Pastoral Theology and Care Critical Trajectories in Theory and Practice

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Pastoral Theology andCare
Pastoral Theology and Care
Critical Trajectories in Theory and Practice
Edited by Nancy J. Ramsay
This edition first published 2018
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Ramsay, Nancy J. (Nancy Jean), 1949– editor.
Title: Pastoral theology and care : critical trajectories in theory and practice /
edited by Nancy Ramsay.
Description: First edition. | Chichester, UK ; Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons, 2018. |
Includes bibliographical references and index. |
Identifiers: LCCN 2017037355 (print) | LCCN 2017044590 (ebook) |
ISBN 9781119292548 (pdf) | ISBN 9781119292593 (epub) | ISBN 9781119292524 (cloth) |
ISBN 9781119292562 (pbk.)
Subjects: LCSH: Pastoral theology. | Pastoral care.
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Set in 10/12pt Warnock by SPi Global, Pondicherry, India
Peggy Ann Brainerd Way
Emma Justes
Trailblazing women whose intelligence, courage, commitment, and passion
shaped the foundations of contemporary
pastoral theology and care in the United States.
They spoke “truth to power” with piercing honesty.
They understood justice is the context in which love flourishes.
List of Contributors
Nancy J. Ramsay

actice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography
Mary Clark Moschella
How theBr
ain Matters
David A. Hogue

Class P
Bruce RogersVaughn

colonializing Pastoral Theology: Enhancing the Intercultural
Emmanuel Y. Amugi Lartey

Caring fr
omaDistance: Intersectional Pastoral Theology amid Plurality
Regarding Spirituality and Religion
Kathleen J. Greider

Womanist P
astoral Theology andBlack Women’s Experience ofGender,
Religion, andSexuality
Phillis Isabella Sheppard

Analyzing andEngag
Nancy J. Ramsay
List ofContributors
Kathleen J. Greider
Research Professor
Claremont School of Theology
David A. Hogue
Professor of Pastoral Theology
GarrettEvangelical Theological
Emmanuel Y. Amugi Lartey
L. Bevel Jones, III Professor
ofPastoral Theology,
Chandler School of Theology,
Emory University
Mary Clark Moschella
Roger J. Squire Professor
ofPastoralCare and Counseling
Yale University Divinity School
Nancy J. Ramsay
Professor of Pastoral Theology
andPastoral Care
Brite Divinity School
Bruce RogersVaughn
Associate Professor of the Practice
ofPastoral Theology and Counseling
The Divinity School,
Phillis Isabella Sheppard
Associate Professor of Religion,
Psychology, and Culture
The Divinity School and
Graduate Department of Religion,
The chapters in this volume invite students, pastors, and faculty to engage seven
critical trajectories emerging in the literature of pastoral theology in the United
States and internationally among pastoral and practical theologians. While
these seven trajectories do not exhaust important points of activity in the field,
they do represent especially promising resources for theory and practice. These
trajectories include: qualitative research and ethnography, implications arising
from advances in neuroscience, care across pluralities and intersections in reli
gion and spiritualities, the influence of neoliberal economics in experiences of
socioeconomic vulnerabilities, postcolonial theory and its implications, the
intersections of race and religion in caring for black women, and the usefulness
of intersectional methodologies for pastoral practice. The contributors are
closely identified with the trajectories they trace and extend. Each chapter richly
illustrates the implications for practices of care relationally and in public con
texts engaging structures and systems. The essays include not only a review of
recent literature giving shape to each trajectory, but also the author’s construc
tive proposals for further advancing the trajectory’s horizons. Particularly help
ful is an opportunity in each chapter to identify how scholars in various
international contexts are also exploring these themes.
Mary Clark Moschella helped to introduce qualitative research and ethno
graphic methods to the field of pastoral theology. In her essay, we find explora
tions of several diverse “streams” in this trajectory allowing students a
comparative review of the creativity across the trajectory as a whole, as well as
Dr. Moschella’s new constructive proposals drawing on narrative theory and
therapy to advance the usefulness of ethnographic practices to confront and
redress the oppressive effects of hegemonic factors such as racism and ethno
centrism embedded in the narratives of individuals and of communities.
While neuroscience is not technically a new area of research among pastoral
theologians, recent advances in neuroscience have lately sparked a wider
Nancy J. Ramsay
Pastoral Theology and Care
engagement. David Hogue brings a depth of reflection and engagement with
neuroscience to his review of this trajectory. He also offers constructive theo
logical and theoretical explorations of the implications for practices of care
with individuals and in public life, such as new insights in neuroscience for
resisting the hegemonic force of privilege and domination that, once learned,
shape neurological connections.
Bruce RogersVaughn brings new perspectives to bear that demonstrate how
rarely pastoral theologians have engaged issues of class and economic inequal
ity as important factors in practices of care for individuals and families and in
public contexts. He rightly points to the limitations this has created in litera
ture and resources. He illustrates how neoliberal economic policies have
become cultural in scope as a radical individualism in the United States and
beyond. This neoliberalization of our culture is implicated in epidemic levels of
addiction, suicide, and depression, as well as the stress of economic precarity
in the “second Gilded Age” in the United States.
Emmanuel Lartey is a primary voice in the trajectory shaped by the use of
postcolonial critical theories that disclose the defacing and subjugating effects
of colonial oppression. Here Lartey not only traces the emergence of this tra
jectory but pays close attention to three key themes explored in its literature:
voice, epistemology, and praxis. He demonstrates how engaging postcolonial
insights offers reciprocal benefits for those whose heritage is shaped by coloni
ality. In particular, drawing especially on experiences and practices of care in
African cultures, Lartey argues that recentering care around spirituality
extends its efficacy in building community and transforming cultures.
Kathleen Greider is a primary voice in shaping pastoral theology’s trajectory of
resources for responding with understanding and skill in an increasingly spiritu
ally plural and interreligious culture in the United States and beyond. She devel
ops a richly illustrated journey with Israelis and Palestinians who have suffered
the death of family members in decades of religiously fueled violence, and who
nonetheless seek to communicate with care and respect across the intersections
of a culture marred by violence. Greider helps us learn about care across dis
tances that arise in such religious and spiritual plurality. She explores the priority
of receiving otherness for practices of care in spiritual and religious plurality.
Phillis Sheppard is a central contributor to current womanist theory and care.
Here she explores the trajectory of intersectional approaches in womanist litera
ture and offers new proposals for the particular intersections of race, gender,
sexuality, and religion. In particular, she brings constructive contributions to the
particular intersection of black women’s lived religion and sexuality that is more
plural and complex than it often appears in pastoral theology and womanist lit
erature. She also provides new proposals for intersectional attention to a wom
anist psychology of religion currently undertheorized in pastoral theology.
My own work especially attends to pastoral theological engagement in public
life. This essay introduces the metatheory of intersectionality, first voiced by
African American women as well as other women whose historic and current
experience reflect the oppressive effects of coloniality. Intersectional method
ologies name and resist situations of social inequality. This chapter illustrates
the close alignment of intersectional commitments with those of public pasto
ral theology. It illustrates the methodological usefulness of intersectional
approaches for assisting pastoral and practical theologians to name and engage
abuses of power in relational, communal, and public contexts.
sm workshop, where personal experiences of racism were poignantly
described and blatant instances of racism in the media were dissected.
Iremember feeling overwhelmed by emotion and asking the leaders of the
workshop what I could do, as a white woman, to make a difference. The
Pastoral Theology and Care
history of this trajectory in the field of pastoral theology, with some atten
tion to the wider discipline of practical theology as well. I will then describe
a number of recent, exemplary studies within this trajectory, grouping them
into three streams of work, and noting how the issues animating the broader
field of qualitative research have echoes and analogues in pastoral research.
The three streams include: ethnographic and qualitative research that illu
minates and invigorates pastoral practices; the work of the Ecclesiology and
Ethnography Network of scholars that focuses on the intersection between
theology and ecclesial practices; and narrative qualitative studies. These
three streams are not exhaustive; neither are they entirely discrete, as will
become evident. Many of the exemplary studies I reference demonstrate the
overlapping concerns, methods, and goals in each category. Nevertheless,
this broad classification helps illumine the contours of pastoral scholars’
current questions, goals, and contributions. Following this exploration of
the literature, I will make a case for the importance of qualitative research in
pastoral theology and care, arguing that
practice matters
, and that exploring
actual practice is in fact central to the field’s stated identity of “constructive
theology growing out of the exercise of caring relationships” (Mission
Journal of Pastoral Theology
). In the last section, I will address
future directions in this research trajectory, articulating my particular
erest in the development of the third research stream, narrative quali-
tative research, and its burgeoning creative, therapeutic, and prophetic
Development oftheResearch Trajectory
The qualitative research trajectory in pastoral theology and care participates in a
broader “turn to culture” in theological and religious studies that can be seen in
the work of historians, ethicists, systematic theologians, and biblical scholars.
Timothy Snyder offers an apt description of this pronounced shift:
The turn to culture in academic theology has recovered its incarna
tional, or embodied, nature, which has at times been obscured by the
abstract and universalizing tendencies of theological reflection in the
postEnlightenment era. Most of all, it reintroduced a creative tension
between the particular and the universal in theological reflection.
(Snyder, 2014)
Don Browning helped set the stage for pastoral and practical theologians to
participate in this turn to culture with his emphasis on social and cultural
description (Browning, 1991). Robert Schreiter’s work (1985) on local theolo
gies embraces an interconnected view of theology and culture. Elaine Graham
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
(1996) illuminates the transformational and revelatory dimensions of prac
tice, highlighting the “creative tension” of which Snyder speaks, and arguing
for an interpretive rather than prescriptive role for pastoral and practical
John Patton’s description of the communal contextual paradigm of care,
along with his image of the pastoral caregiver as a “miniethnographer” (Patton,
2005, p. 43) encourages pastors and scholars alike to pay careful attention to
the lives of persons and communities in order to be able to practice genuinely
helpful pastoral care. At the same time, multiple contributions of scholars of
color, feminists, womanists, and others from underrepresented or marginal
ized social groups have challenged the pastoral field to recognize the dominant
cultural paradigms embedded in the literature that do not adequately represent
their lived religious experiences. Their focus on the cultural contexts of care,
now routine in introductory pastoral theology and care courses, spurred the
need for new methodologies in pastoral research.
The field of congregational studies provided impetus and resources for the
pastoral trajectory in qualitative research by emphasizing the study of con
gregations in their complex social and geographic ecologies (Ammerman
etal., 1998; Eiesland, 2000). Participatory action research, with its emphasis
on communitybased research for the purpose of social change, is a related
approach that practical theologians have taken up with vigor (Cameron
etal., 2010; CondeFrazier, 2012). My work on ethnography as a pastoral
practice brings ethnographic principles and methods to the practice of pas
toral care (Moschella, 2008b). To date, numerous scholars from pastoral and
practical theology as well as other theological fields have been engaging in
qualitative research studies linked to theological reflection (Scharen and
Vigen, 2011).
Similarly, the teaching of ethnography and qualitative research in theological
schools has been expanding dramatically. Once the sole purview of sociology
of religion, such courses are now taught by pastoral, practical, and systematic
theologians, ethicists, field education supervisors, clinical pastoral educators,
and others. Susan Willhauck (2016), in research funded by Wabash, found that
qualitative research methods are being taught in more than 50 theological
schools in the US and Canada alone.
I argue that the disciplined study of religious practices is one way of keep
ing pastoral scholars and practitioners accountable to the people in the
ecclesial, social, and political worlds we address. In pastoral theology, in
particular, we need to be informed about the particular practices and expe
riences of a wide array of culturally and religiously diverse persons, congre
gations, and communities. Rather than prescribing overly general theories
of care, we need the wisdom that can only come from close exploration of
lived theology and practice. The qualitative research trajectory helps us
reclaim the central importance of listening, of attending to people in their
Pastoral Theology and Care
sociocultural particularity, and allowing ourselves to learn
the people
who share their stories with us.
The Field ofQualitative Research
This trajectory in pastoral theological research has required us to adapt the
methodological resources of the broader field of qualitative research. In their
Introduction to
The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research
, Norman
Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln (2011) review the various research paradigms ani
mating that field. Rehearsing the history of debates among proponents of quan
titative, positivist, constructivist, and critical theory paradigms, the authors
show how forms of resistance to qualitative research still loom over the field.
While many quantitative researchers regard qualitative studies as “unreliable,
impressionistic, and not objective” (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011, p. 9), qualitative
researchers assert the value of studying “the world of lived experience, for this is
where individual belief and action intersect with culture” (Denzin and Lincoln,
2011, p. 2). These tensions linger, contributing to a range of interpretive para
digms within qualitative research, ranging from positivist/postpositivist, con
structivist, feminist, ethnic, Marxist, cultural studies, to queer theory (Denzin
and Lincoln, 2011, p. 13). Each of these approaches has distinct criteria for
evaluation, theories of analysis, and types of narration. Denzin and Lincoln
stress that the politics of interpretation must always be kept in view. They write:
The interpretive practice of making sense of one’s findings is both artis
tic and political. Multiple criteria for evaluating qualitative research now
exist, and those we emphasize stress the situated, relational, and textual
structures of the ethnographic experience. There is no single interpre
tive truth. (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011, p. 15)
Denzin and Lincoln’s postmodern perspective, though still contested, finds
echoes in much of the current work in pastoral and practical theology.
Such multiple interpretive paradigms can be seen in the three streams of
ethnography and qualitative research that I describe below. These streams
include: research in pastoral ethnography and qualitative research designed to
illuminate and invigorate pastoral practices; the work of the Ecclesiology and
Ethnography Network, with its focus on theology; and qualitative studies that
emphasize the development of alternative, justiceoriented narratives. In each
stream there are slightly different embedded values concerning not only the
subject(s) of the research, but also the methods of evaluation, analysis, and
narration. Norwegian practical theologian Tone Stangeland Kaufman, describ
ing the “conundrum” of theologically motivated quali
tive research, calls such
embedded values, “theoryladen practices with inherent normative dimen
sions” (2016, p. 146). It is also important for
storal theologians to recognize
the political dimensions of interpretation.
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
Pastoral Ethnography andQualitative Research
The first broad stream of pastoral work with this trajectory employs qualitative
research in order to elucidate and invigorate pastoral practices. The term
storal ethnography” implies the intention that the research process itself is
conducted in such a way as to honor the voices of the participants, embody
ethical regard in research relationships, and facilitate the participants’ increas
ing agency in their collective theology and practice (Moschella, 2008b). This
work is often conducted by religious insiders (including but not limited to
Christians) who acknowledge that they incorporate their theological values
and questions into the research process. Studies of this sort plumb the wisdom
and limitations of particular and/or local religious practices, which may inspire
analogical insights for scholars and practitioners in diverse settings. This
stream of work has been nurtured by the Study Group on Religious Practices
and Pastoral Research at the Society for Pastoral Theology’s annual meetings
since 2004. An early edited volume highlights the contributions of a number of
these scholars (Maynard etal., 2010). Also included in this category are qualita
tive studies that are not ethnographic in nature, but utilize qualitative methods
and purposes of inquiry. The Association for Practical Theology, the
International Academy of Practical Theology, the Congregational Studies
Project Team, and the Religious Education Association have also nurtured
scholars’ use of qualitative research methods.
A fine example of pastoral ethnography can be found in Leanna K. Fuller’s
(2016) study,
and other religious leaders can imagine points of intersection and insight for
their diverse congregations and groups. Fuller makes transparent her
theological commitment to offer a religious response to human suffering
(MillerMcLemore, 1998, p. 179; Fuller, 2016, p. 191), thereby enabling
aders to evaluate the significance of her conclusions and recommendations
more readily.
Pastoral Theology and Care
As noted above, pastoral and practical theologians are also employing quali
tative methods (other than ethnography) to study a topic, a practice, or the
experiences of a cohort of persons in similar situations. Such topics include:
the faith lives of adolescent girls (Parker, 2007; Mercer, 2008), war (Graham,
2011), forced displacement (Holton, 2016), and so on. In
A Womanist Theology
against Intimate and Cultural Violence
, Stephanie Crumpton (2014) offers a
pastoral theology based on a qualitative study involving extensive individual
and group interviews with six African American women who experienced
childhood sexual abuse and/or intimate violence as adults. Through her
s of these interviews, Crumpton identifies the extensive spiritual harm
done to the women by their abusers and by a wider society that is quick to
stereotype, blame, disbelieve, or disregard black women. Describing insights
articulated by the women themselves, Crumpton constructs “working images
of Womanist/Care” (p. 125) to inform congregational responses to such vio
lence. She goes on to add a chapter on clinical considerations for pastoral
counseling, utilizing selfpsychological theory in her analysis. The author’s
explicit reference to her theology and womanist values exemplifies an interpre
tive paradigm that acknowledges the political commitments operative in all
research and, rather than pretending to be neutral or disinterested, makes
those commitments transparent. This paradigm is also evident in Phillis
Sheppard’s essay in this volume.
An important largerscale study by pastoral theologian Brett Hoover (2014)
demonstrates the benefits of doing ethnography in combination with extensive
sociological research, both qualitative and quantitative. In
The Shared Parish:
Latinos, Anglos, and the Future of U.S. Catholicism
, Hoover describes how
recent demographics have led to the phenomenon of “the shared parish” in
Catholic churches in the US. Different from assimilationist American parishes
or ethnic parishes, this phenomenon involves two or more cultural groups
inhabiting the same church, “living in the tension between cultural difference
and human connectedness” (Hoover, 2014, p. 222). Hoover’s indepth ethnog
raphy gives readers a closeup view of how this phenomenon plays out in one
such parish. By linking this ethnography to wider currents in Catholic parish
life in the US, the author increases the credibility and relevance of his findings.
At the conclusion of his study, Hoover offers a wellgrounded theological
vision of community that honors cultural distinctiveness. Hoover’s work is
rigorously interdisciplinary; significantly, he participates in the scholarly guilds
of both theologians and social scientists.
These three exemplary studies suggest a range of recent work in this stream
within the larger trajectory of qualitative research in pastoral and practical
theology. In each case, the author is in some sense an insider, emic, exploring
worlds of religious experience through facetoface contact with research
ticipants or partners. In these studies, we can see echoes of the constructi-
vist, feminist and womanist, and ethnic interpretive paradigms found in the
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
broader field of qualitative studies. Fuller’s study illumines the nature of
and pastoral responses in two mostly white US Protestant churches, providing
much transferable wisdom for religious leaders. Crumpton’s study lifts up the
particularity of African American women’s experiences of both intimate and
cultural violence and shows how each kind of violence compounds the other.
Hoover employed a postmodern research paradigm in his ethnography, where
he participated as a bilingual Catholic priest, in order to understand how
Latino and EuroAmericans develop and manage intercultural practices in a
shared parish. In these studies, the authors explore religious practice through
research relationships in which they share their questions and their goals
openly with their research partners. Their accounts demonstrate their convic
tions that the practices of the church really do matter on the ground, in the
lives of people.
Ecclesiology andEthnography
The second stream of work within the broad trajectory of qualitative research in
practical and pastoral theology is associated with the Ecclesiology and
Ethnography Network. Founded by Pete Ward and Christian Scharen in 2007,
this transAtlantic network of scholars hosts a series of conferences taking place
in Durham, UK, and other parts of Europe, a book series and a journal (Ward,
Ecclesial Practices
), as well as a thriving preconference study group held
at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. This body of work
explores the intersection of Christian theology— particularly ecclesiology—
with the study of local and particular faith practices. This work has been
described, variously, as “constructive theological ethnography,” “ecclesial prac
tices,” or “fieldwork in theology.” Contributors to this conversation include but
are not limited to: Pete Ward, John Swinton, Mary McClintock Fulkerson,
Christian Scharen, Luke Bretherton, Tone Stangeland Kaufman, Jonas Ideström,
Natalie WiggStevenson, and Eileen CampbellReed. Establishing a starting
point in Christian theology as the basis for qualitative research typifies some,
but not all, of these authors’ approaches, which vary widely. These scholars are
engaging in rigorous reflection upon theology, method, and practice, taking up
questions of normativity, reflexivity, and representation. Some broadly define
this area as “research in service of the church.”
The issue of normativity appears prominently in the influential book,
Practical Theology and Qualitative Research
, written by Scottish practical
theologians John Swinton and Harriett Mowat (2015). They argue that the
veracity of Christian theology precedes and ultimately overrides the knowl
edge gained from social scientific study. This represents one end of a contin
uum of views that scholars in the network hold. These authors resolve the
tension between practical theology and empirical knowledge by prioritizing
Pastoral Theology and Care
Christian (Barthian) theology over other kinds of truth. Problems with this
approach include the relative devaluation of human experience and an appar
ent disregard for the diversity and complexity of Christian theologies (Kaufman,
2016). Here we can hear echoes of the tensions in the larger field of qualitative
research, where norms for interpretation are contested. Epistemological
debates over which kinds of knowledge count in the academy and in the church
are also at play.
Christian Scharen (2015) in
Fieldwork in Theology
begins with different theo
logical warrants for engaging in the study of lived practices of faith: “the task of
understanding [the complexity of this beautiful and broken world] requires a
careful, disciplined craft for the inquiry—a craft I call fieldwork in theology—if
one seeks both to claim knowledge of divine action and to discern an appropri
ate human response” (p. 5). He then turns to the social science of Pierre
Bourdieu, arguing against many critics that for Bourdieu, “every act of research
is simultaneously scholarship and a social commitment to make a better world”
(p. 29). For Scharen, the aim of fieldwork is to analyze and clarify the church’s
work in the world; it is to find with MerleauPonty, “an entryway into a grounded,
fleshly, incarnational approach to being in the world” (p. 29), so that concrete
social realities can be identified and the church can be engaged in “moral soli
darity with those in need” (p. 89). His work suggests a fuller role for qualitative
research in practical and pastoral theology. Though normativity is still implied
or “interwoven” in Scharen’s approach, as Tone Stangeland Kaufman’s helpful
essay (2016) might suggest, there is more authority granted to the “grounded,
fleshly, incarnational approach to being in the world” (Scharen, p. 29). For
Scharen, the relationship between theology and human response (or practice) is
more symmetrical in terms of what counts for valid understanding.
