie voor pastores? Over versluierde machtsaanspraken en een evenwichtige spiritualiteit,” Collationes 41 (2011): 185-198.



as a precondition.51 Moreover, caregivers themselves are also always a receiving party. True service requires mutual recognition, even if someone is currently ill, old, handicapped, poor or weak. 3. Powerlessness on the Cross and the Resurrection e dialectic of power and service that we have mentioned has been for Christians a characteristic of Jesus’ mission for a long time.52 His resurrection from the dead justified the apparent powerlessness of the cross. e corresponding experiences of contingency must therefore not be ignored in the church and in ministry and chaplaincy. In any case, they are part and parcel of our existence. e case discussed above provides one example of this. But through the resurrection, the cross became a symbol of the way of Christ. He remained faithful to his mission precisely by turning his power into the service of others. God confirmed him in this, and powerlessness in all its forms has been definitively, if not yet fully, vanquished. From the perspective of the death and the resurrection, the concept of power seems insufficient to describe the life of Jesus Christ, in so far as we use human criteria. ese criteria cannot resolve the paradox of the absolute powerlessness of the cross and the claims to full authority in Jesus’ actions. is can only be done from a theological perspective, from which it is clear that all power ultimately belongs to God, because he saves from powerlessness and death. Jesus acted with exousia because he did so at his father’s behest. As they imitate this task, pastors, chaplains, volunteers, and the church as a whole may also venture to use the same power. e death on the cross and the resurrection of the son show that Jesus consistently persevered in using his power as a diaconal service to those in need, to the poor, and to sinners. is is why he was nailed to the cross, but also why God exalted him. He was a servant to others to the last, and God confirmed him in this.53 at is why he can be regarded as the model for how to use power in pastoral care. Service is crucial to using any kind of power, but at the same time, the reference


Cf. Annemie Dillen, “Doing Justice in Primary Relationships: Intersubjectivity, Social Identity, and Power in Pastoral Counselling in Dialogue with the ought of Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy,” in After You: Dialogical Ethics and the Pastoral Counselling Process, ed. Axel Liégois et al., Bibliotheca Ephemeridum eologicarum Lovaniensium 258 (Louvain: Peeters, 2013), 217-232. 52 Cf. Feldmeier, Macht – Dienst – Demut. 53 Cf. Phil 2:6-11.



to Jesus also means that every human action must constantly come under critical scrutiny. It also happens in pastoral contexts that people abuse power while claiming to serve others. Good intentions can obscure forms of abuse of power, especially paternalism. is is why it is important to always read references to the example of Jesus as a critical way of dealing with human power. 4. The Full Authority Is Still Effective In pastoral and spiritual care, pastors, chaplains, or volunteers can act in the conviction that the son’s full authority is still effective to assist people in need, oppression, sin, addiction, despair, and poverty. We can participate in this power. It is a “power that bestows full authority”54 and enables people to be effective in their pastoral actions whenever they assist people. ey must give the other priority, without neglecting themselves or their own interests. ey do things for others without paternalistically silencing them or suppressing their own skills. ey invite trust without making the other dependent on their help, and they exude authority without being naïve about the possible abuse of power, which is always a risk, not only in pastoral and spiritual care. In doing so, Christians can give expression to the calling they have received from God and which was made tangible for them in Jesus Christ. In this sense, pastoral care is always and essentially about power. But this criterion also makes it possible to identify and counteract the abuse of it. If power no longer serves but becomes absolute, then something is wrong. To summarize in positive terms: in pastoral care, Christians combat those powers that are obstacles to the salvation of people, in the conviction that God himself is fighting with them and for all people, and that he will ultimately complete their necessarily limited pastoral efforts, in his kingdom. Question Can chaplains use this Christological argument to justify their position towards the hospital management? Or is a different kind of language required for this? Try to translate the theological language into a secular setting.


Feldmeier, Macht – Dienst – Demut, 37.



