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What is Public Theology?

'Public theology' focuses on issues of public concern:

The Centre responds to issues as they arise and is not tied to the agenda of others. It is free to pursue research and promote debate on issues it sees as important but which may have escaped the 'public eye'. We believe that theology can shed fresh light on issues and can contribute in new and challenging ways to debate and policy formation.

Public Theology isn't about promoting the interests of 'the Church'; it's about drawing on the resources, insights and compassionate values of the Christian faith to contribute to the welfare of society.

In broad terms, our work falls into four main areas:

  • Faith and Justice (prison reform)
  • Faith and the Environment (the integrity of Creation)
  • Faith and Good Governance (the public good, equality, fairness and social justice)
  • Faith and Society (human dignity, the wellbeing of children)

Why does Public Theology matter?

We cannot understand this world without understanding something about religion -- and its place in shaping the underlying values, ethics and identities that, in turn, influence political and economic decisions, policies and actions.

Negative stories involving faith or religion appear almost daily on our front pages or on the evening news. We read about violent conflicts between faiths, acts of extremism, or religion used as a force for ignorance and bigotry.

On the other hand, for many who reject traditional expressions of faith, consumerism is an unsatisfactory 'god', having little or nothing to say about how we treat each other -- or this earth -- beyond mere vehicles for acquiring more and more 'stuff'.

And yet, we live in increasingly religiously diverse societies, where questions about ethics and values confront us: how are we to live? whose values are 'right'? do we have a shared understanding of the 'common good'? how best to build a just society?

The Centre seeks to tap into these beliefs, to create the necessary space to thoughtfully examine current social, economic and political issues in a holistic way, to broaden the debate beyond the narrow language of the marketplace.

The Centre does this by:

  • undertaking rigorous cross-disciplinary research, publishing in scholarly journals, and sharing this research with decision-makers and community leaders
  • producing high-quality resources to promote critical and engaged thinking about faith and current issues (e.g. discussion papers on election issues for church groups)
  • working with all church traditions, people of other faiths, local and national government representatives, networks, agencies and other organizations committed to the common good
  • organising public forums to encourage constructive dialogue between representatives of differing or conflicting viewpoints on current issues (e.g. Euthanasia and assisted suicide, Government Asset Sales).
  • making informed submissions to parliamentary committees on proposed legislative changes (e.g. Alcohol Reform, the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children)
  • delivering public lectures and invited sermons at church services
  • providing expert commentary to local, national and international media

The Centre also delivers courses on Public Theology within and beyond the University. It is an excellent environment for postgraduate and postdoctoral students to pursue research into areas of public theology.

The Centre welcomes enquiries from established practitioners and scholars wanting to spend research leave at the University of Otago.

View the Centre flyer here