Perhaps the foremost example of an ethnographic study that explicitly
engages reflexivity is
Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church
(McClintock Fulkerson, 2007). This is the study of Good Samaritan United
Methodist Church, an intentionally racially integrated congregation in
Durham, North Carolina. This congregation also made an explicit commit
ment to welcoming members of a group home who had significant physical
and intellectual dis/abilities. The church sought to provide, in McClintock
Fulkerson’s phrase, “a place for all to appear” (p. 231). She offers a thick descrip
tion of the worship services and other religious practices of the congregation.
Employing reflexivity, McClintock Fulkerson describes her discomfort as a
participant observer in this place. She acknowledges feeling illatease when
she, a white southern woman, comes to worship one day and notices that
threequarters of the congregation has dark skin. She also admits to finding
herself at a loss for words and not knowing how to hold her body when meeting
and trying to interact with a disabled man in a wheelchair. She analyzes her
own bodily felt discomfort and asserts that accounts of social oppression ought
to be linked with “the experiential field upon which the visceral register plays”
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
(p. 20). Her analysis of the intersection of culture, race, and power dynamics in
this setting is further grounded in a study of the history of Durham and the
wider United Methodist Church. Her interpretation accounts for the ways in
which the local church’s embodied practices of worship and hospitality both
meet and fail to meet its theological goals.
This study is especially valuable for pastoral theologians who value embod
ied experience and seek to overcome social oppression. This kind of visceral
reflection helps draw back the curtain from what the author calls “oblivious
ness” to race and dis/ability. It reveals the incorporated character of white
privilege and ablebodied privilege, and how these “can coexist with belief in
equality and (Christian) inclusiveness” (McClintock Fulkerson 2007, p. 20).
Taking both beliefs and enacted practices seriously, McClintock Fulkerson’s
study lifts up “
the primacy of the situation
for theological reflection” (p. 235).
She notes that theology alone cannot tell us what is necessary for “redemptive
alteration” (p. 254); needed are creative attempts to work with the available bits
and pieces of inherited tradition to interrupt dominant groups’ obliviousness.
Grace, too, takes place in the context of a (this)worldly church.
A third example of research associated with the Ecclesiology and Ethnography
Network is pastoral theologian Eileen CampbellReed’s (2016) noteworthy
Anatomy of a Schism
, which, while not strictly speaking an ethnography,
employs qualitative methods of study and highlights the issue of representa
tion. CampbellReed relies upon her extensive interviews with five Baptist
clergywomen to forge a new interpretation of the schism of the Southern
Baptist Convention (1979–2000). Through a close reading of the five clergy
women’s stories, CampbellReed narrates the struggle within the Southern
Baptist Convention between theological Biblicists and Autonomists, highlight
ing the gendered, psychological, and theological dimensions of the schism. Her
layered interpretation describes the history of the Southern Baptist Convention
and its contested views of gender complementarity. The author articulates the
psychological dimensions of “splitting,” understood as both an intrapsychic
experience and the historical event of the schism, and draws out implications
for theology and evolving meanings of ministry. Similar to McClintock
Fulkerson, CampbellReed concludes with an emphasis on the creativity
needed to go forward in faithful living, which involves challenging the “dehu
manization of the disempowered” (CampbellReed, 2016, p. 145).
The feminist commitments of the author are evident in her choice of partici
pants and her focus on their stories as a lens through which to view the larger
historical struggle. In presenting clergywomen as complex historical actors
and not just the subject of Southern Baptist debates over the ordination of
women, CampbellReed breaks through the takenforgranted knowledge of
much previous scholarship. In retelling religious history from the point of view
of those whose voices have been marginalized, the study participates in the
narrative stream in qualitative research as well.
Pastoral Theology and Care
The Ecclesiology and Ethnography Network continues to generate much
exciting scholarship, demonstrating a range of positions on issues of normativ
ity, reflexivity, and representation. Natalie WiggStevenson, who calls her work
“ethnographic theology,” helps push forward the question of how “ethnographic
methods can help us foster the already organic relationship between everyday
and academic theologies” (WiggStevenson, 2014, p. 11). Pastoral and practical
theologians, always working at integration of theory and practice, have much
to learn from this conversation.
Narrative Approaches toQualitative Research
The third stream of work within the ethnography and qualitative research tra
jectory is the one that I find the most compelling and simultaneously the most
difficult to describe. I am calling it narrative qualitative research because it
foregrounds the development of personal and social narratives as sites of trans
formation. This work draws upon insights of the field of narrative therapy
(White and Epston, 1990) and the recognition that hegemonic cultural narra
tives can control and distort our human stories and lives. In order to redress
the political power of such destructive cultural stories, researchers are deliber
ately using ethnographic and qualitative study to lift up alternative stories,
stories that are lifegiving and oriented toward relational justice (Graham,
1992). This stream of work also embraces the position of Denzin and Lincoln
that “the interpretive practice of making sense of one’s findings is both artistic
and political” (2011, p. 15). The prophetic, therapeutic, and artistic dimensions
of these studies are what make them so compelling to me.
One example is Kathleen Greider’s (2007) landmark volume,
Much Madness
is Divinest Sense
, which takes an exploratory approach to understanding psy
chiatric illness in a way that goes beyond positivist explanations. Not a field
study, this investigation analyzes the published memoirs of 18 religiously
diverse “soulsufferers” (Greider’s term for those who suffer from psychiatric
illness). From their memoirs she draws rich descriptions of issues of identity,
suffering, care, and healing. Greider asserts that we must take into considera
tion the ways in which “the sickness of society sometimes causes or compli
cates the sickness of persons” (p. 93). While Greider does not explicitly draw
upon narrative theory in this text, I classify it here because the text does the
work of narrative practice in that it deconstructs both popular and medical
explanations of madness, explores what insiders have to say, and “thickens” the
cultural story by describing the daunting social conditions that contribute to or
exacerbate the suffering of persons with psychiatric conditions and their fami
lies. By focusing on the spiritual wisdom found in the memoirists’ accounts,
Greider honors the hardwon wisdom and Godgiven “divinest sense” that the
poet Emily Dickinson (1890), herself a soulsufferer, named. The artistic
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
dimension of interpretation is also on view in this study, both in its reference to
poetry and in the very use of memoirs as the basis for study. The beauty and
power of the personal accounts conveys the authority of insiders to tell their
own stories and transports the reader into a more experiencenear under
standing of the gifts and challenges in soulsufferers’ experiences.
A salient new contribution to the narrative research stream is
We Are Not All
, by Pamela Couture (2016). Based on ethnographic research in Kamina,
Democratic Republic of Congo, from 2003 to 2014, this book tells an alterna
tive story of the peacemaking activities of the people of Kamina and their reli
gious leaders. Couture’s account is based on the recorded (and in some cases,
translated) testimonies of 78 persons who publicly bore witness to the Luba
struggle, along with numerous qualitative interviews and prolonged periods of
participant observation. Remarking on the tendency of Western authors to
interpret Congolese life only in terms of violence, intrigue, victims, and perpe
trators, Couture writes:
In contrast, the alternative story shows the Luba as agents of their own
peacebuilding, using both indigenous and Christian religion as warrants
for peace, and engaging in these activities inland, where people live ordi
nary lives and rise to extraordinary courage when the times call for it.
(Couture, 2016, p. 4)
Couture deliberately prioritizes the multiple and rich stories that the people
tell her about their lives, their experiences of the conflict, and their efforts to
build peace. Her narrative offers a striking contrast to extant histories and
journalism related to the area.
Couture’s methodology relies explicitly upon two narrative therapy con
cepts: the importance of social witness and recognition; and the therapeutic
value of contributing to a cause that is larger than oneself (Combs and
Freedman, 1996; Couture, 2016). Couture positioned herself first as a ghost
writer attempting to tell the people’s story faithfully, from their point of view.
Later, after years of research, getting to know the people, and working with
them on drafts of the book, she came to see her role rather as “their spirit
writer: my spirit,
mutyima muyampe
, literally, my thinking heart, accompa
nies their
, literally, their soul, in these words” (Couture, 2016, p. 18).
Couture now recognizes that this is a collaborative story that expresses her
own voice and “thinking heart” as well as the voices and souls of the people
who have opened their lives to her.
Couture’s research might thus be considered a form of narrative pastoral
care in that it anticipates the impact of the research upon the people and the
readers for whom it is written. Narrative theory emphasizes people’s authority
over their own stories, and the therapeutic value of sharing such richly deve-
loped stories with other persons and groups.
Pastoral Theology and Care
A choice that Couture has made along these lines is to house her digital
interviews and other primary source material in the Drew University archives
so that future scholars can have access to them. In particular, she wants the
interviews to be available to Congolese scholars so that they can reinterpret
them from the original languages.
Work in the narrative stream also overlaps with the intercultural and
postcolonial trajectory in pastoral theology. Melinda McGarrah Sharp
points out the likelihood of “misunderstanding stories” taking place when
people attempt to communicate across cultural boundaries, due to the leg
acy of colonialism that has tacitly influenced even wellmeaning institu
tions such as Christian missions and the Peace Corps (McGarrah Sharp,
2014, p. 3). This presents a conundrum for qualitative researchers, who—
like many of the above authors—must contend with the challenge of writing
stories in ways that accurately and fairly represent their research partners,
without idealization or condescension. Other tensions for researchers
attempting to coauthor stories include tensions between voice and silence,
and questions of who can speak in a given situation. As McGarrah Sharp
points out, while on the one hand there is the danger of speaking for others,
on the other there is the danger of remaining silent, if that means ignoring
pressing social concerns in local or global communities (2014, p. 127).
Further reflections on postcolonial pastoral theology can be found in
Emmanuel Lartey’s essay in this volume (Chapter4).
Why Practice Matters
Having reviewed these three overlapping approaches within the trajectory
ofqualitative research, I turn now to making a case as to why the study of reli
gious practice matters for students and scholars of pastoral theology and care.
Given that the field foregrounds human experience as a starting place for theo
logical reflection, it makes sense to continue to study religious practices
in situ
attending to the lived experiences of diverse persons and groups in their
orical and sociocultural contexts, as well as to explore their firstperson
published accounts. In the same way in which many pastoral theologians in the
past (and some in the present) have found that staying active in a pastoral
counseling practice keeps their teaching about pastoral counseling honest,
pastoral theologians now need to continue to read and engage in qualitative
studies in order to stay honest and informed about the social and political
dimensions of lived religion. In order to teach and practice pastoral care
thathelps more than it hurts, we need ethnographic and qualitative research
studies that illumine the embodied experience of persons and groups in their
ural complexity and evaluate the impact of religious practices. Pastoral
ethnography and qualitative research force us to see social realities to which
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
wemight otherwise be oblivious, and in this way help the field promote more
intelligent, sensitive, and lifegiving forms of care.
For these reasons I argue that practice matters. By this I mean that individuals
and organizations, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, counseling centers,
chaplaincy departments, and so on, proclaim certain theological values not only
through what they say, but also through what they (we) do, and importantly,
through what we do regularly, habitually, and ritually, wittingly or unwittingly.
For example, Mary McClintock Fulkerson’s (2007) study, noted above, demon
strates how the long history of segregated worship in the US exerts an impact
upon wellmeaning worshippers (including researchers) even as they try to
form a truly integrated congregation. Here is a congregation intentionally inter
rupting the most segregated hour of the week in America, 11:00
a.m. on S
morning, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it. Yet when McClintock Fulkerson
gives us a glimpse into the worship life of this congregation, and a reflexive
glimpse into her awareness of her anxieties as she feels them in her body in this
situation, it becomes clear how much practice matters. In particular, it becomes
clear that patterns of practice that have been long ingrained into embodied per
sons at worship do not easily give way to change. We see what Paul Connerton
means when he says that the past is “sedimented in the body” (1989, p. 72).
Liturgy, preaching style and substance, dress, and language all function to sig
nify identity in particular ways. It is in the nittygritty interactions between and
among pastors and people that the resilience of social power arrangements of
privilege become visible. If pastoral and practical theologians cannot “see” what
goes on in living human faith communities, we cannot hope to challenge the
structures that hold white privilege and other forms of injustice in place.
Ethnographic and qualitative studies, when they are done well, lay bare the
social realities that pastoral practitioners are up against when trying to work
for healing, justice, and transformation. Through engaged qualitative study, we
discover the “theologiesinpractice” (Graham etal., 2005, pp. 170–199) that
are enacted by persons and/or groups, as well as researchers. While such dis
coveries may be alarming—they may challenge previously held notions of the
loving quality of group life, for example, when we see that social hierarchies
prevail in that same group—it is important that we recognize the gaps between
spoken theology and lived practice, and engage with faith communities in
authentic theological reflection upon them. In this way we can help to create
the conditions for new, more just, and faithful living.
The Meaning ofPractice
Ideas of what constitutes a religious or pastoral practice are highly contested in
theological circles. Ted Smith (2012) highlights theoretical differences posed
in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Pierre Bourdieu (as well as others) that
have influenced the conversation. Smith notes that in MacIntyre’s moral
Pastoral Theology and Care
philosophy, the importance of an authoritative tradition of excellence in “activ
ities like medicine, agriculture, prayer, and the care of souls” is emphasized
(Smith, 2012, p. 247). MacIntyre’s influence is evident in the focus on norma
tivity in the work of some of the scholars engaged in the Ecclesiology and
Ethnography Network conversation described above. John Swinton and
Harriett Mowat, for example, state that the task of practical theology “is to
work towards the unification of the Church’s theological understandings and
her practices in the world, and in so doing, ensure that her public performances
of the faith are true to the nature of the Triune God” (Swinton and Mowat,
2016, p. 25). Here we see a primary concern with defining Christian practices
in terms of their coherence with a particular theological understanding of the
nature of God.
Bourdieu’s social theory offers a broader definition of practice, one that relies
less on the authority of a religious tradition and more on embodied, cultural
knowledge. Some of the authors we have cited above, such as Mary McClintock
Fulkerson and Christian Scharen, rely more on Bourdieu’s understanding of
practice, especially in the way that it helps elucidate and account for the “mate
rial relations of race, class, gender, and citizenship” (Smith, 2012, p. 249).
Similarly, I have embraced a broader definition of practice for the work of pas
toral ethnography, influenced by Bourdieu (1977, 1984), Paul Connerton
(1989), and others: “Just about any activity, if it is performed regularly and with
a shared understanding of religious intent or meaning, can be considered a
religious practice. … Nothing can be deemed too secular to study, because the
secular and the sacred, like the intellect and the spirit, and like theology and
practice, dwell in us together” (Moschella, 2008b, p. 51).
Though I do not think it is possible to separate entirely religious practices
from secular ones, some scholars seek to do just that, imagining emphatic dif
ferences between the church and the world. A chief example of this approach
can be found in
Resident Aliens
(Hauerwas and Willimon, 1989), as noted by
Scharen (2015, pp. 7–11). Besides the obvious problem of a lack of humility in
asserting such clear lines of demarcation between the church and the world,
this approach cannot account for the complexity of religious experience inside
congregations or outside of them, nor within Christians or other religious or
spiritual practitioners. Nancy Ammerman’s (2014) sociological study,
Stories, Spiritual Tribes
, for example, finds a range of theologies and spiritual
practices within the membership of American religious congregations and in
other groups, such as neopagans and nonaffiliates. When participants are
encouraged to offer their own definitions of spiritual practice, a wide array of
activities and committed actions is named, including Bible study and worship
attendance for some, as well as praying, serving others, or walking outside in
nature. Yet none of these practices is limited to those who hold to classic
Christian doctrines. Nor are religious beliefs the key factor in church member
ship or participation. Studying religious practices with a broader lens provides
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
insight into the variety and messiness of lived experience. The church and the
world are part of each other, just as human faith and doubt are also entangled
within Christians and other humans.
Tom Beaudoin (2016), in his essay, “Why Does Practice Matter Theologically?”
argues that practical theology has been too confident in its Christian center,
too narrow in its focus on Christian practice (p. 12). In this, he raises awareness
of the ways in which Christiancentrism can limit practical theologians’ capac
ity to see clearly (a topic Kathleen Greider addresses in her essay in this vol
ume, Chapter5). Beaudoin writes, “What counts as Christian practice is always
generated out of local inherited available materials, conscious and personally/
culturally unconscious” (Beaudoin, 2016, p. 27). It is incumbent upon practical
and pastoral theologians to recognize the historicity of practice, that is, the way
in which all religious practices have been invented, borrowed, translated,
improvised, and cobbled together, rather than handed down by the divine in
some pristine or unchanging form. Theology, too, arises out of humanmade
traditions, scriptures, and activities, and is therefore also a product of culture,
not something that stands outside of it (Tanner, 1997). As Beaudoin notes, it is
no simple or easy adjustment for practical (or pastoral) theologians to even
consider moving Christianity out of the center of its discourse—this is why he
calls it a conundrum (Beaudoin, 2016, p. 12). Indeed, it is difficult to research
and write and practice pastoral or spiritual care in ways that express one’s own
theological tradition and values, while at the same time upholding the utmost
respect for alterity (Doehring, 2015, pp. 1–4). Qualitative research can assist us
with this conundrum. It can help us recognize both the limitations of our the
ologiesinpractice (e.g. shortsightedness, selfinterest, lack of awareness of the
impact of privilege and power arrangements), as well as our potential to alter
our practices and enlarge our worldviews (e.g. by respectful listening to and
engagement with those who differ religiously, unmasking white privilege, work
ing for structural change). When we see what is really happening on the ground,
we see how faith practices are both loving and flawed, both lifegiving and life
limiting. By engaging respectfully and even reverently in research relationships
(CampbellReed and Scharen, 2013), we open ourselves to be moved by peoples’
stories and to share in the vulnerability of relationships (McGarrah Sharp, 2013,
pp. 105–132). Qualitative study of religious practices can increase mutual
understanding and help keep us humble in the face of religious difference.
I endorse a broad concept of religious practice, one that can hold together
McIntyre’s emphasis on intentional pursuit of greater excellence within a reli
gious tradition with Bourdieu’s emphasis on the materiality and social distinc
tions inherent in and produced by practice. Pamela Couture’s study, described
above, helps to illustrate what such an approach makes possible. In Kamina in
the Democratic Republic of Congo, she finds that both Christianity and the
local Luba indigenous traditions helped to support practices of peacemaking.
She notes that “motivated by spirituality, the local people themselves have
Pastoral Theology and Care
created a complex, organic model of peacebuilding, including capacity build
ing, conflict transformation, and development” (Couture, 2016, p. 22). Her
close, shared experiences of practice promoted a deeper understanding of both
religious influences.
For pastoral theologians, religious practices matter in that they reveal the
messy and complex ways in which human beings enact their religious values
and strive to flourish. The qualitative study of practice matters in that it
grounds theological reflection in lived experience, revealing both its beauty
and inspiration, as well as its ongoing need for transformation in the face of
injustice, violence, poverty, or peril. Practice matters in that it is what we do in
the name of the holy and what we offer to those seeking care.
Moving Forward: Narrative Means toPastoral
Theological Ends
As we look ahead, I am particularly captivated by the potential of narrative
qualitative research projects to enhance the liberative and empowering goals of
pastoral theology and care. Narrative theory brings intentionality and values to
the fore: whose stories will be lifted up? Whose words, whose language, whose
loyalties, and whose royalties are at stake? We write for the academy, of course.
Or do we/can we write for the wellbeing of the world, and of the diverse com
munities of persons who share their stories with us?
In the past 30 years, numerous pastoral theologians have described the value
of stories and storytelling in pastoral care practices. The work of Charles
Gerkin, Andrew Lester, Edward Wimberly, Anne Streaty Wimberly, Christie
Cozad Neuger, Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley, Carrie Doehring, Duane
Bidwell, and Karen Scheib, among others, has advanced forms of pastoral care
that emphasize the telling and hearing of stories, both human and divine.
Ruard Ganzevoort (2012) notes that “In a sense, theological reflection on
ligious practices has … always been a reflection on the convergences, conflu
ences, and conflicts between the myriads of stories” (p. 214). Pastoral care, in
particular, involves assisting careseekers in gathering up the threads of meaning
in their lives, and weaving them into authentic and lifegiving stories. While
ening to individuals has long been a key pastoral practice, the field has now
gained a greater appreciation for the pastoral task of cocreating communal and
collective stories as well.
Narrative approaches to qualitative research involve at least three significant
dimensions that support these pastoral goals. The first is an emphasis on
empowering marginalized persons and groups, through creating space for
them to tell their stories and an audience to hear them (Ganzevoort, 2012,
p.214). I will call this dimension, “stories seldom heard.” The second dimen
sion I want to note is the use of narrative approaches to deconstruct harmful
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
hegemonic narratives and coauthor thicker, more lifegiving stories. The third
dimension concerns the artistic and poetic possibilities inherent in researching
and writing narrative accounts of religious practice.
Stories Seldom Heard
If pastoral theologians are trying to advance a postcolonial or decolonial
agenda, as Emmanuel Lartey, Melinda McGarrah Sharp, and Nancy J. Ramsay
(in her essay in this volume, Chapter7) suggest, the principals of narrative
theory can help us honor the rich and complex stories that colonized and sub
jugated peoples have to tell. Ethnographies and qualitative research projects
that focus on the lives of people who are marginalized due to race, gender,
geography, dis/abilities, homelessness, poverty, sexual orientation, ethnicity,
and so on, are helping to “change the subject,” as Mary McClintock Fulkerson
(1994) might put it. Qualitative research that foregrounds the faith stories and
religious practices of persons and groups who are marginalized, oppressed, or
stigmatized changes the pastoral conversation.