Further reading Stephen Bullivant et al., eds., Theology and Power: International Perspectives (New York: Paulist, 2016). Annemie Dillen, ed., Soft Shepherd or Almighty Pastor? Power and Pastoral Care (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014). George Fitchett and Steve Nolan, eds., Spiritual Care in Practice: Case Studies in Healthcare Chaplaincy (London and Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley, 2015).

 Hope, the Motor of Life and of Faith Annemie Dillen

You sometimes see people wearing a necklace with the symbols of a cross, an anchor, and a heart. is is a reference to faith, hope, and love as the three most important virtues of the Christian faith. Hope is inseparably linked with being a Christian. Faith in the resurrection is the quintessential testimony of the hope that death is not the end, that injustice and suffering can be overcome. But hope is not an exclusively Christian virtue. It is a general human phenomenon. e words of the philosopher Gabriel Marcel can clarify what hope means to people: “Hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism. Where hope is lacking the soul dries up and withers.”1 Hope is a driving force that gives people life force. e psychological approach developed by Victor E. Frankl demonstrated this: he argued that people need more than food and security to stay alive; they also need a purpose, meaning, something they can hope for and look toward.2 e main question of this chapter is how practical theologians can think about hope in a way that can be productive to the practice of the pastoral accompaniment of people and to the transmission of the faith. More specifically, we will be asking what theological discourse can learn about hope from research and experiences of hope in a general human context, and conversely, how the predominantly psychological approach to hope can be challenged and enriched by a practical theological perspective. We will show in this chapter that it is unwise to draw sharp boundaries between a secular and a theological approach. Interdisciplinary exchanges with other social sciences, in this case with psychology, are also a characteristic of practical theology. Hope is closely connected with spirituality. Hope is influenced by spirituality, and in turn, spirituality is itself influenced by hope. In fact, hope 1 Gabriel Marcel, Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysics of Hope, trans. Emma Craufurd (London: Victor Gollancz LTD, 1951), 10-11. 2 Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1962).



is oen regarded as a component of spirituality. Within the various contexts of healthcare chaplaincy, chaplains who want to find out how patients give expression to spirituality and religiosity will therefore have to find out what the sources of these patients’ hope are.3 Hope is not the same thing as cheap optimism. Hope also refers to adversity, suffering, and injustice, and to the ‘and yet’ that is oen part of the experience. People prove to be resilient under many circumstances. Anyone who has ever had a conversation with an older person in a hospital or residential care facility will be able to testify to the incredible but real hope that many patients and residents have.4 ey hope for a cure, hope to live to see a birth or attend a wedding, hope to be able to die peacefully surrounded by relatives, hope to arrange certain affairs before it is too late. Hope gives people strength. At the same time, there is oen a thin line between hope and despair. What people hope for and how strong their hope is can vary over time. Sometimes all hope seems gone, and on other occasions the thing that a person hopes for strongly changes due to the circumstances. Section I will explain that hope is a theme within empirical academic research of spirituality in the context of healthcare facilities (observation). In line with international scholarship on this theme, we will be using both spirituality and religiosity as interpretative terms. Religiosity means the personal experience of a religion. Spirituality encompasses religiosity, but is usually used in a wider sense, including experiences that fall outside traditional religious frameworks. In section II, we will then reflect theologically on the meaning of hope in this context (evaluation). In section III we will address ways in which hope can be stimulated (stimulation). Many aspects of this broad theme will have to be le untouched, but we hope this chapter will provide sufficient reasons to include hope in practical theological reflection.