Of course, there are tensions and risks associated with such research, as has
already been noted above. The subject of research matters, as does the subjec
tivity of the persons involved in the study. The burden of representation is
considerable and complex. Phillis Sheppard points out, for example, that prac
tices of reflexivity alone do not necessarily overcome the risk of reifying racism
when raced bodies are portrayed in practical theology (Sheppard, 2016). I
assert that researchers need to work collaboratively in order to challenge each
other’s biases and blind spots. Even so, there is no guarantee that researchers
will do no unwitting harm.
Nevertheless, I maintain that qualitative research is needed to lift up of the
voices of those whose stories are seldom heard. Sarah Farmer, for example,
studies experiences of hope among incarcerated and formerly incarcerated
women (Farmer, 2016). Such work helps to break down the boundaries between
insiders and outsiders, those who are imprisoned and those who are free, in a
context of mass incarceration marked by racial discrimination (Alexander,
2010). To be sure, special ethical hurdles must be met in research with such
vulnerable populations; it is critical that protocols for informed consent and
other measures for the safety of research partners are observed. At the same
time, it is an ethical lapse to fail to consider the stories of those whose freedoms
are severely curtailed, both while they are incarcerated and when they return
to living in the outside world.
Additional studies with immigrant communities and otherdocumented
persons in the US, now experiencing greater political scrutiny and pressure,
are also needed. CondeFrazier (2011) offers an example that lifts up the needs
of children in immigrant families. Jan Holton’s work on forced displacement
helpfully foregrounds the experiences of refugees, veterans, and homeless
Pastoral Theology and Care
persons (Holton, 2016). In the current regressive political climate, it becomes
all the more important to attend to the conditions of the most vulnerable, and
to create venues in which their stories can be richly told and brought into
greater public awareness. These efforts support the liberative and prophetic
functions of pastoral theology and care.
Stories andStrength
Barbara Wingard and Jane Lester (2001), two narrative therapy leaders from
indigenous communities in Australia, sum up a key goal of collective narrative
therapy in the title of their book,
Telling Our Stories in Ways that Make Us
. Qualitative research that combines the insights of narrative therapy
with the study of religious practices (broadly defined) has the potential to make
pastoral theology stronger. Though pastoral theologians have talked about
communal contextual models of care for many years now, we have not fully
theorized or realized them in pastoral care and counseling practices (McClure,
2010). Collective narrative therapies work with people to develop thicker,
richer stories about themselves—stories that take social and historical contexts
into account, and stories that honor suppressed knowledges that support
ople’s agency, intentionality, faith, and moral integrity.
As we have seen, ethnographic and qualitative research projects can probe the
dominant cultural myths operating within people’s lives. Narrative therapy, rely
ing on critical theory, involves conversations that map the historicity of problems
that constrict and constrain human stories. One of the strengths of ethnographic
and qualitative research is that it often involves studying and articulating the
history of social conditions that contribute to current practices. In narrative
therapy, one goal is to map out the history of problems through questions that
probe their origins, periods of waxing and waning, and the social situations that
support or diminish them. When the social and
orical dimensions of a prob
lem become clearer to a person or group, the internal grip of the problem is
eased, and the capacity to redress it is increased (Moschella, 2016, p. 256).
In the vignette at the start of this chapter, I offered my story of the way in
which studying the religious practices of a group of Italian American immi
grants opened a window into the history of immigration, discrimination, and
racism for me. As the leaders of the antiracism workshop I attended may have
anticipated, coming to terms with the history of Italian immigration and the
cultural construction of ethnicity helped me appreciate the history of diverse
racial groups and the cultural construction of race as well. I came to understand
both the painful history of discrimination that Italians and other immigrants
from southern Europe experienced and the ways in which these immigrants and
their descendants, particularly after World War II when the “melting pot” ideo-
logy took hold, could gain status and economic advantages as they started to be
perceived as white. I could also see the clear difference in the experiences of
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
darkerskinned peoples, whose racial and ethnic markers did not “melt,” and
who have been targeted for ongoing discrimination and violence since the days
of slavery. As historian Mathew Frye Jacobson (1999) points out, there are three
large areas in which the effects of historical and ongoing racism in the US are
clearly documented (housing, education, and jobs). While this understanding
does not make the evil of racism less vexing, it does make the situation clearer,
and it helps make me less oblivious.
Similarly, the narrative practice of mapping helps to make personal and social
problems visible as historically situated, rather than as the takenforgranted,
natural realities that they may at first appear to be. In narrative qualitative
research, mapping the history of local religious practices can help persons and
groups tell their stories in ways that strengthen their historical understanding,
theological values, and ethical clarity. Thus, collective, narrative accounts can
make people as well as pastoral theology stronger.
Pastoral Theology and Care
compelling narrative.
She takes license in recreating dialogue and in abbreviat
ing some stories for the sake of poetics and narrative coherence (Couture, 2016,
p. 18). In choosing this approach, Couture articulates her values and narrative
purposes: she seeks to honor the people who have entrusted her with their sto
ries, not only by allowing them to review the drafts and influence her interpreta
tions, but also by writing their stories in an engaging literary form that she hopes
will serve the people’s goal of getting their story out to a broad readership.
Walton notes that the poetic dimensions of practical theology are controver
sial, perhaps suggesting an echo of the debates within the social sciences noted
above over the relative merits of quantitative and qualitative study. Given that
both pastoral and practical theologians have been anxious to secure their place
in the academy, and given the academic trend toward supporting evidence
based knowledge, such controversy is understandable. If we get caught up in
our metaphors and moments of encounter, might we stray away from empirical
knowledge and undermine the field’s quest “to see and think clearly in order to
make a difference in the world” (Walton, 2012, p. 174)? Yet, Walton points to
Terry Veling’s claim that “aesthetic reasoning” is needed “to safeguard a practi
cal theological ecclesiology from becoming so spellbound with a critical ana
lytic method that it ultimately has a very positivistic approach toward human
actions” (Veling, 2005, pp. 195–203, cited in Walton, 2012, p. 174).
Narrative qualitative research, in all of its prophetic, therapeutic, and artistic
dimensions, can enhance our work in pastoral theology and care. Studies
itten in this vein help us imagine more attentive forms of care, care that
transforms the stories and structures that haunt and limit human persons
beloved of God. Such sensitive and compelling accounts have the potential
toopen up new understanding and increase the likelihood that religious and
spiritual practices of care will be a source of blessing, wonder, and hope.
In this chapter, I have described an evolving trajectory of ethnographic and
qualitative research in the field of pastoral theology and argued for the continu
ing relevance of such practiceoriented research. While examining only a frac
tion of the vast array of critical studies employing qualitative methods and
modes of interpretation, I have highlighted some recent and exemplary studies
within three research streams. Moving forward, I hope to see pastoral theolo
ligious leaders, chaplains, and other practitioners continue to do eth
nography and qualitative research in these various ways, so that our theories,
theologies, and practices can be informed by rigorous research and theological
reflection upon particular, multiple, and varied religious experiences and prac
tices. Inparticular, I advocate for the prophetic, therapeutic, and poetic possi
bilities of narrative qualitative research.
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
In the study of religion, see David D. Hall, Ed.
Lived Religion in America:
oward a History of Practice
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1997); and Robert Orsi,
This research stream is related to the fields of congregational studies and partici
atory action research, though space does not allow me to fully take up these
approaches here. See Elaine Graham, “Is Practical Theology a form of ‘Action
Research’?” in
International Journal of Practical Theology
, Vol. 17, Issue 1,
August 2013, 148–178. Also see the multimedia journal,
Practical Matters: A
Journal of Religious Practices and Practical Theology
(Emory University), an aca
demic space that fosters conversations about and between religious practices,
practical theology, and qualitative research.
I am indebted to Eileen CampbellReed and Pete Ward for help with this section.
This transparency is a good scholarly practice, in that readers who have access
o the data can more fully evaluate the author’s conclusions. In presentations of
her work, Couture has also raised money to support an educational foundation
for Congolese students. She emphasizes the importance of “giving back” bene
fits to her research partners (email conversation with the author, December
This dimension of the writing is reminiscent of Karen McCarthy Brown’s land
ark volume,
Mama Lola: A Haitian Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn
CA: University of California Press, 1991). Brown broke with conventions in
y and the study of religion by interspersing historical chapters with
fictional chapters that she composed out of the many bits and pieces of stories
that she had heard and recorded during her field study.
Alexander, Michelle. 2010.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
. New York: The New Press.
Ammerman, Nancy T., Jackson W. Carroll, Carl S. Dudley, and William
McKinney. 1998.
Studying Congregations: A New Handbook
. Nashville, TN:
Abingdon Press.
Ammerman, Nancy T. 2014.
Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in
Everyday Life
. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pastoral Theology and Care
Beaudoin, Tom. 2016. “Why Does Practice Matter Theologically?” In
Conundrums in Practical Theology
, edited by Joyce Ann Mercer and Bonnie J.
MillerMcLemore, pp. 8–32. Leiden: Brill.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984.
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste
Oxford: Routledge Kegan & Paul.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977.
Outline of a Theory of Practice
. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Browning, Don S. 1991.
A Fundamental Practical Theology: Descriptive and
Strategic Proposals
. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress.
Cameron, Helen, Deborah Bhatti, Catherine Duce, James Sweeney, and Clare
Watkins. 2010.
Talking About God in Practice: Theological Action Research and
Practical Theology
. London: SCM Press.
CampbellReed, Eileen R. 2016.
Anatomy of a Schism: How Clergywomen’s
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
Ganzevoort, R. Ruart. 2012. “Narrative Approaches.” In
The WileyBlackwell
Companion to Practical Theology
, edited by Bonnie J. MillerMcLemore,
pp.214–223. Oxford: WileyBlackwell.
Graham, Elaine L. 1996.
Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of
. London: Mowbray.
Graham, Elaine, Heather Walton, and Francis Ward. 2005.
Theological Reflection:
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Theologies in Contexts
, edited by Denise M. Ackermann and Riet BonsStorm,
pp. 175–198. Leuven: Peeters.
Moschella, Mary Clark. 2008a.
Living Devotions: Reflections on Immigration,
Identity, and Religious Imagination
. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.
Moschella, Mary Clark. 2008b.
Practice Matters: New Directions in Ethnography and Qualitative Research
White, Michael and David Epston. 2009.
Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends
New York: W.W. Norton.
WiggStevenson, Natalie. 2014.
Introduction andLiterature Review
Recent decades have seen an enormous rise in neuroscientific discoveries
around the world. Every day new reports of brain research appear in newspa
pers, social media, and in workshops for artists, attorneys, financial forecast
ers, musicians, and for the “spiritual but not religious.” Few, if any, domains of
human experience are untouched today by the brain sciences, as colorful pic
tures of scans adorn articles proclaiming “this is your brain on…” And in order
to gain readers’ attention in an informationsaturated society, these headlines
tout such promises as new cures for Alzheimer’s, making someone fall in love
with you, reading other people’s minds, improving our memories, and finding
new treatments for drug and behavioral addictions.
To be sure, there is much promise even in the incremental improvements
that are already being made in the slowing of dementias including Alzheimer’s,
mobility for the physically impaired, and tracing the development and treat
ment of addictions. And if history is any clue, the best is yet to come. Yet the
very complexity of the science and the variety of claims make understanding
and interpreting these fascinating discoveries complicated. There is a strong
temptation either to reject the science out of hand (as too difficult to under
stand or irrelevant) or to place unwarranted trust in the claims made by some
scientists and their press agents.
The reach of the neurosciences into our understanding of human nature is
just beginning, but the promise and peril of such a development are yet to be
realized. Nobel prizewinning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, for instance, notes
that in the 20th century “the most valuable insights into the human mind … id
not come from the disciplines traditionally concerned with mind–from phi
losophy, psychology, or psychoanalysis.” Instead they have emerged from
“anew science of mind, a science that uses the power of molecular biology
toexamine the great remaining mysteries of life” (Kandel, 2006, p. xii).
How theBrain Matters
David A. Hogue
Pastoral Theology and Care
Asimportant for religious leaders is the increasing familiarity that congregants,
counselees, and the broader public have with the brain and its functioning, and
the profound questions such discoveries raise for those who turn to us for care,
guidance, wisdom, and interpretation of the deeper implications of our reli
gious faith.
Knowledge of the brain is vital to effective ministry today, primarily because
the emerging research is deepening and reshaping our understanding of human
beings—how we think and feel, how we relate to each other, how we make
sense of our world, how we suffer, and how we heal. Many professions beyond
traditional medical and research specialties now require competence in the
neurosciences. Clinical psychology has long required knowledge of the brain,
and other counseling professions, including addictions and rehabilitation
counseling, are following suit. Teachers, social workers, attorneys, economists,
art and music therapists, speech and language therapists, and audiologists are
increasingly calling for the inclusion of neuroscientific principles for responsi
ble and ethical professional practice.
Review ofLiterature
Pastoral theologians and practitioners, as well as scholars in other theological
disciplines, need the careful work of dedicated scholars in neuroscience and in
pastoral theology if they are to mine responsibly the resources of this complex,
growing field of research. The neurosciences are not simple to comprehend,
much less to evaluate in terms of their implications for ministry. Those seeking
input directly from neuroscientists will profit from reading the work of Mario
Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary (2007), Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman
(2009), and Patrick McNamara (2009), who have written in accessible ways
about prayer, meditation, and charismatic experiences, suggesting that our
brains are not only changed by religious practices but require them. Malcolm
Jeeves of St. Andrew University and Warren Brown of Fuller Theological
Seminary (Jeeves and Brown, 2009; Jeeves, 2013), as well as scholars at Biola
University have offered Evangelical perspectives on the interdisciplinary dia
logue and document the embodied nature of our faith, often looking specifi
cally at the ways religious practices reshape brain functions.
And several pastoral theologians have immersed themselves in this work,
primarily in the US. The pioneer in this integration was the late James Ashbrook
during the last two decades of the last century (Ashbrook, 1995; Ashbrook and
Albright, 1997). Focusing primarily on pastoral counseling, Ashbrook also
ticipated in the international science and religion dialogue, highlighting
theological and clinical implications of the burgeoning science. As his later
colleague, my work has sought to make these sciences understandable to prac
titioners and theologians, focusing initially on memory and imagination
(Hogue, 2003) and then turning to explorations of empathy, race, and human
How the Brain Matters
relationality (Hogue, 2010, 2015, 2017). More recently a new generation of
scholars is developing a critical literature in the field. Kirk Bingaman (2014) has
written on neuroplasticity, contemplative prayer, and meditation, and is edit
ing a new series with Lexington Books. Jason Whitehead has contributed a
volume on fear (2015), and William Roozeboom recently published work
exploring the body–brain connection in selfcare (2016).
But more specifically, how can the neurosciences help us deepen our practices
of pastoral care? Can this research inform our understanding of human suffering
and healing? Do current neuroscientific discoveries confirm or challenge our
longheld beliefs about human nature and about the imago dei? Particular forms
of human suffering such as dementias (including Alzheimer’s disease), trauma,
head injury, and stroke are obvious areas in which neurological information can
be helpful. Here, however, we will develop a more general approach to incorpo
rating neuroscientific principles as we consider the story of Daniel, a composite
vignette of an older man who might belong to a congregation any of us leads or
attends. (His social location, it should be noted, is similar to the author’s as a
white, middle class, straight male of a similar age.) We will then explore several
threads in recent research that shed important light on both the suffering and the
healing that Daniel’s story illustrate, particularly the ways the human brain func
tions in remembering (and forgetting), in emotion, and in religious practices.
We will briefly consider ways the neurosciences can contribute to our under
standing of the systemic sin that leads to violence against vulnerable persons
marginalized by social structures. Daniel’s healing and recovery would be inade
quate and incomplete without acknowledging the larger social issues in which
Daniel has participated. These insights can also inform those who hope to provide
spiritual and pastoral care to persons they encounter. We will suggest some theo
logical implications and ponder future directions at the chapter’s conclusion.
Daniel’s Story
Daniel, a 65yearold white male, is a recently divorced middlemanagement
executive with a bank. Six months ago he suddenly experienced his heart rac
ing, dizziness, and shortness of breath in the middle of a work day. Afraid he
was having a heart attack, he went to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.
Medical staff found no signs of heart disease or other causes for his symptoms
and concluded that Daniel had experienced an unexplained anxiety attack. He
was relieved that his heart was okay, but angry that they could find no reason
for the frightening event; he refused a Xanax prescription. Preoccupied by a
special project at work, he soon forgot about the event until a few weeks later
when the same symptoms reappeared. This time he closed his office door, lay
down on a couch, closed his eyes, and tried to tell himself that he could manage
this, that he wasn’t crazy. After 20 minutes of unsuccessful selftalk, he stood
Pastoral Theology and Care
up, picked up his coat, and alerted staff that he had to take care of something at
home. Arriving home, he changed clothes and fixed himself a drink. Eventually
his heart rate returned to normal and he assured himself he was okay. When a
third episode occurred one week later, he had gone to his own physician, who
confirmed that he was physically healthy and that his symptoms were likely
due to unidentified stresses. Again he refused medication, but did agree to see
a pastoral counselor.
Daniel described growing up and attending high school in a midsize
Midwestern city in the 1960s. Racial tensions had been mounting in the school
district as African American families purchased homes and current residents
engaged in “white flight.” Daniel and his family attended a neighborhood main
line Protestant church, which had formerly consisted of affluent white members
and was now attempting to come to terms with their “changing” neighborhood.
Unable to integrate their worship services and membership, several clergy
nonetheless preached tolerance and welcome, though they stopped short of
participating in marches and civil rights protests downtown. Daniel’s school
was integrating with little disruption or violence, but white and black students
had little to do with each other outside of class. After graduating from high
school, he attended a private college that counted a few students of color among
its student body. His parents were eventually the last white family in the neigh
borhood to sell their house and move to a suburb. Daniel intended to major in
premed, but eventually found the science courses too demanding and followed
his father into the banking profession.
Daniel met his wife in college and they married at the end of their senior year.
He located a job with his current company and has been there ever since. The
couple has two daughters, both of whom finished college and married shortly
thereafter; they have five grandchildren. Five years ago Daniel’s wife told him
she had fallen in love with another attorney at her firm and was leaving. He was
caught off guard; he spoke a couple of times with his pastor about his shock
and pain, but concluded he needed to be strong and get through this. He has
tried dating a few times, but nothing “clicked.” Other than church, which he
attends weekly, he has few social contacts. Most evenings he returns to his
condo in the city, has dinner and a few drinks, watches TV and goes to bed.
Twice a week he works out at a local gym.
Daniel’s investment firm instituted cultural and gender sensitivity training
lier this year following several incidents of workplace harassment that had led
to the departure of several key employees and charges of institutional discrimi-
natory practices with lawsuits still pending. Daniel was not directly involved in
any of the alleged incidents, though one of his colleagues was charged and later
exonerated. The company stepped up recruitment efforts to build a more diverse
employee base. Daniel willingly attended the training sessions, considering
lf tolerant and anything but prejudiced. He had worked closely with several
black colleagues on important projects and currently had a woman supervisor.
How the Brain Matters
Daniel and his counselor spent their first session exploring his panic attacks
as well as the impact of his unexpected divorce. They noted together his social
isolation and the ongoing stress of his work. In a second session, Daniel talked
about his family of origin and relationship with his parents and older sister. She
was a natural student, and following her in many of the same classes, he was
often compared unfavorably. Nonetheless, he completed public school and a
college degree with honors. Daniel was not sure about the need for all this
history review, but was intrigued by the connections he and the counselor were
making between his family, his school, and his work.
Later Daniel and his counselor returned to the immediate stresses of work.
While the business was recovering well from the 2008 recession, the strain of
losing and adding employees was taking an emotional toll on him and many of
his coworkers. Eventually discussion turned to the company’s cultural aware
ness program. One recent exercise called for Daniel and a black colleague to
tell each other a story from their high school years. His younger partner had
lived in a housing project where gang violence was rampant. He described con
stant feelings of fear as he made the long walk to school and of shootings near
his school grounds. When it was Daniel’s turn to speak, he began confidently
speaking of the “easy” integration of his own high school. When asked about
any black friends, Daniel became uneasy, recalling how little memory he had of
contact with students of color. He quickly reassured his colleague that the
school had managed the transitions well, and that they all “just seemed to get
along.” The first panic attack came that afternoon.
The counselor invited Daniel to recall that work encounter in more detail
and wondered about any earlier memories of events that might have seemed
similar. Unable initially to identify any connection with his anxiety, before long
a troubling episode from his junior year in high school flooded into memory.
He was on lunch break returning from a nearby fast food restaurant. A group
of white students were gathered outside the school building and, as Daniel
approached, he saw that they had surrounded a young black student and were
threatening him. The boy was trembling and clearly feared for his safety, glanc
ing all around for help. Daniel later learned that the boy had been hospitalized
from blows to the head and kicks to his body, and threats of retaliation had
come from the boy’s family and friends. Daniel recalled feeling horrified for
him, but was unable to move to help. He was also terrified for his own safety
and feared being attacked if he were to intervene or even alerted anyone else to
what had happened. He slipped in a side door of the school and into his first
afternoon class. He remembered trembling and finding it impossible to con
centrate, but he “pulled himself together” for the rest of the day and proceeded
to forget the incident.
Recalling the incident nearly 50 years later Daniel could recall the terrified
face of his black classmate and his impulse to rush in and protect him. He also
felt physically frightened and paralyzed, as he later imagined he must have felt
Pastoral Theology and Care
at the time; eventually feelings of shame washed over him as he realized his
inability to help and that he had abandoned the scene; he had even attempted
to abandon the memory of the event. The image of himself as one who “doesn’t
see color” began to crumble, and the picture of “easy integration” of his high
school years shattered. He began to reconstruct years in which conflict was
avoided primarily by mutual ignorance and neglect, never really developing
close enough relationships with persons of color to engage differences and dis
cover similarities.
Several more sessions with his pastoral counselor provided the opportunity
to revisit similar stories. Daniel began to confront his feelings of impotence
and avoidance, but also to recognize the powerful systemic and cultural shifts
that were underway at the time and that undoubtedly made responding in dif
ferent ways difficult. He began to recognize that his very real experiences of
panic, both on behalf of his classmate and himself, had been “forgotten,” dis
connected from the stories that now resurfaced. Daniel became aware of the
ways his earlier painful experiences had made him fearful of intimate relation
ships and of taking risks when he encountered injustice. He explored the ways
his lack of intimacy might have contributed to difficulties in his marriage and
his current social isolation. He wanted people to get along and so avoided rais
ing difficult issues for fear of estranging others or subtly jeopardizing his own
emotional self.
Daniel wasn’t sure that change was possible, or whether he would ever be
able to free himself from the guilt, shame, and powerlessness evoked by these
earlier stories. He wanted empirical evidence. His therapist recalled his college
interest in medicine and knew that he read widely in the popular and financial
presses. They talked about neuroscientific descriptions of the brain’s emotional
systems, particularly the fear system, and about the ways brains change with
regular practice. They reviewed how his use of alcohol had often served as a
sedative for his underlying anxiety, and the ways in which overuse could actu
ally “hijack” brain systems that would otherwise press him to invest in close
relationships. They talked about memory, and about how memories can change
even when the actual events cannot. They spoke about the deep connections
between physical health, including diet and exercise, and emotional and spir
itual health. He noticed that the emotional changes he was experiencing
matched the science they were discussing, and over time, he became more
certain that his emotional changes were “real” and not manufactured or imag
ined. Hope took a different shape now, as he acknowledged that changes could
continue well beyond his sessions with the counselor; that engaging in closer
relationships with friends and families could also “change his brain” to live
more fully in the time that he had.
As Daniel’s personal story came into focus he confessed his own fear and
selfdeception as well as their consequences for himself. But vivid memories of
the face of his terrified black classmate returned and he realized how little he
How the Brain Matters
understood about that young man’s life or experience as a student of color in an
era of civil unrest. He had begun to understand how those social and biological
forces had shaped him, but how had they shaped the stories and threatened the
lives of the victims of racism? Some connection with his former classmate still
haunted him, and he was startled to realize how little he knew, how little he
understood. This was a critical point in Daniel’s counseling; his concerns slowly
turned toward others and transcended his own; his worries about himself
became part of a larger picture as the sufferings of others were revealed.
These changes came slowly. Daniel first “tested the waters” with his daugh
ters and grandchildren, and later began spending lunch hours at work with
colleagues. As importantly, he paid closer attention to his own responses dur
ing sensitivity training sessions at work and slowly began spending one week
end a month with a church group that had partnered with an innercity African
American church to counter violence. He found an old high school yearbook
for the name of his classmate and searched for him on social media, but couldn’t
locate him. He would always wonder. At times these approaches produced
anxiety, but again, over time, his emotional resilience emerged.
Pastoral Theology and Care
Interestingly, contemporary neuroscience and other studies have discovered
that our memories are more malleable than we had once imagined, exposing
memory’s strength as well its vulnerability. Such realizations can be disconcert
ing given the conviction with which we recall our most vivid memories; we trust
them and live our lives under their direction. And these “mishaps” are even more
alarming to trial lawyers, journalists, and historians, who rely on the accuracy of
recall to make important decisions and influence public beliefs and policies. But
memory’s apparent weakness, or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Schacter
describes it, memory’s “fragile power” (1997), ironically also offers hope to pas
toral leaders and counselors in engaging congregants and clients in deeper
exploration of their sometimes troubled early histories. How we understand
ourselves and the worlds we live in relies on the foundation of our memories.
Without recalling his past, Daniel has no future, and he cannot even know who
he is in the present. Without memory, we have no sense of self or community;
some would even say we have no soul (Ashbrook and Albright, 1997, p. 173).
But caregivers and receivers often resign themselves to the fixed nature of
the past; they can’t change what has already happened to them, or undo some
thing they had done years before. We experience our memories as fixed units—
stored in their own “files” awaiting our need for them in the future. Yet the
brain stores and retrieves memories in much more complicated ways. Rather
than recording each event in one location, each time we experience an event in
our lives our brains break down that experience into its various components:
what we see, what we hear, what we smell or touch, and what we feel. Each
component then is stored in the brain region most responsible for that sense.
Visual images are stored in the occipital regions of the brain, sound and lan
guage in the temporal lobes on each side of the brain, the movements we were
making or imagining are recorded in the motor cortex, and our emotional
responses register primarily in the deep recesses of the limbic system. In other
words, our memories are not stored in one location to be pulled off the shelf in
one piece. Each time we remember an event each component of the experience
must be reassembled to produce the rich, full, vivid experiences we recall.
And while our memories, particularly those of unusual or personally relevant
events, tend to be accurate in general outline, each time we recall events, we
are recreating the memory. Each time we do, we imbue it with the meaning it
has for us at the moment of recall, including the feelings that color the recalled
event. Our brains then store the event as we recalled it rather than in the shape
in which we originally experienced it, much like the overwrite feature on a
computer. In all likelihood these changes of narrative are recorded in shifted
neural connections, enabled by the brain’s ability to change.
At its simplest level, our memories consist of patterns of connections made
between brain cells known as neurons (Kandel, 2006). For decades scientists
have known that neurons conduct business by communicating with other neu
rons through neurochemical processes that transfer electrical charges from
How the Brain Matters
one neuron to the next. The father of neuropsychology Donald Hebb devel
oped the theory that is now famously summarized as “neurons that fire together
wire together” (Hebb, 1949). That is, each time a neuron fires and a second
responds, the likelihood that they will fire together increases. So memories are
formed by rich patterns of connections between neurons, and change, includ
ing healing, means changing those patterns.
But pastoral care involves dimensions of memory far beyond their cellular
foundation, and memory is much more than a single capacity. Psychologists
have documented as many as 256 types of memory, but our interest here is in
three main types: episodic or autobiographical memories, procedural memo
ries, and semantic memory.
Autobiographical memories
include explicit per
sonal incidents or stories, such as Daniel’s school years, meeting and marrying
his wife, the jolt of his divorce, and his anxious response to the cultural exer
cise; they are records of events in which he participated and they give his life
meaning and shape.
Procedural memories
encompass the skills and habits
developed over time—how we ride bicycles, play the piano, or make the sign of
the cross. As they are learned, procedural memories generally become auto
matic and enable us to carry out tasks without the level of attention required
when we first learn them. We’ll consider procedural memories more specifi
cally when we consider religious rituals. A third type,
semantic memory
includes knowledge of facts about ourselves and the world; semantic memories
do not require that we associate them with a particular event, such as when we
learned them. Each of these memory systems appears to rely on different brain
circuits. Daniel certainly relied on all three types of memory to manage his life
and work, but our first interest here is in autobiographical memory—the events
that he recalls as well as those he has forgotten.
Memory is selective; the human brain is simply not capable of recording
every detail of every event in our lives, nor is it able to recall every event.
Instead, our brains record only details of importance to us when we are experi
encing the event. And this “decision” can happen either consciously (those
details we attend to) or unconsciously and automatically. Some decades ago
neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield mapped the brain during surgeries which
required that his patients be awake. Probing particular areas of the brain
appeared to elicit memories of very distant events, often from childhood,
which included vivid details the patients never recalled before. He concluded
that our brains remember every event we have experienced, complete with
details. More recent research has reversed that conviction (at least in part
because many of these stories changed over time and there was often no way to
confirm them—they appear to have been stories constructed to explain ran
dom memory traces). It is clear now that we do, in fact, forget. Sometimes the
memory loss is permanent, but other times those memories can eventually be
recalled. The beating of Daniel’s classmate was likely both traumatic and too
far from the image he had of himself as a responsible and compassionate
Pastoral Theology and Care
human being. Such episodes may be lost because we consciously choose not to
think of them or remember them, or they may disappear apparently of their
own accord.
If forgetting shapes the stories we author about our lives, recalling or learning
of missing events reshapes them. Daniel’s recall of that beating, imperfect as it
may have been, reframed the story of his life. Reclaiming that event as part of his
own story, Daniel rethinks his past and its impact on his current life; along with
the shame of having failed to intervene on his classmate’s behalf, he was able at
the same time to recognize his own powerlessness and fear, as well as the par
ticular systemic cultural demands of that time in history. Eventually he may
have been able both to judge his failure and accept a degree of grace and forgive
ness as he and his counselor explored the very real physical and emotional con
straints he was under at the time. His image of himself and his world changed:
he was not the tolerant, accepting person he had always imagined. But at last his
panic attacks made new sense to him and new future possibilities opened.
The implications of these findings are critical to the ways we provide care for
others. Remembering that each time a sufferer tells the story of a loss, an abuse,
or a joy, he or she reconstructs the memory of the earlier event in the present; the
past is made new again and open to new telling. The broad outlines of what hap
pened may not appear to change, but the added detail, the altered perspective
that comes from sharing the story in the presence of a new listener, the subtle
shift in emotional tone that unfolds today, provide ample opportunity for new
insight, new perspective, indeed for a new story. In their retelling, stories become
open, shifting our relationships to the past and imagining a more hopeful future.
We cannot change what happened, but our stories about them can change. And
in that transformation, we change. (For a fuller description, see Neuger, 2001.)
Thinking andFeeling
Daniel sought help for his unexplained panic attacks. He reported many
important events in his life, but at first he spoke very little about the emotional
responses these stories triggered. He considered himself a logical man, but he
gradually recognized that rational thought could only take him so far: he wasn’t
able to “talk himself out of how he felt.” He also discovered that he had a very
limited vocabulary when he talked about the emotional dimensions of his life.
In fact, much of the neuroscience research adopted by helping professions in
the past focused on articulating and correcting conscious thoughts. Such an
emphasis reflects psychotherapeutic emphases on cognitive and behavioral
approaches to treatment. But more recently the role of feeling has reemerged
as a central dimension of human experience in many disciplines, including
pastoral care and counseling.
Feelings, emotions, or affects may be both conscious and unconscious,
depending on the definitions put forth by particular scholars (see, e.g., Damasio,
How the Brain Matters
1994, 1999 and Panksepp, 2012). Humans share these emotional processes
with most other species, and feelings often function more powerfully than do
the logical processes on which human beings pride themselves. Recent research
highlights the emotional drives that propel human relationships—the loves,
fears, desires, and hates that emerge before we find reasons for them or even
names for them. Biblical writers recognized how hidden our motives can be
and commonly attributed human desires to the heart. “The heart is devious
above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the
fruit of their doings” (Jeremiah 17:9–10).
One important source of insight into the relationship between reason and
emotion comes from studies of children before they develop the capacity for
language. During the critical first 18 months of life infants and toddlers begin to
integrate emotional processes with rational assessments. This capacity is deeply
rooted in strong attachments to parents and other caregivers, and dramatically
affects the ways the maturing child’s brain structures itself (Schore, 1994, 2012;
Siegel, 2015). (Much of the interaction between adults and infants relies on
touch, sight, and tone rather than on language.) The brains of children who are
“securely attached,” that is, they have strong emotional ties to a sensitive,
responsive caregiver, demonstrated marked brain differences from children
who receive less nurturing, or especially neglectful or abusive, relationships.
Securely attached children demonstrate stronger neural connections between
the prefrontal cortex (a structure that enables judgment and reason, located
behind the eyes) and the emotional limbic system below the brain’s outer cortex.
Effective parenting actually shapes brains that form deeper connections between
thought and feeling. Psychologists refer to this process as “affect regulation,”
though the process involves more richly the child’s maturing capacities for self
understanding, direction, and relational connections later in life.
These processes underscore the deeply relational dimensions of being
human, embedded in a matrix of others, a living human web. We do not
develop as whole human beings outside of our relationships, nor do we cease
needing them as we grow older. We are shaped in the inner recesses of our
brains and bodies by the relationships we inhabit, for better and for ill, through
out life. Christian theologians will recognize in this claim echoes of our under
standings of God whose interrelational nature is represented in the Trinity;
the imago dei proclaims along with John Donne that none of us “is an island …
entire unto itself.” We are, in fact, pieces “of the continent, A part of the main.”
Attempts to live unto ourselves are vulnerable to a withering isolation, empti
ness, and the potential for damage to others. Since Westerners live in a culture
that valorizes selfsufficiency, personal success, and mastery, effective pastoral
care reclaims the church’s imperative to resist the “principalities and powers of
this world” that blind us to the needs of the “last and the least,” and instead
open room for vulnerability and care for the other.
Pastoral Theology and Care
Neuroscientific research adds to many voices insisting that the horizons of
pastoral care and counseling extend far beyond the parish or counseling office.
Revelations about the “social brain” have implications well beyond intimate
relationships with family and close friends, with parishioners and clients.
Children’s brains are profoundly shaped by family and community with conse
quences that last a lifetime. Poverty, violence, and the absence of parents
through mass incarceration lead to welldocumented damage to children’s lives
and futures. Contemporary pastoral care echoes and extends John Wesley’s
famous claim that “the world is my parish” so that Daniel’s wellbeing is neither
his nor his counselor’s only concern: the unknown lives of those like his class
mate matter as fully.
Daniel’s family had been a “normal” family; he would have called his life
happy, though he didn’t recall particular warmth from his parents or sister. His
parents were encouraging; at times though he feared that he disappointed
them, especially in comparison to his sister’s achievements. As his work con
tinued with his counselor, in contrast, he felt understood in ways he never had
before. As his sense of trust grew, he allowed longignored feelings to emerge,
to find words for them and eventually to act on them in ways that moved
toward more honesty and vulnerability in his relationships with others. In part,
these changes were due to the attentive caring of the counselor, which reacti
vated emotional responses from the past and provided a safe relationship in
which to welcome and process them. Pastoral counseling relationships do not
generally carry the emotional intensity of parent–infant interactions. But per
sons seeking pastoral care and counseling are often in emotionally fraught
experiences, struggling to hold thought and feeling together, desperate to make
sense of life’s crises. Attentive relationships of care, embodied in deep neuro
logical changes, offer possibilities for wholeness of self through connection
with others. Reclaiming the prominence of emotion in human experience com
pels us to find and construct social settings and practices that embrace our
emotional lives as central to human flourishing. For reason has not been elimi
nated—it is only being dethroned.
Daniel’s pastoral counselor attended carefully to his language and the out
line of his autobiographical memories. She noted gaps and occasional con
tradictions within the story and maintained a respectful curiosity as he
struggled to put the pieces together. Her ability to engage him in this process
of selfdiscovery required the capacity to enter that story with him, listening
with careful empathy.
The neurosciences have demonstrated that our brains are “built” to empa
thize, that understanding the experiences of others involves natural practices of
the healthy human brain. Even young infants are capable of “catching” the
How the Brain Matters
emotional distress of other children in a process known as emotional contagion.
As children grow in trustworthy relationships with caregivers they gradually
develop the capacity to understand their own emotional responses and detect
and respond to the emotional states of others. Experiences of abuse, loss, or
neglect, on the other hand, can inhibit or distort a child’s developing brain’s
natural ability to comprehend the experience of another with little distortion.
Daniel’s story highlights a contribution of the brain sciences to our under
standing of the relationship between social location (gender, race, and class)
and personal experience. His story, both in childhood and adulthood, reflects
a traditionally middle class Caucasian context. The context of his classmates of
color in a “changing neighborhood” may have been less financially secure and
likely much more marginalized within broader cultural frames. Socioeco
nomic status has long been associated with poorer health, less access to health
care, and higher mortality rates (Costandi, 2016, p. 130). Costandi further
notes that children from underprivileged backgrounds have less gray matter in
the hippocampus (involved with memory) and demonstrate changes in activity
in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are involved in attention and
emotional regulation. He concludes that “growing up in poverty has severe and
persistent effects on brain development that can affect both mental and physi
cal health in adulthood.” So Daniel’s context included structural dimensions
that complicated his own ability to empathize with his classmates of color, both
enabling them and distorting them. We will describe below the ways in which
racial differences in themselves make empathic connections more difficult, but
first we sketch our newer understandings of empathy itself.
In healthy development and rich interpersonal environments, as distinct
from abusive or neglectful contexts, children demonstrate an increasing capac
ity to recognize first that others have thoughts and feelings as they do, and then
later to speculate about what those contents might be—what cognitive scien
tists call “theory of mind.” One insight into how human brains develop this
capacity arose from the discovery of mirror neurons in the 1990s. First detected
in macaque monkeys and then confirmed in humans, approximately onethird
of the motor neurons that would be involved in initiating and planning a par
ticular movement become active when subjects are watching the movement
performed by someone else. The mirror neuron system is active when viewing
faces for emotional content too, suggesting that the developing human brain
unconsciously “rehearses” a facial expression and then “reads out” how the
brain’s own body responds affectively. It is a rapid, automatic process by which
the brain mimics an expression and says, in essence, “if my face looked like
that, this is what I would be feeling.” Fortunately this process generally func
tions without prompting and enables human interaction and understanding in
most of our daytoday encounters. Further confirmation of this process
appeared in studies that noted diminished mirror neuron systems in the brains
of autistic children; other studies also discovered that patients with damage to
Pastoral Theology and Care
the regions of the brain that monitor the body’s own internal world (soma
tosensory) were unable to determine accurately the feeling states of faces of
others (for a fuller treatment, see Hogue, 2010). We feel within our own bodies
before we imagine what others are feeling.
Key to healthy development of the human brain and to the ability to engage
in intimate relationships later in life is the presence of a consistent nurturing
presence in the young child’s life during the critical window of early brain
development. There is, however, evidence that even persons who did not expe
rience such relationships can, over time, repair both the psychological and
neurological deficits of earlier years. This takes place most auspiciously within
consistent, dependable relationships of care, enabling persons to develop a
“learned attachment” and enter more fully into satisfying relationships (Schore,
1994). Daniel likely experienced such a relationship with his pastoral counse
lor, though broadening and enriching his relationships with others in his life
will provide opportunities for healing beyond that professional relationship.
Relationship needs, of course, are critical not only for persons who have suf
fered neglect or abuse early in life. Healthy human beings need and seek relation
ships of care, particularly at times of stress or turmoil. The research noted here
suggests that throughout life our brains are being reshaped by our experiences,
particularly by our intimate social relationships. Such data underscore the imper
ative for pastoral caregivers to attend to and nurture relationships of care and
trust within congregations, couples, families, and friendships, as well as tending
to the relationships each develops with parishioners and clients. In processes that
echo those early relationships of intimate care, empathic pastoral relationships
serve as “containers” and integrators of sufferers’ thoughts and feelings.
Empathic engagement was a critical capacity for Daniel’s counselor: without
entering into his emotional world she would have been unable to form the kind
of connections with him that would provide a safe place for the deep explora
tion that his panic attacks called for. We don’t know much about the quality of
Daniel’s relationship with his parents or caregivers in childhood, but he had
few, if any, intimate relationships now. His relationship with the counselor
likely provided hints about what deeper emotional connections can feel like;
that relationship may also have motivated some of his reaching out to others. It
became apparent as well, though, that Daniel’s capacity for empathy with oth
ers had faced some roadblocks.
Engaging R
In conversations with his pastoral counselor, Daniel encountered his own
conflicted feelings about race. Startled when he recalled the trauma of his
classmate’s beating, he was brought face to face with his own implicit bias. He
saw himself as unbiased, and may have even claimed not to “see color.” Now
he felt shame.
How the Brain Matters
Here again recent neuroscientific research deepens our understanding of his
experiences. Psychologists have long noticed marked discrepancies between
subjects’ selfreport of racial bias and their responses on implicit measures of
bias. Most participants, regardless of race, tend to associate negatively charged
words and guns with black faces, and positively charged words and tools with
white faces (Bartholow and Henry, 2010, p. 872). These associations are con
firmed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests, which detect a
trigger of the brain’s alarm system when exposed to African American faces,
even among subjects who report having no bias and who normally respond in
culturally sensitive ways. That’s the bad news.
But there is also good news. Researchers at the University of Missouri
detected an automatic, unconscious “Response Conflict” system in the brain
that registers when subjects experience an implicit values conflict (Bartholow
and Henry, 2010). People who consciously rejected overt forms of racism had
apparently developed new neural connections that override the initial bias
even before subjects become aware of it. Racial typing, they conclude, is quite
difficult to unlearn, but the brain can develop mechanisms to reverse, if not
eradicate, racist responses. Human bodies and brains interact in shaping inter
personal and intercultural relationships, but the brain’s ability to change (a
process known as neuroplasticity), with new experiences, serves as a powerful
ally in struggles against racism.
Empathy turns out to apply most effectively to one’s own cultural group; neuro
biologically and cognitively, our capacities for empathy drop off significantly the
higher the degree of racial or cultural difference that we encounter in other per
sons. The positive outcomes of empathy for members of one’s own group are
counterbalanced by hostility toward those outside the group (Chiao etal., 2008).
A small body of neuroscientific research is exploring distinctive brain “signatures”
that appear when viewing persons of one’s own race or culture, and brain struc
tures activated when viewing persons of a different cultural group. This literature
provides an intriguing glimpse into the ways our religious and life practices may
shape interracial relationships. Two particular research threads will illustrate:
perceptions of individual facial differences in other racial groups and the brain’s
management of internal conflict between personal values and racial associations
(for a fuller treatment, see Hogue, 2015).