I. Observation: Looking for Hope in People’s Experience ere is a lot of empirical research on hope in relation to health issues. Usually, this research also asks about the religiosity and/or spirituality of the patients in question. Most studies show that higher levels of religios3

Cf.  Anne Vandenhoeck, “De meertaligheid van de pastor in de gezondheidszorg,” Pastorale Perspectieven 137 (2007): 58-62. 4 See, for instance, Jan Van Rompaey, Tussen hoop en wanhoop: Verhalen uit Gasthuisberg (Louvain: Van Halewyck, 2008).



ity are correlated with a higher score on hope.5 Of course, the question is how hope and religiosity are measured. You could ask what theoretical interpretation informed the design of such studies, and how the two concepts were operationalized. We will give examples of both quantitative and qualitative research on hope in relation to religiosity and spirituality. 1. Quantitative Research on Hope One of the best-known psychological theories (and corresponding measuring instruments) on hope was devised by the American psychologist Charles Snyder. He developed a theory on hope which he subsequently operationalized by devising a scale for quantitative research on the basis of questionnaires.6 Snyder primarily regards hope as a way of thinking, and not just as a feeling. Hope is about how people look at the world, about how they think about the goals they are striving for and about the way they can reach these. Traditionally hope was defined as emotion; this is how the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch saw it in his book on the “principle of hope.”7 By contrast, Snyder places much greater emphasis on the cognitive aspect in addition to the emotional aspect, and on seeing possibilities to effectively realize goals.8 Someone could hope to obtain a degree and see realistic possibilities of making it happen on the basis of application to study and confidence in their own capacities. Or someone could hope to be restored to health aer a first diagnosis of cancer and think there is a good chance of this happening because a certain treatment has been proposed. ese are concrete situations in which people have hope. But Snyder also wants to investigate how people in general think about goals and possibilities to achieve them, thus expressing hope.


Cf. Harold König, Dana King, and Verna B. Carson, Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 302. 6 See Charles R. Snyder et al., “e Will and the Ways: Development and Validation of an Individual-Differences Measure of Hope,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60 (1991): 570-585. See also Chan M. Hellman, Megan K. Pittman, and Ricky T. Munoz, “e First Twenty Years of the Will and the Ways: An Examination of Score Reliability Distribution on Snyder’s Dispositional Hope Scale,” Journal of Happiness Studies 14 (2014): 723-729. 7 Cf. Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1959). 8 Cf. Andrew Stobart, “Towards a Model of Christian Hope: Developing Snyder’s Hope eory for Christian Ministry,” Theology and Ministry 1 (2012): 1-17, at 3,eologyandMinistry1_7.pdf [accessed November 14, 2019].



1. Hope Measured by Items and Scales is interpretation of hope shows in the way Snyder has fashioned the instrument he uses to measure hope.9 He has developed a scale of twelve items, which respondents must rate by awarding a score between 1 and 8 (1 = strongly disagree, 8 = strongly agree). Snyder called this scale the Adult Dispositional Hope Scale (ADHS). e scale that measures hope consists of two large thematic clusters of four items each (subscales). ese address the energy, will, or motivation that people have to achieve a goal. is includes the belief that someone will in fact be able to achieve the goal in question and has the capacities required. is is encapsulated in the term agency (A). e other subscale concerns making plans to achieve goals or seeing possibilities to solve problems. is is denoted by the term pathways (P). In addition there are four other items that are related to hope in general but that cannot be subsumed specifically under either of these main categories. ey are called F for filler items. eir role is to conceal the intention of the questions and thus ensure that the questionnaire does not predetermine the respondents’ answers. If people know that researchers are keen to find out how they will score on aspects related to hope, they may be more inclined to give high scores. For this reason, other items have been included which might require lower scores in the expectation of respondents. us, researchers have tried to ensure that participants’ responses will be unbiased. To give readers a good impression of the scale that supposedly measures the concept of hope, we have listed the twelve items below:10 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

I can think of many ways to get out of a jam. (P) I energetically pursue my goals. (A) I feel tired most of the time. (F) ere are lots of ways around any problem. (P) I am easily downed in an argument. (F) I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are important to me. (P) I worry about my health. (F) Even when others get discouraged, I know I can find a way to solve the problem. (P) My past experiences have prepared me well for my future. (A) I’ve been pretty successful in life. (A)

9 See chapter 4 on methodological questions, particularly on the concept of operationalization. 10 Snyder et al., “e Will and the Ways,” 585.