The human brain is particularly attuned to the human face. Two structures
within the visual processing areas of the brain (the fusiform gyrus and the
posterior cingulate cortex) play an important role in detecting and responding
to other faces (Ito and Bartholow, 2009, p. 524). These structures are more
active when individuals perceive racial characteristics like their own than
when they perceive racial characteristics that differ. We tend to be much bet
ter at distinguishing faces within our own racial group than within other racial
groups. We don’t start out that way, but our capacity to distinguish otherrace
faces diminishes early in life. Threemonthold Western European children,
Pastoral Theology and Care
for instance, were able to distinguish faces in four racial groups, but nine
montholds could only recognize faces in their own cultural group (Kelly
etal., 2007). Rather than an innate racial bias, however, this narrowing of
focus appears to be a function of the racial groups to which children are
exposed. That is, children adopted from other racial groups developed the
capacity to distinguish faces in their adoptive parents’ culture (Sangrigoli and
De Schonen, 2004). Young children exposed to other racial groups do not
experience this loss of ability to distinguish faces in the groups they have
encountered, and the effect in children who have known only one racial group
can be reversed with later exposure to other racial groups. Race becomes a
more determining factor in interpersonal relationships when there is little or
no previous experience with that cultural group.
The recognition that racial associations become deeply embedded in our
brains, and are difficult to change, provides a measure of grace. This may open
Daniel, and people like him, to respect the power of race in shaping our rela
tionships and to consider more honestly their own implicit biases. At the same
time they suggest a partial remedy: our personal and religious practices can
also reshape our brains to interrupt, if not completely eradicate, those associa
tions. We can deepen those brain changes through respectful, curious encoun
ters with persons of other races. While the racial changes in Daniel’s
neighborhood during his childhood and adolescence gave him opportunity for
regular encounters with persons of color, by his own admission there was very
little opportunity for students of different racial groups to know each other. So
Daniel’s attempt to locate his former classmate, his decision to reflect more
honestly on his own reactions and participate in his church’s shared ministry
with an African American congregation, his attending more closely to black
colleagues, all represent concrete practices that can change his mind from the
inside out. And Daniel’s resolve serves as a reminder to pastoral leaders about
the critical need for crossracial dialogue and shared community ventures that
build relationships, break down racial barriers, and address systems of injustice
that victimize and marginalize.
Religious Practices andLiving inCommunity
Many practices of pastoral care occur within personal, onetoone relation
ships with caregivers like Daniel’s counselor. But our religious communities
provide even larger, more variegated networks for relationship and for religious
practices that can deepen the integration of thought and feeling, of self and
other. Practices of worship, prayer and meditation, education, fellowship, and
service broaden the horizons of our connectedness with others, and, for many,
with God. Heart, mind, and body may reclaim their unity in the presence of
others, gathered to worship One who embraces all, transcending the threat
ened loneliness of existence.
How the Brain Matters
Daniel attended worship regularly, though he reported few close relationships
there, and he described his experience in recent years as “going through the
motions.” He wasn’t exactly sure why he continued to go—force of habit, he sus
pected, or simply familiarity. But there was also some unnamed draw that got him
out of bed on Sunday mornings. As he reflected more carefully with his counselor,
it occurred to him that simply sitting quietly in the presence of others, in contrast
to so much of his time alone, gave him a vague sense of connectedness in spite of
the lack of deep personal contact. Singing familiar hymns grounded him.
Hewould also find himself in prayer, which he seldom did by himself, but which
he recalled having done frequently in his youth and early adulthood.
An old adage proclaimed that “prayer changes things,” and the neurosciences
are documenting that, at the very least, prayer changes our brains. One of the
most studied relationships between practice and brain changes involves medita
tion (Siegel, 2007; Newberg and Waldman, 2009; Bingaman, 2014). One reason
for the volume of research on meditation is its accessibility: since meditation is
generally practiced in place, rather than moving around, meditators can practice
within the restricted confines of fMRI machines. Experienced meditators, from
both Eastern and Western (Christian) traditions, demonstrate significant brain
differences from nonmeditators, and mindfulness training programs of even
afew months produce measurable brain shifts. Such practices are labeled “top
down” approaches because they begin with conscious thought and intention,
such as in contemplation, and over time, regularly practiced, they reshape brain
and body.
Yet there is also increasing evidence that behavior and physical movements
shape our brains as effectively as do thoughts, working from the “bottomup”
from body to mind (Hogue, 2003; Roozeboom, 2016). Our ritual practices, par
ticularly those that involve physical gestures and movement, rely on what
memory researchers call procedural memory—learning how to do things. We
first learn these practices intentionally and with effort, much like a musician
learning scales and exercises through careful repetition. Over time they become
automatic and we look beyond the movements to their message, to the realities
they both reveal and create. Effortful scales and chord progressions are trans
formed into beautiful sonatas or soulful jazz improvisations; ancient prayer
formulas reverently memorized open us to transcendent truths and ground us
in a great “cloud of witnesses.” These constitute our experiences of transcend
ence and spiritual formation (d’Aquili and Newberg, 1999). In worship, what we
do, even more than what we say or think, changes us. Standing and sitting, mak
ing the sign of the cross, passing the peace—all of these practiced movements
shape our spiritual, emotional selves and join us to our fellow worshipers.
As pastors and practical theologians grapple with the unconscious and feel
ing dimensions of living, we are confronted with the limits of human logic.
Instead of helping suffering persons think differently about their circum
stances, we are better served by helping them develop regular practices that
Pastoral Theology and Care
serve to form and reform themselves and their communities. Boston University
neuroscientist Patrick McNamara notes that religious experiences open pos
sibilities for personal and spiritual transformation:
… the circuit which mediates religiousness … appears to regulate or con
trol many other areas of the brain. Therefore when we undergo religious
experiences and engage this circuit the circuit in turn is sending messages
to these other widespread areas of the brain thus making substantial
behavioral and cognitive changes more likely. (McNamara, 2015, p. 133)
While the depth and durability of such changes remain to be studied further, it
seems clear that our religious and social practices have dynamic interactions
with our brains that are not yet fully understood or tapped.
In our ritual practices our stories, our feelings, and our connections with oth
ers are embodied and reunited. Practical theologian James K. A. Smith describes
the futility of focusing merely on the cognitive worldviews (i.e. semantic and
autobiographical memories) of those we serve—instead we should attend more
carefully to what they desire, what they love. He recognizes the critical role of
ritual (liturgical) processes, both secular and sacred, and the ways in which they
shape the “desires of our hearts.” “That’s the kind of animals we are, first and
foremost: loving, desiring, affective, liturgical animals who, for the most part,
don’t inhabit the world as thinkers or cognitive machines … we worship before
we know—or rather, we
worship in order to
know” (Smith, 2009, p. 34).
Embodying Pastoral Theology
In this era, we cannot overlook the impact neuroscientific findings are having
on parishioners, our clients, on other clergy, and on the public at large. To be
sure, we must avoid the dangers of reductionism and extrapolating too far,
especially from neuroscientific claims made in the popular press. But we can
detect several themes arising from these discoveries that confirm and chal
lenge our assumptions about the human condition, our theological anthro
pologies, our understanding of the imago dei.
First, they underscore the physicality of emotional and religious experiences.
Mind and soul cannot be separated from our bodies, emphasizing the unity of
human personhood. Contemporary Christian theology challenges the strict
dualisms of soul and body that were shaped by the Greek philosophical tradi
tions which Paul incorporated in early theological formulations. Our minds
and souls are not disembodied selves, held prisoner in sinful bodies: we are
created as mind–soul–body unities. Rather than a spirit that ascends to heaven
at the time of death, Christian hope lies in the Resurrection of the body, firmly
connecting body and soul. This conviction calls for a revaluing of the body
How the Brain Matters
rather than its neglect or even denigration as the “seat of all sinful passions.”
Our bodies are to be respected and cared for, not tamed, abused, or neglected.
This reminder that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians
6:19) prompts religious leaders to faithful forms of selfcare as well as attending
to the health of those for whom they provide care.
Second, these findings illuminate the power of unconscious, affective, and
even addictive behaviors and strategies that all humans employ and require.
“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if
I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within
me” (Romans 7:19–20). Far from being the “captains of our own souls” or the
“masters of our own fates,” we are reminded of the powerful forces of creation
that direct our lives in unseen ways. Such recognition can breed despair or
denial of responsibility for our own actions. But more faithfully, such recogni
tion informs our understanding of human sin, of the fallibility of reason and
will, and humbles our pretensions of selfcontrol. “In the long run, in the house
of the brain and memory, we are still only partially the master” (Markowitsch
and Welzer, 2010, p. 110).
We are enculturated to distrust and even demonize emotions for their “unruli
ness.” Yet neither head nor heart alone can be blamed for the distorted images of
ourselves and our relationships that separate us from ourselves and each other.
Either can mislead us. Such discoveries should call us to humility about our judg
ments and our claims to truth. They also remind us that reason and feeling,
interwoven within the inner recesses of our brains, work most wholesomely in
concert. Without joy and sorrow, reason becomes unreasonable; without reason,
emotion is misguided. And we cannot create this integrated self alone.
Because, third, these findings remind us that we are not alone, that we can
not live in any sense fully unto ourselves. We require each other; each is indeed
“flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” The “social brain” is formed in rela
tionships, nurtured in relationships, and healed in the context of relationships.
Families, friendships, and faith communities are essential contexts to the nur
turing of children, the formation of youth, and the sustaining of adults through
out the lifespan. Practical theologians who have advocated particularly for
children (Couture, 2000; MillerMcLemore, 2003; Mercer, 2005) will find fur
ther support for the necessity of sustained, dependable networks of care.
Finally, understanding brain function can assist parishioners and clients in
participating in their own healing. Such knowledge is never a substitute for
empathic pastoral and congregational relationships that have significant
potential to reshape troubled lives; nor is it always a necessary dimension of
pastoral conversations. But where such interpretation can underscore the
reality of embodied change in emotional and spiritual healing, neuroscien
tific insights add depth to selfunderstanding, to changes of the heart, and to
comprehension of our shared physical and biological similarities to the rest
of creation.
Pastoral Theology and Care
These discoveries then offer this picture of the imago dei, however imper
fectly its traces echo in any one of us: we are inveterate storytellers, creating
narrative worlds and living in them; we are passionate feelers, filled with fears,
desires, longings, and hope; we are seekers of relationship, longing for connec
tion and belonging, profoundly shaped by the presence and absence of others;
and we are in fact creatures of habit, formed and transformed by the practiced,
embodied rituals of our lives.
Looking Forward
Much of the neuroscience research directly relevant to relationships of care
has focused on dyadic relationships: between parent and child, pastoral
therapist and client, pastor and parishioner, partners. Research is emerging
about the impact of social media on human relationships that deserve pasto
ral attention. But more importantly, what remains to be addressed are the
ways brains are shaped by the broader cultural, gendered social networks
that constitute the “living human web.” How do the ingroup/outgroup con
straints on empathy play out in our religious communities? What remedies
might there be for the growing outbreaks of racist, sexist, heterosexist rheto
ric in the US and elsewhere? What hope can be found for the flourishing of
human beings in an increasingly polarized world? That is, in what ways can
the neurosciences engage the critical questions being raised elsewhere in this
volume? Science and theology speak different languages, but the dialogue
provides a critical voice.
Pastoral theologian Emanuel Lartey notes the claim by anthropologists
Kluckholn and Murray that “[e]very human person is in certain respects: 1) like
all others; 2) like some others, and 3) like no other” (Lartey, 2003, p. 34). The
neurosciences focus primarily on shared human (biological) realities, the ways
in which all human beings are alike. It must also be remembered, though, that
culture, gender, race, and class also shape human brains, as does individual
experience. There is not space in this single chapter to develop the ways in
which such powerful forces interact with human brains, but we must avoid
overstating our similarities at the expense of the rich diverseness of human
experience that our adaptive brains make possible.
The costly procedures and advanced knowledge to do neuroscientific work
of value to these questions lies beyond the scope of any current religious organ
ization or movement. Most of the resources that support such research come
from large government projects such as the National Institutes of Health and
of Mental Health and presidential task forces, or from large medical and phar
maceutical companies seeking to provide treatments for specific neurological
concerns or answer questions of scientific interest. We have little role in shap
ing the direction of the research itself. But we do have a responsibility to attend
How the Brain Matters
to the issues being raised, the questions being asked, and the implications
being drawn from this massive and growing body of scientific research. The
neurosciences have yet to solve many of the larger questions we face, such as
polarization, racism, militarization, and violence, and they may never do so,
though writers like d’Aquili and Newberg (1999) suggest they could. But they
do provide important evidence of the critical need for families and commu
nities that nurture children, strengthen human relationships, care for the ill
and the aging, and help build beloved communities. They underscore our
common humanity (including the limits of empathy) in ways that could help
bridge racial, sexual, and cultural divides. Pastoral leaders and practical theo
logians need at least basic knowledge of the human brain, its role in illness
and suffering as well as healing, and the implications of this critical work for
understanding the destructive power as well as the creative forces present in
the evolving human brain and in our world. Constantly we are being bom
barded with new insights into an agesold question: what is humanity that
God is mindful of us?
Ashbrook, James. 1995.
Minding the Soul: Pastoral Counseling as Remembering
Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Ashbrook, James and Carol Albright. 1997.
The Humanizing Brain: Where
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d’Aquili, Eugene and Andrew Newberg. 1999.
The Mystical Mind: Probing the
Biology of Religious Experience
. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Hebb, Donald. 1949.
The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory
New York: Wiley & Sons.
Hogue, David. 2003.
Remembering the Future, Imagining the Past: Story, Ritual
and the Human Brain
. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press.
Hogue, David. 2010. “Brain Matters: Neuroscience, Pastoral Theology and
Journal of Pastoral Theology
. Volume 20, 25–55.
Hogue, David. 2015. “Imaging the Other: Neuroscientific Insights into Human
Experiences of Culture and Race.” In
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Practical Theological Perspectives
, edited by Pamela Couture, Robert Mager,
Pamela McCarroll, and Natalie WiggStevenson. Zürich: Lit Verlag.
Hogue, David. 2017. “Because We Are: Practical Theology, Intersubjectivity and
the Human Brain.” In
Practicing Ubuntu: Practical Theological Perspectives on
Injustice, Personhood and Human Dignity
, edited by Olehile A. Buffel, Jaco
Dreyer, Yolanda Dreyer and Malan Nel. International Academy of Practical
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Jeeves, Malcolm. 2013.
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Psychology and Neuroscience
. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Jeeves, Malcolm and Warren Brown. 2009.
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. Templeton Science
and Religion Series. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.
Kandel, Eric. 2006.
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New York: W.W. Norton.
Kelly, David, Paul Quinn, Alan Slater, Lee Kang, Ge Liezhong, and Olivier
Pascalis. 2007. “The OtherRace Effect Develops During Infancy: Evidence of
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Introduction andLiterature Review
This chapter focuses on class, not because it assumes oppressions rooted in
class take priority over other forms of suffering, but because class has been
neglected, especially since the “neoliberal turn” in capitalism that has emerged
since the 1980s. This means that thinking about class has never been more
important than today, nor more likely to be misunderstood. In contemporary
discourse, the word “class” conjures up notions regarding socioeconomic
tus, education level, social prestige, and cultural distinction. These associa
tions are obscure and misleading. They distract us from the power differentials
this term signifies. Class is not a neutral or descriptive expression. Rather, it
names a form of oppression intrinsic to capitalism, in which dominant elites
use their economic, political, and cultural power to subjugate and stigmatize
people who do not possess such power. The purpose of this dominance is
thegeneration of wealth and maintenance of control for those at the top of the
class hierarchy. The term also refers to the resistance arising from those who
endure this oppression. When I assert that class has been neglected, therefore,
I am talking about the moral significance of class antagonism.
However, the dramatic rise in economic inequality that accompanies global
neoliberalization has rekindled attention to class. This is reflected in pastoral
and practical theology, as these fields have reoriented themselves to matters of
public concern. Nevertheless, the manner in which we attend to class has
been imprecise, ambivalent, and bifurcated. Only within the past five years
have pastoral and practical theologians begun to undertake a thoroughgoing
analysis of class. Here I review how class has appeared in the literature during
the past three decades, attending to its imprecision and divided approach, and
identify the new trajectory. In succeeding sections I indicate the directions
this might take.
Class Power andHuman Suffering
Pastoral Theology and Care
Before proceeding, I must identify my own social location and personal
sources of interest in this subject. I am a white, heterosexual male, a Protestant
minister who grew up in the Free Church tradition (Baptist) in the Deep South
(USA). I was fortunate to receive an advanced education, and have enjoyed a
long career as a professional pastoral counselor and as a teacher in a theological
school located within an elite private university. All of this adds up to substan
tial privilege. I have lived my life in overlapping systems that generally favor
people like myself, at the expense of women, people of color, those who identify
as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (GLBTQI), religious
minorities, and other marginalized populations. Simultaneously, there have
been countercurrents in my experience that set me against myself. First, I grew
up in southern Appalachia, in a working class family and povertystricken
unities. I come from a long line of union activists, sustenance farmers,
and manual laborers. I am the first person in my extended family to graduate
from college, much less earn a doctoral degree. Working in the academy, I am
acutely aware of the “imposter syndrome” that many academics from the work
ing class have described (Ryan and Sackrey, 1996). Second, I was born physically
disabled. I was severely “clubfooted” in both feet, a condition that took years to
correct. Prior to late adolescence, I frequently endured bullying due to my
inability t
o participate in the physical activities that were so highly valued in
myculture, especially for boys. Even though this disability is no longer visible to
others, I continue to navigate its complications. Finally, I am a descendant of
lower class European immigrants who settled in Appalachia. Many of these
intermarried with Native Americans. There are several members of the
Cherokee Nation in my direct lineage. As I grew up, I frequently heard stories
about our “Cherokee roots,” and sympathetic references to how Native
Americans had been treated. These narratives made a deep impression upon
me, as they were incongruent with the patriotic rhetoric that otherwise
ounded me. Today they open my heart to decoloniality and postcolonial
theory, and to seeing neoliberalization for what it is—a global neocolonial
cess. Although they do not reduce my privilege, these countercurrents have
sensitized me to asymmetries of power in society and the world, and how these
power differentials impact the wellbeing of communities, relationships, and
individual subjectivity. So, as I enter the seventh decade of life, I find these
erns at the focus of my research and writing. By the time our discipline
shifted in the direction of public theology, I was predisposed to embrace it.
The move toward public theology began in the 1980s and 1990s. Charles
Gerkin’s book,
Widening the Horizons
(1986), broadened the scope of pastoral
theology to include the social context of suffering. Within practical theology
this move has come to its most developed articulation in the work of Elaine
Graham (1996, 2013). Today virtually all progressive pastoral and practical
theologians operate within this paradigm. However, public theology did not
just appear in the last three decades. During the Industrial Revolution, pastoral
Class Power and Human Suffering
theologians were engrossed with interpreting the social injustices of their time,
including class exploitation, through a theological prism known as the “Social
Gospel.” Today’s public theology is in alignment with that movement, but set
now in the context of financial capitalism rather than industrial capitalism.
Following the Gilded Age, class vanished from pastoral discourse, and did
not reappear until the revival of public theology. In the dominant approach,
however, class is often named, but rarely theorized. Wendy Brown (1995),
observing that liberals in the academy have largely accepted capitalism, raises
this concern: “Could we have stumbled upon one reason why class is invariably
named but rarely theorized or developed in the multiculturalist mantra, ‘race,
class, gender, sexuality’?” (p. 61). This holds true for most public pastoral theol
ogy. Joyce Ann Mercer (2012) notes that pastoral theologians “name ‘race,
class, and gender’ as categories, but go on to address only race and/or gender
in the substance of their work.” She concludes: “In each instance, class issues
are improperly elided with race and gender, in a move that subsumes and
silences class relations within these other identity categories” (p. 433).
I offer two examples of this majority position, both collections of essays by
public pastoral theologians. The first is
Pastoral Care and Counseling: Redefining
the Paradigms
(Ramsay, 2004). Although there are abundant references to other
forms of subjugation, there are only scattered references to class in this volume.
One contributor acknowledges: “Class continues to be one of the most neglected
perspectives in pastoral theology.” She foresees this will change: “Critiques of
capitalism and general economic practices, class structures and distribution of
wealth and resources” will constitute a future trajectory of the field (Neuger,
2004, pp. 76, 82). Here the issue is identified, but only as a potential. The other
volume is
Injustice and the Care of Souls
(KujawaHolbrook and Montagno,
2009). It contains 22 essays on oppressions rooted in differences concerning
race, gender, religion, age, sexuality, disability, and so on. There are no chapters
on class as a form of oppression. Brown’s “multiculturalist mantra” appears
throughout the volume, but in no instance is class defined or theorized. These
two volumes typify the mention of class in public pastoral theology, coupled
with a stunning silence about what is being mentioned. Class is concealed rather
than revealed.
The argument I put forward in this chapter is that adequate definitions and
discourses about class already exist, but pastoral theology has not yet appropri
ated them. Thus, although she pinpoints the problem, Mercer (2012) does little
to remedy it. Noting an “instability of definition,” as well as “the absence of a
public discourse and vocabulary with which to talk about class differences”
(p.434), she ranges across a number of practical theological works having to do
with economic injustice and poverty. The insinuation is that to discuss these
matters is to address class. This is simply not the case.
Meanwhile, a handful of pastoral theologians have begun to thoroughly ana
lyze class, an effort that of necessity requires a detailed critique of capitalism.
Pastoral Theology and Care
The first intimations of this appeared in Archie Smith’s
The Relational Self
(1982), as well as in the work of Judith Orr (1997), and in James Poling’s
Unto God
(2002). Each of these pastoral theologians identifies capitalism as a
system of exploitation. Poling’s book, which includes a historical overview of
capitalism, represents a pivot to a new trajectory concerning class in public
pastoral theology. However, like Smith and Orr, he does not attempt an analy
sis of class.
In 2008, the speculative bubble built upon housing debt burst, initiating a
global financial crisis. In response, scholars representing many disciplines have
intensified their critical assessments of neoliberal capitalism, including its
iterations of class. Subsequently, in the US, at least four pastoral theologians
have extended the work begun by Smith, Orr, and Poling. Philip Helsel (2015)
argues that class is not about socioeconomic status, poverty, educational level,
or cultural taste. Rather, it is about the flow of power between social classes, or
class antagonism. Helsel explores the impact this is having on mental illness
and its treatment. Congruent with this understanding of class, Cedric C.
Johnson (2016) examines the impact of neoliberalization on African Americans
in the US. His book is an analysis of the ongoing entanglement between racism
and class struggle. My own work (RogersVaughn, 2014, 2016) analyzes how
neoliberalization is transforming human suffering, including class conflict.
Iargue that current alterations to class struggle call on us to reconsider inter
sectionality theory and “diversity.” Without a thorough understanding of the
emerging mutations of class, we are left with versions of identity politics that
simply accommodate neoliberalism (2016, pp. 144–161). Ryan LaMothe (2015,
2016) also investigates class as the antagonism between classes, with attention
to how this is adversely affecting the subjectivities of both the capitalist and
theworking classes. In
Care of Souls, Care of Polis
(2017), he contends for a
“political pastoral theology” that includes a detailed assessment of how the
class dynamics appearing under neoliberal governance are not only character
ized by conflict, but
. This means that neoliberalism both undermines
and distorts care. What these four pastoral theologians share is a critical
retrieval of Marxist analyses of class. The arc is toward an examination of how
class dynamics appear under financial capitalism, as opposed to the industrial
capitalism of Marx’s time, along with implications for contemporary pastoral
Within the pastoral and practical theological literature, this new trajectory
has gained little traction outside the US. I have encountered two exceptions.
One is the UK. In
Pastoral Care and Liberation Theology
(1994), practical
theologian Stephen Pattison argues that liberation theology challenges the
individualism that has characterized mainstream practices of pastoral care in
Europe and North America. While sensitive to oppressions based upon race
and gender, Pattison’s integration of pastoral care with liberation theology
retains the latter’s use of Marxist theory and its emphasis on class conflict.
Class Power and Human Suffering
Heargues that the increasing economic inequality throughout the world chal
lenges practical theologians to give more attention to class antagonism in their
analyses and practices of care. More recently, Eric Stoddart (2014) calls for the
deconstruction and radicalization of practical theology. Such an approach
would be “well equipped for enabling critical discipleship that is attuned to
aworld in the disturbing times of global capitalism” (p. xv). Stoddart uses
WileyBlackwell Companion to Practical Theology
, edited by Bonnie Miller
McLemore (2012), as a “case study” of established practical theology. He argues
that the 56 chapters in this collection, with a few exceptions, are silent con
cerning “the neoliberal and imperialist elephant in the room” (Stoddart, 2014,
pp. 108–119). Although Stoddart does not undertake an analysis of class, he
appeals to a critical retrieval of liberation theology—not as it has been appro
priated in liberal theological education, but as it is taught and practiced in
“laocratic movements” throughout the world (pp. 90–107). These movements
are not limited to Latin America or subSaharan Africa, but appear also among
the oppressed populations within Britain, Europe, and the US. Without
stently naming it as such, Stoddart is describing collective responses by
people who have been exploited by class elites. By implication, the “radical
practical theology” he proposes places class antagonism at the forefront of
theological reflection. He approvingly cites Rebecca Chopp who, critiquing
the“revised correlation method” that arose in the US, accuses mainstream
practical theology of compliance with “bourgeois existence” (Chopp, 1987/2009).
In effect, Chopp, like Stoddart, accuses practical theologians of siding with the
ruling and middle classes.
The other exception is South Africa. What the US and South Africa share is a
history of civil rights movements that yielded hardwon freedoms for people of
color, rapidly followed by a neoliberal revolution that replaced social solidarity
with individual meritocracy. The result is a restoration of political and economic
power to their white populations. This involves an intensification of class strug
gle carried out predominately, although not exclusively, upon racial lines.
Practical theologian Nadine Bowers Du Toit (2016) observes that South Africa
has one of the highest rates of economic inequality in the world. The recent
increasing unrest in South Africa, she notes, is largely about class antagonism,
which she identifies as “the elephant in the room” in the theological discourse
within South Africa. She calls upon religious leaders to replace the current “the
ology of assistance” with the previously dominant Apartheidera “theology of
resistance,” undergirded by liberation theology. Similarly, Stephan de Beer
(2015) pleas for the “(un)shackling” of cities and universities in South Africa
from their neoliberal bondage. With an implicit sensitivity to class conflict, he
too calls for a return to liberation theology and its emphasis on solidarity.
I have not attempted an exhaustive assessment of the works in pastoral and
practical theology that have some peripheral relationship to class. Such a
review would be both unwieldy and unedifying. Rather, my focus has been
Pastoral Theology and Care
quite narrow. Leaving aside writings about economic injustice, poverty, or con
sumerism, I have highlighted only those works that talk explicitly about class.
Even so, readers will no doubt know of authors I have overlooked. The advan
tage of this narrow approach is that the trajectory of these disciplines with
regard to class is made more visible. What arises now is a trip “back to the
future.” If pastoral theologians in the first Gilded Age talked so passionately
about class, how did we come to a place where we ignored this? And when we
did take it up again, why was it in such a vague and evasive manner?
Class Power and Human Suffering
worldwide. In the US, opposition to the New Deal labeled anything resem
bling Europeanstyle social democracy as “unAmerican.” This soon led to a
“linguistic cleansing,” in which the use of terms such as “class” and “class
struggle” were purged from public discourse (p. 200). Investigations by the
US Congress into unions eradicated their more radical elements. In this
environment, “Class talk was just not tolerated” (Zweig, 2012, p. 52). Second,
the broad prosperity following World War II was engrossed with upward
mobility and consumerism. Those who discussed class exploitation
“seemed stuck in an earlier era” (Zweig, 2012, p. 52). Third, political conces
sions made to the South in order to get New Deal legislation passed
kept blacks and women from joining unions (Cowie, 2010, pp.236–238).
Consequently, “for many the working class came to be identified as only reac
tionary white men” (Zweig, 2012, p. 54). Fourth, the fall of the Soviet Union
dispelled the notion that there is any alternative to capitalism. To some, this
represented the “end of history,” the arrival of a capitalist utopia (Fukuyama,
1992/2006). One result has been the acceptance of different outcomes for
erent classes as part of the natural order.
Finally, preexisting tensions in the labor movement with regard to gender
and race made progressive movements easy prey for the neoliberal turn that
began in the 1970s and 1980s.
Neoliberal rationality, with its emphasis on
individual freedom rather than solidarity, was able to drive a wedge into the
social justice movement, splitting off demands for justice based on cultural
identities from those calling for economic justice (Fraser, 1997; Duggan, 2003;
Harvey, 2005). While reinscribing new and malignant versions of racism and
sexism, neoliberal reason nonetheless retains the culture side of this divide,
celebrating it in terms of “multiculturalism” and “diversity” (RogersVaughn,
2016). Meanwhile, the economics side of this split is expunged, and with it any
possibility of meaningful appeal to class struggle. The term “class” becomes an
empty cipher. At best, it is a static marker of socioeconomic status. “Class
came to mean ‘the poor,’ who were in turn said to be women and minorities”
(Zweig, 2012, pp. 54–55). This ideological divide is a distinguishing feature of
This partitioning has serious consequences. First, it obscures the fact that
the working class is not equivalent to either whiteness or maleness. The work-
ing class in the US is disproportionally female, black, and Hispanic. If any class
embodies white supremacy and patriarchy, at least in the US, it is mainly the
ruling class. As an indicator, chief executives in this country are primarily male
(74.5%) and nonHispanic white (89.2%) (Zweig, 2012, p. 34).
Second, class differences
various identity groups have often under
mined efforts seeking justice for those same groups. “The solidarity of race or
gender has never been complete because class differences have been, and
continue to be, real and important among people of any identity” (Zweig,
Pastoral Theology and Care
Third, much of the discussion of class today is carried out by white men.
Often these men do not listen well enough to women and racialized others
(hooks, 2000, p. 7). Addressing class conflict does not resolve racism and
xism: “To be most effective, working class politics needs to complement
andincorporate these other movements” (Zweig, 2012, p. 133).
Finally, the economics/culture split elides the struggles of white working class
men, as well as poor whites generally. Without a meaningful discourse of class
struggle, these people are lumped in with a monochromatic and monolithic
whiteness. “This type of politics is a recipe for alienation and anger among white
men, dividing the working class and creating needless hostility toward the justi
fiable demands of women and minorities” (Zweig, 2012, p. 55). This does not
mean that white working class people do not participate in white privilege. The
point, rather, is that the power of white supremacy is unevenly distributed by
class. Its chief architects live not in Appalachian shacks, trailer parks, and low
rent areas, but in gated communities and corporate boardrooms.
Class inEveryday (Neoliberal) Life: Structure
Class is tied to the nature of production, and how capital exploits workers for
increased profits (Zweig, 2012, pp. 9–10). The conditions under which we work
have changed immensely since the 1980s. I begin, then, with a snapshot of
working life today. Most critiques of neoliberalism emphasize its oppression of
the poor, the working class, the young, and minorities. These appraisals are
compelling and necessary. However, in order to illustrate the current pervasive
ness of class antagonism, I reproduce here an exhibit of how today’s capitalism
is eroding the socalled middle class, even among the majority white population
within the US. I follow this case with an analysis of the structure and dynamics
of class under the conditions of neoliberalization.
Bill and Sheryl are a white couple who have been married for 20 years (Leicht
and Fitzgerald, 2014, pp. 18–19). Both are 45 years old. They are active partici
pants in a Catholic parish and in their community. They are parents of two
children, one already in college and the other in high school. Bill is a computer
software engineer, while Sheryl is a social worker employed by the state. They
own an attractive fourbedroom home in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio (USA).
Their two cars are paid off, but are now wellworn and require frequent repairs.
“By most middle class standards, Bill and Sheryl seem to have it made” (p. 18).
However, despite appearances, their economic condition is abysmal. Bill lost
his job at a large firm ten years ago, when his company was taken over during a
leveraged buyout. Since that time, he has been unable to secure employment.
He is now an independent consultant. He has no benefits or paid time off, and
makes a fraction of the annual salary of $55,000 he once earned.
Class Power and Human Suffering
Meanwhile, Sheryl works for the county where they live. This job provides
their health insurance. However, their state government has adopted neolib
eral austerity policies, cutting welfare programs and declaring “war on the
poor.” Since this is the population she serves, Sheryl finds herself trying to help
more people with diminishing resources. This not only makes her job more
stressful, but she hasn’t had a raise in five years. However, faced with poverty
stricken and homeless people every day, Sheryl feels she has no reason to com
plain. She says to her kids: “At least we’re not sleeping under bridges” (Leicht
and Fitzgerald, 2014, p. 19). To make matters worse, the county, coping with
reduced funding by the state, is considering eliminating her unit in order to
consolidate services.
As a consequence of these changes in their work lives, “Bill and Sheryl have
been cannibalizing their economic assets to keep their middle class lifestyle
afloat” (Leicht and Fitzgerald, 2014, p. 19). Sometimes they must resort to buy
ing groceries on credit. They now owe more than $15,000 on their credit cards.
In addition, when their son started to college, they assumed a second mort
gage, as well as a home equity line of credit. When the global speculation on
housing crashed in 2008, their home lost so much value that they now owe
more than it is worth, despite having lived there for 15 years. If Sheryl loses her
job with the county, they will fall over an economic cliff.
This couple is representative of the decline of the middle class in the US. “Bill
and Sheryl are trapped in a cycle of work, layoffs, debt, payments, and taxes
that will never end” (Leicht and Fitzgerald, 2014, p. 19). The neoliberal prac
tices that have transformed their lives impose a perpetual debt servitude
(pp.20, 25–52, 68–90). How can this happen when “the economy has contin
ued to grow by leaps and bounds?” The answer is that middle class earnings
have stagnated, while consumer credit has loosened. This means we are “loan
ing domestic consumers money they could otherwise be paid” (p. 29). The
result has been a staggering redistribution of wealth to those who were already
affluent—the investor class. So, while the economy has been growing in the
US, literally all the added wealth during the past four decades has gone to the
top 0.1 percent (Zucman, 2016).
Indebtedness is not simply a plague of the middle class. Debt now governs
workers globally, and is especially pernicious for populations of color
(Chakravartty and Ferreira da Silva, 2013). Debt even governs those of the
underclass who cannot take out personal loans, because the escalating sover
eign debts of nation states create impoverishment for most of their inhabitants
(Lazzarato, 2012, p. 32).
What sense are we to make of this case? While discriminations rooted in
cultural identities are often quite apparent, class is much harder to point to.
And yet, like the unseen power of the wind, class blows through the details of
Bill’s and Sheryl’s lives. We can witness its effects, but not the thing in itself.
This is because class has to do with powers that are
to individuals and
Pastoral Theology and Care
families (Smail, 2005, pp. 26–34). Unconsciousness is largely external, rather
than simply internal. Understanding class in its particularities, then, is a special
instance of “making the unconscious conscious.”
So, what is class? First, we must be clear that to talk about class is to talk
about capitalism. Capitalism cannot exist without a division between owners
and investors (capitalists), and everyone else (workers and debtors). Therefore,
unlike other forms of oppression, such as racism, class originates in the struc
ture of capitalism, rather than in discrimination or prejudice: “racism is a nec
essary condition for the reproduction of ‘race’, but ‘classism’ is not a necessary
condition for the reproduction of class” (Sayer, 2005, p. 94).
Neither is class equivalent to social stratification. It is not simply about cul
tural tastes, socioeconomic status, poverty, or education. Class is ultimately
. Zweig (2012) asserts: “When I talk about class, I am talking about
power. Power at work, and power in the larger society. Economic power, and
also political and cultural power” (p. 1). Attention to power discloses the trini
of class: economic power, political power, and cultural power.
These are, of course, interrelated.
Most reviews of neoliberalism emphasize economic inequality. In the US, for
example, economic inequality began rising around 1980, and now equals the
levels seen during the first Gilded Age. The top 1 percent of households cur
rently controls 42 percent of the total wealth, while the bottom 90 percent col
lectively owns just 23 percent (Zucman, 2016).
Oxfam International (Hardoon,
2017) documents that neoliberalism has had a similar impact globally.
Beginning in 2015, the richest 1 percent of earth’s population has held more
wealth than the remainder of humanity. “Eight men,” the report confirms, “now
own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world” (p. 2).
This degree of inequality is matched in the political dimension. The prolifer
ating economic power of the capitalist class allows them unconstrained access
to the powers of government. Growing inequality is not primarily attributable
to increased technology or globalization, as is often claimed, but to the seizure
of state power by global elites (Hacker and Pierson, 2010; ReidHenry, 2015).
Large corporations and staggeringly wealthy individuals are able to impose their
will on legislation, as well as controlling the courts and penal systems. Extreme
inequality means that neither the working class nor the dwindling middle class
have significant political influence (Gilens, 2012; Gilens and Page, 2014). The
result is a hollowing out of democracy. Moreover, inequality disproportionally
impacts women and people of color, signifying the critical role of class power in
the (re)production of racism and sexism (Stephanopoulos, 2015).
Neoliberalization occurs not only in the economic and political dimensions,
but is also a cultural process (RogersVaughn, 2016, pp. 42–46). Class power in
the cultural dimension has to do with the ability to determine values not reduc
ible to economics. Neoliberalization modifies these values in accord with its
emphasis on
Class Power and Human Suffering
(Duggan, 2003; Dardot and Laval, 2009/2013; Brown, 2015). Under the pres
sure of radical inequality, this has destructive consequences. First, powerful
and wealthy individuals are intensely idealized, even by members of the work
ing classes. Second, competition divides the social world into a very few “win
ners,” and a multitude of “losers.” Finally, individuals are made to be responsible
for their own failures. Like Bill and Sheryl, we are left with no reason to com
plain. Thus, economic and political inequality are mirrored in
inequality. This leads inevitably to a global pandemic of depression and addic
tion, as vast populations attempt to cope with responsibility for their own
struggles (Alexander, 2008; Walker, 2010; RogersVaughn, 2014).
But it is insufficient to talk about class simply as a structure. As the preceding
paragraphs imply, there are also
involved. The power structures are
in which the classes are entangled with each other. This
brings us to consider
class conflict
. The masses are relatively powerless
class elites have subsumed most of the power unto themselves. This brings atten
tion to the power imbalance between the small “top” and the much larger “base”
of the new class structure (Wysong etal., 2014, pp. 31–37). This conflict appears
in all three dimensions of class power. In the economic ecology, this materializes
as the stagnation of wages during a period when productivity has dramatically
increased. Under finance capitalism, however, the role of debt becomes ever
more central. Debt is
defining economic feature of neoliberalism (Lazzarato,
2012; Davies, 2016). A new phase of capitalism has emerged since the recession
of 2008, which Davies (2016) calls “punitive neoliberalism.” Here debt is not sim
ply utilitarian, but is “heavily moralized,” becoming a form of punishment. The
plight of Bill and Sheryl has become normative. As cultural power this appears,
at the base of the class structure, as a psychology of depression and selfrecrimi
nation (Davies etal., 2015). Meanwhile, at the top, the other side of this cultural
conflict appears as hatred and disgust toward these internal “enemies” (Davies,
2016). In the political dimension, this is acted out, on the part of the elites,
through the adoption of policies designed to exact vengeance. The “austerity
politics” now engulfing the globe epitomizes this phase.
One symptom of this class struggle is the balkanization of labor. Division
within the working class is fostered by the interests of the capitalist class:
“Segmented labor markets, ethnic rivalry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and
informalization all work against solidarity” (Johnson, February 2016, para. 77).
Meanwhile, the economics/culture split occurring under neoliberalization
leaves no path for public appeal except through neoliberal versions of identity
politics, which focus on discrimination without reference to class conflict:
An unspoken risk inherent in the monopolitics of “diversity” was that
white guys, too, would avail themselves of their own form of identity
politics, taking shelter from the storm of cultural conflict in the politics
of nostalgia, resentment, and authority. (Cowie, 2010, p. 240)
Pastoral Theology and Care
This “politics of resentment” is apparent in the support for Trump (Cramer,
2016; Hochschild, 2016).
This division within labor impedes care. Caring for people like Bill and Sheryl
will be hampered without a solidarity that embraces difference. Meanwhile,
since the election of Trump, debates among progressives have devolved into
tired repetitions of “race versus class” and “gender versus class.” Class conflict
is entangled with racism and sexism. It is not an either/or matter. They rise and
fall together (RogersVaughn, 2016). Until we grasp this, the solidarity that
embodies care will continue to elude us.
Class Struggle: What Does Pastoral Theology Have
toDo withIt?
What light does a public pastoral theology shed on neoliberal capitalism, and
on the alterations to class dynamics it has engendered? This question
demands both a broadranging and deep analysis. I will consider this ques
tion from my own perspective as a Christian theologian who acknowledges
the Jewish roots of this tradition, restricting my response to three interre
lated concerns that suggest paths for further inquiry: how this system cor
rupts our relationship with the Eternal, transforms social power into money,
and erodes our dependency upon and obligation to other people. All three
disruptions bear directly upon a pastoral theological assessment of class, and
the fruits of these alterations are evident in the lives of Sheryl, Bill, and their
human cohorts throughout the world.
The analysis of class in the preceding section indicates that Sheryl and Bill
are ensnared in a web of power not of their own making. The corporate takeo
vers, austerity politics, suppressed wages, and sprawling structure of debt pro
duction that transfers value from this couple to the capitalist class are
dimensions of neoliberal processes that make their lives precarious and, no
doubt, produce sufferings that arise from shame (Helsel, 2015, pp. 121–154).
What could justify this system? Neoliberal ideology claims that capitalism and
class are simply natural, and that Bill and Sheryl must accept personal respon
sibility for their own undoing. This quickly brings us to the core of the prob
lem. The valuation of values is the central conundrum of theology: “The
fundamental problem is this: what is worth the sacrifice of flesh and blood, of
time, attention, and devotion?” (Goodchild, 2009, p. 239). To this question
capitalism responds:
the accumulation of wealth
. This is the supreme value, to
which everything else must be sacrificed. If the production of wealth means
that millions of people will die or suffer exploitation, or the earth is plundered,
then that is simply the price of progress.
Capitalism is a system that enriches
and empowers a few at the expense of many, and this fact lies at the heart of
class difference
Class Power and Human Suffering
The Jewish and Christian scriptures directly contradict such thinking. The
Hebrew Bible insists that the earth and all its inhabitants belong to God, sub
verting all ultimate claims to private property. In the Gospels, Jesus is emphatic:
“You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24). Jesus proclaims woes upon
the rich and blessings upon the poor (Luke 6:20–26). He asserts: “It is easier for
a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter
the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). The Gospel is decidedly not “good news”
to the wealthy. “It was not, however, the subjective enjoyment of wealth that
was his target; it was wealth as a principle of power or judgment” (Goodchild,
2009, p. 5). It was, in other words, the placement of wealth as the chief value. In
the discourse of the Hebraic traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—
wealth displaces God as the supreme good, and this is the essence of
Idolatry occurs whenever our desire, in the effort to secure ourselves in the
face of tragic existence, no longer
strives through
the mundane to the Eternal,
comes to rest
in the ordinary object (Farley, 1990). This is the origin of sin,
or human evil. Whenever we posit something familiar in the place of the
Eternal, given our innate awareness of the fragility of the mundane, we become
willing to sacrifice anything to protect the idol. The idol—in the case of capital
ism, wealth accumulation—becomes absolute. Capitalism thus becomes a reli
gion (RogersVaughn, 2016, pp. 78–90). This is a religion that demands human
sacrifice. It practices what Harvey Cox (1999) calls “reverse transubstantia
tion”: “Things that have been held sacred transmute into interchangeable items
for sale” (para. 9–10). Are these the kinds of sacrifice we wish to be making?