11. I usually find myself worrying about something. (F) 12. I meet the goals that I set for myself. (A) 2. Statistical Background e scores for the agency (A) and pathways (P) subscales must be added up: eight items in total, so that everyone has at least a score of 8 and at most of 64. e distribution of the items over the agency and pathways categories was carried out not only on the basis of theoretical considerations, but also of a factor analysis. A questionnaire containing the scale on hope was presented to a group of respondents and the scores of these respondents were then processed using statistical programs. Factor analysis means that figures indicate the mutual correlations between certain items, and how these items fit together (into one factor) and are different from other groups of items (other factors). It is good for the psychometric value of a scale if items score clearly only for a single factor. To put this differently: statistical analysis shows that the agency and pathways subscales are clearly distinct from each other, not only theoretically, but also when numerical calculation is performed. e two subscales are therefore clearly distinct, but they are mutually interrelated. Positive correlations were found between the two scales. e chance that these correlations are due to coincidence is very small. In other words, the chance that a correlation will also occur for other groups of respondents is high. is is expressed with the p-value, a score that indicates how great the chance of error is, with ‘error’ meaning that the researcher wrongly assumes that there is a link between two variables. e p-value thus expresses how significant a correlation between two variables (here: scales) is. Significant means that the correlation is not coincidental, but that similar results will be found if the study is repeated. P-values must be less than .05 and preferably less than .001 for there to be a very significant correlation. Snyder assumes that the hope scale in fact measures hope, because significant positive correlations have been found with other scales that also measure aspects of hope, or negative correlations with a scale which measures despair, for instance. No correlations were found with a scale that gauges self-consciousness. And yet there are critics who argue that the agency scale, for example, in fact measures experiences of previous successes rather than hope, and is very closely related to optimism.11 11

Cf. Charles S. Carver and Michael F. Scheier, “e Hopeful Optimist,” Psychological Inquiry 13, no. 4 (2002): 276-321. See also: Katie Hanson, “What Exactly Is Hope and How Can You Measure It?,” October 24, 2009, [accessed November 14, 2019].



e scale presented above regards hope as something that occurs in many different situations and is a feature of people’s character. Snyder also developed a different, shorter scale that focuses more on specific situations and that measures current hope (Adult State Hope Scale, ASHS). is scale consists of three items concerning agency and three items concerning pathways.12 e degree to which, and the way in which someone experiences hope differs from situation to situation. 3. Correlation with Other Variables is description of a measuring instrument (scale) for quantitative research shows how difficult it is to achieve the satisfactory operationalization of a research question: how do you research how much hope people have? Researchers usually measure the way in which people self-assess for this. A quantitative study usually tries to establish whether there are links between the measure of hope and religious experience. Or they attempt to find out whether the experience of support and elements of good care, or more specifically spiritual care, correlate with a greater degree of hope. Oen they also want to gauge whether there is a correlation between hope and general wellbeing. Studies have shown that hope and wellbeing are closely correlated.13 Usually it transpires that variables that are linked to religiosity — like the importance of religion in daily life, religious practices or faith — are positively correlated with hope. Religious respondents typically show fewer signs of despair.14 Some researchers conclude, on the basis of the results of studies and of subsequent theoretical reflection, that hope can be seen as an effect of religion, as a positive result of religious experience.15 Being religious can lead to a more hopeful approach to life. Hope is oen an intervening 12