In the “secular” religion of capitalism, then, the laboring classes and the poor
are laid upon the altar as a sacrifice. This involves not only a corruption of our
relationship with the Eternal, but also the transformation of social power into
money. Not all social power is evil. Love, care, compassion, the desire for jus
tice, worship of the Eternal—all these are forms of social power. They move us
in one direction rather than another. Under capitalism such powers are not
necessarily monetized, but they are transmuted into or replaced by the power
money conveys. As a valuation of values, money delivers access to other forms
of power—military force, information, the molding of public consciousness,
the capacity to prioritize through selective funding, and so on (Goodchild,
2009, pp. 12–13). Furthermore, especially in the case of neoliberalism, money
is produced as debt. Finance capitalism is a system based on the production
and trading of debt (Lazzarato, 2012). “The physical expression of worship and
devotion has mutated from the offering, through the tithe and the tax, to the
interest payment” (Goodchild, 2009, p. 237). Despite its abstract quality, money
as debt nonetheless exacts payment in the form of human lives: “The value of
money is still paid for in flesh and blood.” Moreover, a finance economy makes
us complicit in one another’s suffering: “Whenever one spends money, one
spends a portion of the substance, wealth, and life of those who have under
taken loans” (p. 236).
Pastoral Theology and Care
The shift from industrial capitalism to finance capitalism transforms class
struggle. Marx emphasized the antagonism between owners of the means of
production and workers. While such conflict still exists, it has been overtaken
by the new credit economy. Today’s dominant form of class conflict is not that
between owners and workers, but between investors and debtors. In a debt
system, it is not just one’s work that is exploited, but one’s very self. Debt is a
contract on one’s future work: “The credit economy is a network of contracted
servitude” (Goodchild, 2009, p. 236). Here we do not just surrender the surplus
value of our labor. We lose our freedom. We do not simply owe. We are owned.
This is the ultimate “reverse transubstantiation,” as human beings are trans
muted into money upon the altars of the finance system.
But debt servitude goes much further than this. Debt “is premised on an
assumption of equality” (Graeber, 2011, p. 86). Thus, we presume that people
take on debt as a free, unencumbered choice. This means we accept that we
have a moral obligation to repay the debt. This has two immediate conse
quences. Graeber identifies the first:
If history shows anything, it is that there’s no better way to justify relations
founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by refram
ing them in the language of debt—above all, because it immediately makes
it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong. (p. 5)
This ignores that, under finance capitalism, the vast majority of debt in the
world has been taken on under duress. Among nation states, those most in
debt (relative to their wealth) are the very ones who were exploited under colo
nialism. International financial institutions, promulgating neoliberal policies,
have imposed tremendous amounts of debt on “developing economies,” leaving
us now with a neocolonialism (Chakravartty and Ferreira da Silva, 2013). We
might also recognize that the truism “everyone must always repay their debts”
is patently not true. Following the 2008 financial crisis, for example, the US
government, under the ideology of “too big to fail,” dissolved the debts of many
large banks and corporations. This, in turn, cancelled out the losses for their
investors. “As it turns out, we don’t ‘all’ have to pay our debts. Only some of us
do” (Graeber, 2011, p. 391). This crisis disclosed that even the inviolability of
debt repayment may be suspended for class elites, but never for those lacking
their political power. The moral obligation of debt repayment is unevenly
ibuted by class.
This injustice is repeated at the level of individuals. It is clear, for example,
that Sheryl and Bill did not take on debt as an unencumbered choice. The
erosion of their wages required the acceptance of debt if they were to continue
caring for themselves and their children. Moreover, those who take on debt
generally accept the ideology of free choice and individual responsibility. This
leads to the second consequence. Unpayable debt—the “infinite debt”
Class Power and Human Suffering
(Lazzarato, 2012, pp. 77–81) typical under neoliberal governance—now
utes a pervasive form of moral injury. Theologians Brock and Lettini
(2012) investigate the moral injuries of soldiers, who violate their own con
sciences as they follow orders under the pressure of combat. These individuals
identify their own being as the source of great injustice. One result is that
combat veterans account for 20 percent of all suicides in the United States
(p.xii). A similar pattern appears in the moral injury of debt where, again,
those who cannot repay the debt feel that they alone are responsible. As with
combat veterans, suicide is a common result (Leech, 2012, pp. 55–56).
Again, a refusal of money as the governing power of society, including the
imposition of debt, is prominent in Christian scripture. Jesus, exhorting his
disciples to love even their enemies, repeats the Golden Rule: “Do to others as
you would have them do to you.” He then interprets the meaning: “If you lend
to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sin
ners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good,
and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:31, 34–35). Here a loan does not
impose a debt, much less interest. It is, to the contrary, the equivalent of a gift.
In his typical fashion, Jesus takes economic terms and turns them on their
heads. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23–35), the king
forgives an unpayable debt of a servant, only to cast him into prison when this
same man refuses to forgive a lesser debt. This same sentiment appears in the
Lord’s Prayer, still recited in Christian worship throughout the world: “And
forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). This
posture toward debt was taken up in classical Christian theology. Charging
interest, referred to as “usury” in the language of the period, was either forbid
den or sternly restricted by Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, among others
(Wykes, 2003; Savage, 2011). In much of Christian thought, even salvation is
framed in starkly economic terms. The word “redemption,” and the reference
to Christ as “Redeemer,” regards salvation as the cancellation of an unpayable
debt, or the recovery of what had been given up for a loan (Graeber, 2011,
pp.80–82). Understood in context, redemption is “really more a matter of
destroying the entire system of accounting” (p. 82). In sum, refusing the power
of money and its capacity to rank people and bind them in debt would mean
the end of the class system as we know it.
This brings us to the third consideration. Not only does neoliberal capitalism
corrupt our relationship with the Eternal and transform social power into money,
it also distorts our relationships. As already noted, neoliberal governance turns
us all into entrepreneurs competing with each other in the marketplace. A
ruled by the iron law of competition subjects everyone to the risk of redundancy
and abandonment. “Competition yields winners and losers; capital succeeds
bydestroying or cannibalizing other capitals” (Brown, 2015, p.64). By replacing
the notion of exchange with competition, neoliberal governance does not
positmembers of different classes as having conflicting interests that can be
Pastoral Theology and Care
negotiated. Instead, they are simply enemies. Commenting on how neoliberal
ism shifts class antagonism, LaMothe (2017) asserts: “care in this context is cor
rupted by recognizing the Other as enemy” (p. 219).
We cannot reconcile this with the message of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.
I could cite many of Jesus’ sayings to support this, but I will use only the one for
which he is perhaps most famous, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke
10:25–37). The story opens with a lawyer asking Jesus how he might inherit eter
nal life. Jesus asks him what is written in the Law. The lawyer answers: “You shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart … and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus says, “You have the right answer; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer then
asks the inevitable: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the now
familiar story. A man is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and gets mugged and
left for dead. First a priest passes by, then a Levite, neither of whom stop to help.
AmyJill Levine (2014) observes that Jesus is following a pattern, the “rule of
three.” So, his audience is expecting a third figure to come by. They are not to be
disappointed. However, Levine notes that this is a familiar list for Jewish listen
ers. If you say “priest” and then “Levite,” she states, then “anyone who knows
anything about Judaism will know that the third person is an Israelite” (p. 95).
The hearers, then, must presume the next passerby will be an Israelite, who will
stop and help. Instead, there is a shocking turn. The next man is a Samaritan, a
despised enemy. Levine quips: “In modern terms, this would be like going from
Larry and Moe to Osama bin Laden” (p.95). Jesus then asks the stunned lawyer
who was neighbor to the distressed man, and he answers: “The one who showed
him mercy.” The story assumes that human relationships are based upon obliga
tion, care, and dependency. We are not entrepreneurs in competition. We are
neighbors obligated to care, and to accept care from others, regardless of who
they are. The emphasis is not on individual meritocracy, but
shared life
If we combine the Parable of the Good Samaritan with the previous sayings
of Jesus regarding wealth and debt, a portrait emerges for understanding class.
LaMothe (2017) reflects:
… the ministry of Jesus and the early church represent a movement
toward a society structured and dominated by relations of mutual
respect and forms of distribution and exchange that mitigate class, clas
sism, and class conflict. (pp. 212–213)
Jesus’ vision, he concludes, is a community “where there are no classes, where
there are no categories of poor and rich” (p. 229). Meanwhile, a neoliberal
world is one that depends upon class and economic inequality. This brings me
to the next question. What will be the role of religion and theology in a global
economy dominated by an economic elite? What form does pastoral care
assume in such a climate?
Class Power and Human Suffering
Pastoral Care: Promoting, Accommodating, or
Resisting Class Structure?
Although we remain in an “age of acquiescence” (Fraser, 2015), there are now
signs of awakening. One indicator is the increasing interest in class in reli
gious and theological studies. A collection of essays with the revealing title:
Religion, Theology, and Class: Fresh Engagements after Long Silence
2013) is a noteworthy example. The authors make a strong case that theology
and religious practices are never nonaligned regarding class. At the very
least, to be silent in a context of extreme inequality is to take sides with those
in power. But the impossibility of neutrality goes further, including the ways
specific religious ideas and practices promote, reform, or resist neoliberal
capitalism and its class formation (Dreher and Smith, 2016). As theologians
and religious devotees, we are always taking sides in class struggle, even when
we are unaware.
Bringing all this to bear upon pastoral care, we must acknowledge that care
is also never classneutral. Generally, the pastoral care practiced in religious
movements that promote neoliberalism reinforces the values of the ruling
class. The elite’s doctrine of individualism, for example, privatizes both suffer
ing and care. It urges us to look for the origins of suffering only within our
selves. We are responsible to manage this suffering individually, using
whatever resources are at our disposal. In this instance, care may take rather
harsh forms. If Bill and Sheryl become depressed, addicted, or just “stressed
out,” they may be told to “get it together” and to “tough it out,” in the belief that
hard work will eventually be rewarded. They might also be admonished for
taking on so much debt, and told that it is their moral duty to repay it. Faith
demands sacrifices to powers that are “higher” than themselves—to God,
their employers, and their creditors.
In religious groups trying to reform and thus accommodate neoliberalism,
pastoral care takes forms most progressives accept as normal. These congrega
tions adopt a kinder, gentler individualism. Suffering and care remain privat
ized, but caregivers attempt to comfort or in some way ameliorate the pain.
The usual outcome, however, is that sufferers receive just enough help to
remain conformed to a system that produced the pain to begin with. Frequently,
this means managing their pain as a chronic condition (Cazdyn, 2012).
What form does pastoral care assume in religious movements that resist neo
liberalism and its enhancement of class power? Here care includes but is not
limited to empathic presence and acts of compassion. Suffering is interrogated
for its meaning, a meaning that is likely relevant not just for the suffering indi
vidual, but for the entire collective. How is this so? Because suffering has been
reconnected with its social context. In effect, pain becomes a commentary on
what is happening within the collective, between the collective and its social
Pastoral Theology and Care
surround, and/or in the world at large. Specifically, it makes conscious the
destructive power differentials that pervade human systems. Moreover, what
the suffering offers is not simply cognitive. It is revelatory, but its meaning is not
limited to information. Suffering also involves emotions. These are no longer
simply “owned” by the individual, as they are in contemporary capitalism.
Rather they are turned back out again, and point to the origins of the suffering.
Not only that, but the suffering and its accompanying affects constitute an
embryonic resistance—a passion that is amplified when heard in the context of
the group’s solidarity. Thus, it is a resource for both the content and the
for change. Clearly, neither suffering nor care in this context are privatized.
Individuals no longer suffer in isolation, nor are they alone responsible for “get
ting better.” Such care is no longer just a discrete task. It is not simply something
the congregation does. The solidarity it nurtures is caring in itself.
This religious community constitutes what LaMothe (2017) calls “an
capitalist ecclesia
.” I have said that a pastoral care that resists class struc
suffering. This requires an explicitly educative dimension.
Class power, as I have noted, is mostly hidden from us. Thus, “An
ist ecclesia
can educate its members and Others about the origins of class and
income inequalities” (LaMothe, 2017, p. 227, emphasis in original). This
returns us, finally, to the mission of a public pastoral theology. This sort of
theology does not settle for descriptive analyses. It takes sides:
A political pastoral theology engages not simply in the prophetic moral
suasion of those in the upper classes but also in prophetically critiquing
the very economic and political systems that create the socalled upper
classes. (LaMothe, 2017, p. 229)
Likewise, a care of souls that resists neoliberalism embodies a utopian spirit
that strives toward a community that dismantles the forms of oppression des
ignated by the term “class” (RogersVaughn, 2016, pp. 228–237).
The continuing inattention to class in this “second Gilded Age” poses a
problem. Popular appeals to “diversity” leave us with ideals of social justice
that are compromised unless they simultaneously address the inequalities of
class power. In light of this, religious leaders, congregations, and pastoral
theologians must wonder why we have not been more vocal on this matter,
compared with the substantial emphasis on class conflict by the Social
Christianity that appeared in the US during the Industrial Age. The story,
however, remains unfinished. Carter (2015) provides a fitting conclusion for
where we now find ourselves:
Class Power and Human Suffering
Now, in the early decades of the twentyfirst century, American capital
ism appears once more poised to overwhelm American democracy. … It
remains to be seen whether presentday believers will quietly abide this
state of affairs, or whether it will at some point call forth a generation of
prophets comparable to those that visited Gilded Age Chicago. (p. 182)
Under neoliberal expansion, what Carter says about Chicago and the US now
goes for the entire planet. Today the need for a prophetic movement is global.
We shall see.
I have documented the neoliberal turn in
Caring for Souls in a Neoliberal Age
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In this chapter I shall be focusing on the disciplines of pastoral theology and pasto
ral care as I trace the emergence of a trajectory of postcolonial criticism in the work
of pastoral theologians, especially emphasizing the work of those whose cultural
and historical heritage, like my own, is traceable to the African continent.
Ishall explore pathways in postcolonial thought and practice that seek to
enhance an engagement with the cultural heritage of the formerly colonized in
ways that lift up subjugated knowledge for the purpose of a more authentic
future in which suppressed ways of being and knowing are represented and
clearly articulated at the table of all pastoral theology. I write from the region
of the United States of America that is referred to as the Deep South, where for
the past 16 years I have lived, taught, researched, and provided pastoral care
and counseling. I was born in Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast, in the
dying years of British colonial rule on the African continent. My own experi
ence growing up, living and teaching in Africa, and then studying and teaching
for over a decade in Britain, and now since 2001 here in the US, informs every
thing I have to say and has had a marked influence on my perspectives and
views. Moreover, I have had the honor and privilege of traveling internationally
and engaging in research and study in different parts of the world, including
extensively in Africa, in Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. My experi
ence has typically been in intercultural communities located in the various
countries I have worked in. Coming from a minority ethnic group in my home
country, and then sharing the life space and existential realities of minorities—
black British, African Americans, and people of color—has given me a particu
larly keen sense of the experience of being marginalized. However, as a
professor and religious leader, privilege and power have not been absent
frommy experience as well. In this regard marginalization and recognition,
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
Enhancing theIntercultural Paradigm
Emmanuel Y. Amugi Lartey
Pastoral Theology and Care
oppression and valuing, resentment and respect, rejection and acceptance, have
in curious ways been the hallmarks of my existence and social location.
Since the mid1980s a steady stream of works from pastoral theologians have
embraced and operated through a lens that has been described as “intercultural.”
In this approach a concerted effort is made to seriously promote a dialogical and
interactive study and practice of ministry and pastoral care, drawing upon theo
ries and practices from different cultures. The underlying premise of this effort
is equal respect for all cultures and all people as bearing the image and likeness
of God. The
modus operandi
of intercultural pastoral care and counseling has
entailed respectful dialogue between participants from different geographic and
social locations in which each purports to learn from the other. If all people are
created in and bear the image of God then all have a contribution to make in the
presentation of the God of all creation and in the care of all humanity. It goes
without saying that if there is to be genuine intercultural interaction among
storal practitioners, there indeed needs to be recognition and respect for each
participant’s cultural and religious heritage. Such, however, was not the case
from the beginnings of interaction between Europeans and peoples of the rest of
the world. When Europeans ventured out of their shores beginning in the 15th
it was in a mode of conquest and control of trade, economics, culture,
and religion. European civilization sought to dominate and impose its own val
ues on all everywhere it went. European imperialism and colonialism were fueled
by views of superiority and patronage.
The colonial project with its inherently oppressive and defacing characte-
ristics in relation to cultures different from itself has left the partners in inter
cultural interaction who originate from the former colonies unable to truly
engage the colonizers and their descendants from an equal epistemological
and political base. Psychiatrist and political activist, Frantz Fanon perhaps
most clearly analyzed the deleterious effect of colonialism upon Africans. In
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
Participants in the intercultural dialogue whose origins lie on the side of the for
merly colonized need the uplifting strength and empowerment of their own
resources in order to be enabled to relate to the descendants of the colonizers on
an equal or at least more fulsome and authentic footing. Herein lies the need for
postcolonial theory and practice.
The task postcolonializing activities seek to accomplish entails critique,
validation, recovery, and construction. They aim to facilitate the formerly
colonized person’s authentic participation in intercultural engagement.
Postcolonial criticism uncovers the logic of colonialism’s constructions of the
colonized and demonstrates its inadequacy and misrepresentation of the peo
ple and cultures encountered. It also critiques the hegemony and “control
over” that is embedded in much of the discourse of relations between nations
and cultures. Because of the pervasive, often pernicious, and latent power of
the colonial project to the personhood of the colonized, an important aspect
of postcolonial criticism and one of its objectives is the “decolonizing” of the
thought, theory, and practice of colonized experience. Postcolonial interpre
tations of the realities of the colonized validate and revalue their humanity
and begin to underscore and strengthen the formerly colonized people’s
capacity for authentic selfhood.
The task of recovery is often one of a process of reappropriation of subju
gated knowledge and epistemology. Such resurgence requires both historical
and constructive research and crafting. Subjugated knowledge needs to be re
appropriated, validated, and put to work in the construction of new realities,
theories, and practices able to forge a new consciousness and new orientation
to life for all in the future. Postcolonial thought thus requires both courage and
How Postcolonial?
The term
has many and varied usages in different disciplines.
More often than not it indicates not just a chronological ordering of relations
in reference to what follows the colonial, but rather a discourse about existing
orientations and in critique of ongoing international relational realities.
Generally, it is employed in an attempt to capture two particular features of
international and intercultural relations historic and contemporaneous. First,
postcolonial studies have been about an analysis of the various strategies
employed by colonizers to construct images of and to exercise dominance over
the colonized. This form of study undertaken mostly by scholars from the
oric colonizing nations can and has been very sharply criticized.
postcolonial criticism has referred to the study of the agency of the colonized
in making use of and transcending colonial strategies of dominance, subjuga
tion, and demeaning in order to articulate and assert their dignity, selfworth,
Pastoral Theology and Care
and identity, and to empower themselves. Sugirtharajah, whose work has been
pioneering in the field of postcolonial biblical and Asian studies, describes
postcolonial criticism “as signifying a reactive resistance discourse of the colo
nized who critically interrogate dominant knowledge systems in order to
recover the past from the Western slander and misinformation of the colonial
period” (Sugirtharajah, 2002, p. 13). This way of using the term has led to a
flurry of studies and texts mostly by nationals of the former colonized nations.
It is important to note that in this latter way of analysis the critique has included
that of the “colonized” themselves and the ways they have at times internalized
the images and projections of their interlocutors, as Sugirtharajah puts it post
colonial criticism “also continues to interrogate neocolonizing tendencies
after the declaration of independence” (2002, p. 13).
Postcolonial Criticism inPastoral Theology andCare
One of the first publications in the field of pastoral theology and pastoral care
to explicitly make reference to postcolonial theory and practice in the sense
outlined was
Pastoral Care from a Third World Perspective: A Pastoral Theology
of Care for the Urban Contemporary Shona in Zimbabwe
, Tapiwa Mucherera’s
doctoral thesis published in 2001. Mucherera identifies the existence of deep
psychological and spiritual scars needing healing within his formerly colonized
Zimbabwean compatriots. Psychiatrist Frantz Fanon’s answer to the scars of
colonization was a call to Africans to recover their history and reassert their
identity, dignity, and culture (Fanon, 1990). Mucherera called for pastoral car
egivers with “integrative consciousness,” by which he meant caregivers who
understood both the traditional African and the Western worldview and were
able to integrate these in treatment modalities.
Mucherera’s second monograph
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
evidence of the desire on the part of members of the Society for Pastoral
Theology, most of whom are US nationals, to engage decidedly in and seek to
study longstanding postcolonial pastoral theological theories and practices
promulgated by Central American peoples. In that issue (2007) of the
of Pastoral Theology
, Professor Héctor LópezSierra, pointing to the subversive
survival skills (la
) and resilience of Hispanic Caribbean religious sub
jects, speaks of their need to “reinvent ourselves” (LópezSierra, 2007, p. 60). In
the midst of the liminality and hybridity of the Hispanic Caribbean lived expe
rience he argues that “one of the results of that
has been to make our
myths and customs survive through the subaltern worldviews and practices of
popular religions, spirituality, and multiple religious belongings or ‘affiliations’
of the peoples” (p. 61). He further points to a postcolonial methodology in
which his people “raise an ‘ironic syncretic voice’ that starts with the criticism
and deconstruction of IberianEuropean and North American hegemonic
Godtalk, and ends by subverting the institutionalized story of ‘official’
Christianity from the hybrid and ‘syncretic rhetoric’ of ‘popular’ religion, spir
ituality, and contemporary sociocultural knowledges” (p. 61). As LópezSierra
shows, Hispanic Caribbean postcolonializing pastoral theology has been going
on “ironically” for a long time. Its twofold methodology, both clear and
intriguing, is as follows:
ize, deconstruct, and subvert the Iberian Europeans and North
American hegemonic Godtalk.
ze “the hybrid and syncretic rhetoric of official Christian ecclesial
establishment discourse and tradition, ‘popular’ religion and spirituality,
and contemporary psychosociocultural knowledge.” (p. 77)
Such deconstructive and constructive strategies are present in all forms of
postcolonial pastoral theology and pastoral care.