Cf.  Charles R. Snyder et al., “Development and Validation of the State Hope Scale,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70 (1996): 321-335. 13 See for instance David Berendes et al., “Hope in the Context of Lung Cancer: Relationships of Hope to Symptoms and Psychological Distress,” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 40, no. 20 (2010): 174-182. 14 Cf.  Mario Cruz et al., “e Association of Public and Private Religious Involvement with Severity of Depression and Hopelessness in Older Adults Treated for Major Depression,” American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 17, no. 6 (2009): 503-507. See also: König, King, and Carson, Handbook of Religion and Health, 581. 15 Cf. Harold G. König, “Religion, Spirituality, and Health: e Research and Clinical Implications” ISRN Psychiatry 8 (2012), psychiatry/2012/278730/ [accessed November 14, 2019].



variable between scores in the field of mental wellbeing and religiosity. is means that hope can help to explain the connection between mental wellbeing and religiosity.16 People with more religious experiences generally score higher in the field of mental wellbeing17 and this can be explained, among other things, by the correlation between religiosity and hope. e scores relating to mental wellbeing correlate with the degree of religiosity. Closer inspection shows that this is mediated by the scores for hope: the fact that religiosity stimulates mental wellbeing can be partially explained because religiosity stimulates hope, and hope in turn contributes to mental wellbeing. But things are even more complex. Mental wellbeing and hope possibly also affect degrees of religiosity. us, many people report that they lost their faith when they were confronted with the death of a loved one, or had to contend with a feeling of general meaninglessness. ere are statistical techniques to identify these causal connections. is is successful particularly when a researcher designs an experiment and tries to control as many variables as possible (like context, age or gender differences). But this is not easy to do when the purpose of the research is to gain insight into experiences in daily life. In many situations linked to human life, feelings, behavior, and visions, it is very difficult to speak of cause and effect (causality). When it comes to hope, there is yet another complicating factor. Hope is not just an intervening variable that can partially explain the correlation between religiosity and mental wellbeing, but hope itself can also be seen as a characteristic of religiosity. Some people will specifically regard hope of life aer death as a characteristic of religiosity and spirituality. Others will be more inclined to see the general hope of recovery, for instance, or happiness, as part of spirituality. ere is much to be said for this, and in fact, it is very important when it comes to caring for people. is vision is valuable, but it does mean that it is more difficult to measure hope or to identify correlations between hope and other

16 Cf. Amy Lee Ai et al., “Depression Following Open-Heart Surgery: A Path Model Involving Interleukin-6, Spiritual Struggle, and Hope under Preoperative Distress,” Journal of Clinical Psychology 66, no. 10 (2010): 1057-1075; Amy L. Ai et al., “Psychosocial Mediation of Religious Coping Styles: A Study of ShortTerm Psychological Distress Following Cardiac Surgery,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 33, no. 6 (2007): 867-882. 17 Cf. Raphael M. Bonelli and Harold G. König, “Mental Disorders, Religion and Spirituality 1990 to 2010: A Systematic Evidence-Based Review,” Journal of Religion and Health 52 (2013): 657-673.



variables. One thing that is clear, however, is that hope and religiosity are closely connected. Many studies in psychological and medical journals have measured hope in relation to other variables in specific groups. In one American study among patients who were receiving open heart surgery, researchers tried to find out what factors played a role in the relationship between fear before the operation and depression aer the operation.18 e study, which also used Snyder’s scale on hope, showed that hope is a factor that is negatively correlated with fear before the operation and depression aer the operation. us, hope can be a protective factor that can prevent people from depression. e situation is different when it comes to spiritual struggle. When people are struggling with their faith, this is a factor that is correlated with fear before the operation (r = .35, p < .001) and depression aer the operation (r = .29, p < .001) (the letter r indicates the correlation). In this case there is a positive correlation: the more people struggle with their faith, the more fearful they are and the more likely they are to suffer from depression. And struggling with elements of spirituality has a negative correlation with hope. Or, to put it differently: in many cases, the more people struggle with spirituality, the less hopeful they are; or the lower they score on the hope scale, the higher they score on ‘struggling with spirituality’. is can be expressed as r = – .26, p