In 2013 my text
Postcolonializing God: An African Practical Theology
published, in which I explore historic examples of postcolonializing activities
undertaken by different leaders of colonized and formerly colonized peoples.
These activities are discernible, if latent, in much of African Indigenous (inde
pendent) Christianity and latterly more so in the religious pluralism that is
evident in the growth of mystical and interreligious movements on the African
continent and in the diaspora. In direct reference to pastoral care, I raise the
centrality of spirituality, the crucial function of building healthy communities,
and the transformation of cultures that have been and continue to be key goals
of postcolonial pastoral practice, about which more will be found later in this
chapter. That same year Melinda McGarrah Sharp offered a work based on her
experience as a Peace Corp volunteer in Suriname, South America, titled
Misunderstanding Stories: Towards a Postcolonial Pastoral Theology
McGarrah Sharp squarely faces a very real challenge of encounters across cul
tures unexplored in earlier works, namely misunderstandings and conflicts.
Pastoral Theology and Care
Drawing thoughtfully on resources from pastoral theology, ethnography, and
postcolonial studies, she provides a valuable resource for relating across cul
tural difference especially where conflict and misunderstanding rise to the
fore. An important methodological recognition that is common to both
Mucherera with reference to Zimbabwe (East Africa) and McGarrah Sharp in
reference to Surinam (South America) is the pursuit and exploration of narra
tive as a significant analytic category highly valued within the subjugated
knowledge repertoire and practice of colonized people across the world.
In terms of methodologies of pastoral theological research and engagement
with the agency of postcolonial subjects, HeeKyu Heidi Park demonstrates the
twofold action of postcolonial criticism in, first, unearthing the epistemological
assumptions and reductive essentializing tendencies in phenomenology, and,
second, in constructive mode, drawing on feminist standpoint theory, indige
nous research, and postcolonial theories to propose “a pastoral theological
y that allows the postcolonial person, as a person characterized
by hybridity and mimicry, to reflect on the power dynamic within the self and to
stand on the bracket as his or her standpoint” (Park, 2014, pp. 3–14). Postcolonial
critical studies make room for the complexity of postcolonial experience to find
both authentic standpoint and voice at the table.
In a similar postcolonial turn Congolese American pastoral theologian
Fulgence Nyengele engages in what is a third feature of postcolonial study,
namely the articulation and enhancement of subjugated knowledge. Nyengele
lifts up subjugated knowledge in the form of the Southern African concept of
, bringing it in critical dialogue with the recently articulated discipline
of positive psychology “to recover African ancestral wisdom and put it to the
positive service of the world” (Nyengele, 2014, pp. 4–28). A significant recent
example of this turn to subjugated knowledge and to
precisely in the
field of practical theology was the 2015 International Academy of Practical
Theology conference, which was held in Pretoria, South Africa. Twentytwo
thoughtful papers from the conference containing reflections on
as it
relates to justice, personhood, and human dignity in southern Africa as well as
across the globe are contained in the book edited by Dreyer etal. and titled,
Practicing Ubuntu: Practical Theological perspectives on Injustice, Personhood
and Human Dignity
Korean American theologian Hee An Choi in
A Postcolonial Self: Korean
Immigrant Theology and the Church
(2016), extends postcolonial discourse
into the realm of the experience of minorities within the US Western colonial
metropolis. As Sugirtharajah, following Madsen argues, “since a sense of com
monality runs through the writings of the Third World and American minority
writers based on experience of ‘imperial domination, cultural catastrophe,
genocide, and erasure’ (Madsen) there is no justification for excluding their
texts” (Sugirtharajah, 2002, p. 35) from considerations of postcolonial dis
course. Choi explores how Korean immigrants work to create a different
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
identity in response to life in the US. She discusses how a Korean ethnic self
differs from Western norms. She then examines theological debates over the
concept of the independent self, and the impact of racism, sexism, classism,
and postcolonialism on the formation of this self. The book concludes with a
look at how Korean immigrants, especially immigrant women, cope with the
transition to US culture, including prejudice and discrimination, and the role
the Korean immigrant church plays in this. Choi’s work provides an illuminat
ing analysis of postcolonial Korean experience and acts as a resource for post
colonial Asian American pastoral care and counseling.
Postcolonial Practice of Ministry: Leadership, Liturgy and Interfaith
edited by systematic theologian Kwok Pui Lan and pastoral theo
logian Stephen Burns (2016), a groundbreaking text exploring various aspects
of practical theology and ministry through postcolonial lenses, was published
in 2016. This comprehensive collection of essays, international in scope, covers
the various disciplines of practical theology and includes chapters on the
“Dynamics of interfaith collaborations in postcolonial Asia” (Jonathan Tan),
“Womanist interfaith dialogue: Inter, intra, and all the spaces in between”
(Melanie Harris), “Table habits, liturgical
placing conversation”
(Michael Jagessar), and “Church music in postcolonial liturgical celebration”
(Lim Sewee Hong). The first section of the book, headed, “Pastoral leadership”
contains illuminating pastoral theological articles by Emmanuel Lartey,
Melinda McGarrah Sharp, Mona West, and Stephanie Mitchem, all engaging
in postcolonial critical discourse in the arena of the spiritual care of individuals
and communities.
Themes inPostcolonial Pastoral Theology
In terms of the emerging trajectory of postcolonial pastoral theology, care and
counseling, three main thematic issues are discernible. These are:
Can theSubaltern Speak? Voice, Access, Space
Spivak’s poignant question draws attention to the complex realities of the
silencing and the silence of the economically dispossessed. The issue clearly is
not the ability of the subaltern to speak but rather whether they are given the
space or the permission to voice their own views or whether Western intellec
tuals will be the only ones permitted to speak on behalf of the dispossessed and
Pastoral Theology and Care
colonized. In postcolonial pastoral theological discourse four types of speaking
by the formerly colonized are recognized and discussed. These are mimicry (or
imitation), improvisation, innovation, and polyvocality.
(Homi Bhabha’s “mimicry”) in which the colonized speaks in the
very form and “voice” of the oppressor, in my experience is adopted as a strat
egy to fulfill different objectives. Being able to reproduce the colonizer’s speech
“to the letter” convinces the colonizer that the colonized, far from being inca
pable, incompetent or even subhuman, actually possesses all the capabilities of
the colonizer. However, as Bhabha argues, mimicry because it always contained
an element of mockery, remained menacing to the colonizer always causing
uncertainty as to what the colonized was actually trying to convey, and omi
nously suggesting that the colonized may actually have had an edge over the
colonizer (Bhabha, 1984, p. 86).The colonized can “play the oppressor’s part.”
Mimicry as a strategy for the subversion and overthrow of colonialism has
become a postcolonial way of life, at times far exceeding even the practice dur
ing the colonial period. In Africa we are left especially in the churches with the
repetition of the doctrines and negative attitudes of the colonizers toward all
things African, to the detriment and neglect of these rich traditions. Many of
the traumas suffered by persons of African descent result from inauthentic
imitation of the discourse and belief patterns foisted upon us in colonization.
Mimicry as a postcolonializing strategy needs reconsideration for its potential
to subvert the crucial tasks of recovery, and uncovering of subjugated knowl
edge can render it counterproductive. Mimicry functions as a defense mecha
nism needed for the protection of vulnerable souls, yet often masks the painful
reality of inauthentic existence. Pastoral caregivers and counselors seek to
promote the authentic selfhood of clients and parishioners. In this task though
they often have to plow on through and work with the defenses of mimicry.
In improvisation persons utilize whatever they can find at hand to make the
most of an inadequate situation. Improvisation is the creed of the slave, the
colonized, the unfree, who must make the most of what is available. The colo
nized, slaves, and people kept under domination have used incredible skills to
improvise. Improvisation is the art of survival. Improvisation is the “muddling
through” that is the lived experience of so many former colonized people.
Improvisation in music, art, and literature bears witness to the ingenuity and
social fortitude of the oppressed. In terms of the colonial experience it seems
to me that the colonized and especially the enslaved utilized improvisation to
good effect as a survival strategy. As the need arose for the formulation of
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
ceremonies at times especially of gathering, slaves no doubt used whatever was
at hand, and whatever they could call to memory in the crafting of rituals of
encouragement, memorial, and renewal. With limited resources of education
in the languages of the colonizer, the colonized were still able, as for instance in
the establishment of independent indigenous churches on the African conti
nent and in the Caribbean and elsewhere, black churches and other black spir
itual movements, to form social institutions that resembled those of the
colonizers while infusing them with the philosophies and cultural content of
their African heritage.
Improvisation as a colonial and postcolonial activity differs from mimicry in
that it includes substantial content from the cultural heritage of the colonized.
As a postcolonializing exercise improvisation goes much further than imita
tion. It entails a degree of independence and unconcern with the gaze of the
colonizer. In slavery it happened mostly away from that gaze. In colonialism it
took place decidedly in contexts in which the influence of colonizers was very
limited. Thus, improvisation became a significant strategy of the free in which
their dignity and capabilities were expressed and endorsed from within them
selves and their own communities. Improvisation continues to be a significant
postcolonializing activity, but that of those whose resources in both colonial
and indigenous terms, are limited. So long as access and opportunity remain
limited, improvisation will continue to be an important feature of the postco
lonial discourse in pastoral theology. There is a sense in which the intercultural
paradigm currently functions for persons from outside Europe and the US with
an improvisational voice. The full function of interculturality therefore awaits
the third type of speech.
In creativity the colonized has great facility in both their own arts and those of
the colonizer. The creative person has inner freedom that is born of confidence
in different spheres and fields of knowledge. Mucherera referred to this as
“integrative consciousness” (2001). Such confidence comes from a variety of
sources. The creative person is neither afraid of the sanctions of an authority
nor has anxiety at the gaze of any legitimizing forerunner. Creativity is what
postcolonial pastoral theology craves and calls for. Innovation is the language
of postcolonial pastoral theologians who have attained maturity. Postcolonial
pastoral theologians are increasingly finding their own authentic voice, and are
thus more able to make more substantial contributions to the discipline and
practice of pastoral care and counseling. They call for and produce new forms
of being, institutions, and practices. They weave together disparate materials
into innovative forms and practices. Moving beyond improvisation, which
implies utilizing the leftovers and whatever is available in and from the colonial
project in the formulation of structures that are implicitly temporary, creativity
Pastoral Theology and Care
requires the generation and utilization of new practices, methods, and materials
in the development and promotion of substantially different forms of activity
that go beyond the status quo inherited or established as standard by colonizers.
This is what Héctor LópezSierra has referred to as “reinventing of self.”
Postcolonial pastoral theologians recognize, operate out of, and highly value
. They recognize and encourage many voices to speak and be heard
on the subjects under consideration. Never satisfied with solely one perspective
on any subject, the postcolonial pastoral theologian actively seeks out voices
other than their own, especially submerged, ignored, or rejected voices, to be
invited to the table, and there to articulate their own authentic voice. Subjugated
voices with submerged often despised knowledge are given room at the postco
lonial table. Educated, middle class, liberal, progressive voices are not the only
ones invited to speak. Nor is there an attempt to silence the speech of the
uneducated, differently able, or different. Such recognition and encouragement
is vital to the postcolonial project. It is precisely the silencing, suppression,
denial, or ignoring of voices because of their difference from the dominant ones
that has led to the need for postcolonial activity. Postcolonial pastoral theologians
seek to make possible the contributions of a rich variety of voices recognizing the
infinite value of such at the table of new forms of the pastoral care and counseling
needed in these times.
Knowledge andEpistemology
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
Through recognition of domestication on the part of many who suffered the
brutal suppression and selective valorizing processes of colonialism, and of the
nature of domesticated discourse, it is possible to discern counterhegemonic
patterns and strategies sometimes deeply embedded within domesticated dis
course. It is also possible to recognize more overt forms of counterhegemonic
Second, postcolonial pastoral care is politically
. In other words it
brings into critical focus the dialogical nature of relations between theory and
practice, and results in actions with transformative intent in the world. I have
described this kind of knowledge in line with liberation theologians as “praxi
ological or practicalandtheoretical with an actionforchange orientation”
(Lartey, 2013, p. xvi). The kind of knowing referred to here is knowledge gained
through action. An example of this that I have utilized in therapy is dance and
rhythmic movement. Drawing from ethnographic research I have engaged in
with African religious healers, I elaborate on, in a chapter titled, “Knowing
through moving: African embodied epistemologies,” African embodied ways
of knowing self, other, and God. With reference to the AnloEwe people of
SouthEast Ghana and Togo, I explain how “
, the term used to
describe the sensory information that contributes to the sense of position of
self and movement, seems to mark the key to human ontology and epistemo-
logy in African traditional and African Diasporan religious practice” (Lartey,
2016b, p. 102). As I have listened intently and participated in the rituals and
practices of African religious practitioners, what has been most fascinating for
me is that in place of a logocentric, wordbased theory from which is derived
particular healing and care practices, African priest healers seem to know
through a different means, one more bodily, more incarnational, and especially
more kinesthetic. Movement, rhythm, and dance are for them powerful sym
bols and signals that are cathartic in themselves and also convey important
messages that can assist in calling the desired states of being into existence.
Third, postcolonial practical knowledge recognizes its
and par
ticipation in multidimensional discourses and practices. Such knowledge is
plural. Diversity
is a hallmark, characteristic
ature and desired end of postcolonial pastoral theological processes. As
such, it is
, in that it questions and disrupts sharp and clear boundaries
between materials, recognizing the often arbitrary lines of demarcation that
are drawn, and calling for attention to complexity and
Pastoral Theology and Care
reflect time, change, and movement. Analyzing moving structures can be
daunting. However, recognizing that social reality is inevitably fluid is a sign of
maturity not to be rejected. Postcolonial pastoral theological practices presup
pose and therefore prepare for change.
Practices ofCare
The third issue postcolonial pastoral theologians reflect on has to do with prac
tices of care. What does pastoral care look like when it is informed by postcolo
nial theory and practice?
In order to address this in concrete terms consider the following case.
Case Study
Kofi (40) and Ama (36) have been married for 10 years. They have two daugh
ters (Afia, 8) and Adjoa, 6). For as long as Ama can remember she has felt sad,
unwanted, and a sense of not belonging. For the past several years Ama,
whose marriage relationship began very well, has felt closed up (“caged,” her
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
of spirituality in the practice of pastoral care and counseling; the need for the pro
motion of healthy communities; and the goal of cultural transformation.
Spirituality is Central inthePractice ofPastoral Care
Postcolonial pastoral theologians (Schipani, 2003; Mucherera, 2009,) clearly
articulate the need for spirituality to be centrally placed in the practices of pas
toral care and counseling. At the core of African anthropologies lies a central
organizing aspect of the human personality variously designated (e.g. Akan,
; Gã,
; Ancient Egypt,
; Yoruba,
), which refers to a Godgiven
essence that is received or uniquely chosen in the divine realm prior to a human
being’s entry onto the earth plane. This spiritual inner reality serves as the core
or key driving force of a human being’s life purpose, character, or personality.
This component of one’s personality links one with the divine while also being
the core of one’s psychology. African traditional healers and diviners locate
their activities very often centrally in this aspect of a human’s being. Any
approach to the care of persons within an African environment that does not
address this central feature, or that has nothing to offer that dimension of a
person’s experience is fundamentally flawed and doomed to failure. Pastoral
caregivers within such social and cultural spaces are called upon to engage this
“spiritual” element if their work is to scratch where their clients itch. As such,
postcolonial African pastoral caregiving attends primarily to the spiritual
center and soul of clients. They come to the soul and the psychological theories
and the therapeutic practices that follow from them only after they have paid
attention to the spiritual core and center. In Kofi and Ama’s case, therefore,
addressing the spiritual becomes key. The pastoral counselor invited them first
to reflect on and relate their concerns in terms of their spiritual perceptions.
What inspired their marriage in the first place? What was the nature of their
spiritual life, as they saw it, together? What about individually? How would
they characterize their relationship with God and significant spiritual persons
in their lives growing up? What roles did parents, uncles, aunties, mentors,
teachers, and spiritual leaders play in shaping and forming their worldview and
understanding of marriage as a spiritual phenomenon? In addressing these
questions there is no sense in which a sharp division is maintained between a
“religious” as opposed to a “secular” life. In keeping with African traditional
worldsense in which no such dichotomizing is sustainable, questions about
spiritual life encompass the psychological and social.
Postcolonial pastoral care within African social environments (including
African diasporan spaces) finds ways of challenging the psychological reduc
tionism that seems to have been the modus operandi of Westernized approaches
to pastoral care and counseling. Postcolonial pastoral care centers spirituality
Pastoral Theology and Care
integrally and crucially. Spirituality instead of psychology becomes the major
cognate discipline for pastoral care. However “spirituality,” understood in the
African sense I am discussing, is a synthetic concept. Postcolonial pastoral
approaches readopt this African sense and engage the spiritual core essence of
persons recognizing that this essence has divine as well as psychological, social,
and ecological dimensions to its complexity. As such, while privileging the
divine, these approaches explore the interrelationships between the divine, the
psychological, the sociological, and the ecological. By ecological I make refer
ence to relations with the natural world: the earth, geographical features such as
rivers, rocks, mountains, the flora and fauna, and the world of animals.
Postcolonial pastoral care, certainly within an African context, then, is about
helping persons fulfill the life purpose and plan they chose and agreed to in the
divine realm prior to their birth and entry onto this human plane of existence. It
is about discerning and utilizing their “spirituality” to navigate the issues of their
life successfully in ways that will contribute to the wellbeing of the human com
munity. So Kofi and Ama are invited to examine their individual and relational
lives in relation to their understandings of life purpose, destiny, and vocation in
life. They are encouraged to explore the extent to which occurrences in their
lives, such as the accident suffered by their child, may be understood as spiritual
acting out of tensions and challenges of a spiritual nature. Notions that it is
possible for behaviors to be manifestations of spiritual, and not only psychologi
cal or social dynamics, are important in postcolonial pastoral care.
However, too sharp causeandeffect couplings are also subject to question.
The logic of the spiritual realm of our lives does not follow a simple physical,
rationalistic, reductionist pattern. There is room for unforeseen, unrecognized,
or unexpected outcomes in the spiritual realm. Openness to alternative expla
nations and complexity remains necessary in these spiritual explorations. The
key is to explore and examine all perceptions, thoughts, dreams, inclinations,
hunches, or assumptions that may be of a spiritual nature, leaving no feelings or
thoughts unreviewed. Such thoughts in relation to Ama’s dream, Kofi’s undiag
nosed physical ailments, and Adjoa’s fall are all on the table, taken seriously, and
examined for any spiritual inferences or implications associated with them.
Individuals Cannot BeWell inIsolation: Building
Healthy Community
Postcolonial pastoral care and counseling emphasize the deeply
, and
nature of the human. Postcolonial pastoral
theologians emphasize the social and global nature of phenomena and
encourage approaches to subjects that engage interactively with all of peo
ple’s experience in the discourse on any subject. In other words they engage
analytically and relationally with the agents as well as the practices they wish
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
to critique and transform. Relationality is valued especially when it is set
within an ethical framework of equality and respect.
For Kofi and Ama this means that the pastoral counselor invites them to
explore their relational world in its totality and complexity. Relations with all
relatives within the extended families are fair game. A systematic approach is
taken, beginning with close family, through church communities, and then liv
ing neighborhood, workplace communities, and ethnic group and even national
affinity groups are all allowed to be discussed. Within a cultural setting that, on
the one hand, values community, and on the other is wary of harm that comes
to one through relations, it is crucial that the quest for healthy relations be
examined critically. This was exemplified in Adjoa’s fall in which there was a
lack of clarity as to whether she was pushed, tripped, or whether it was purely
Postcolonial pastoral care is about community building. A central motiva
tion for these approaches to pastoral care is a communal relational one. One of
the downsides of the drive for the autonomous, selfdirected, personally mor
ally responsible, rational, logiccentered individual envisaged and imposed by
the Westernizing colonial social agents was the loss of community and the
socially and relationally integrated persons that traditional African morals
upheld. This is not an argument for one to replace the other, which sadly was
the effect of colonialism. Had there been a greater respect for the communal
values of the colonized, a better balance would have been sought between the
rugged rational individual and the socially responsible communal person.
Pastoral counseling in Kofi and Ama’s situation required a careful exploration
of what healthy community might mean in their specific circumstances.
Postcolonial pastoral counseling is directed at the fostering of communities
within which acts of care and counseling have meaning and significance, and
within which persons may thrive as individuals as well as participants in rela
tional networks to which they may contribute. Pastoral practices and pastoral
counseling are the natural outflow of these communities of care. Healthy com
munities—like healthy families—produce healthy people. Individuals who
receive excellent therapy and whose inner lives are repaired only to return into
unwholesome social circumstances will soon be reinfected and need to return
for individual therapy. It is the growth of healthy societies that will lead to the
stabilization of healthy persons. An individual cannot be well in a society that
is toxic and that allows illness to fester. In any case there is the need for atten
tion both to the care of individuals and the care of communities if there is to be
an encompassing delivery of health.
The aim of postcolonial pastoral care is the cultivation of communal spaces
in which all people can be safe, nurtured, and empowered to grow. The focus
on individual therapy to the exclusion of communal care follows the pattern of
an ineffectual colonialism. Postcolonial pastoral care sets individual therapy
within a communitybuilding paradigm that privileges the growth of persons
Pastoral Theology and Care
as social beings and communal participants who seek the wellbeing of total
groups. Pastoral caregivers, by virtue of their recognition of the importance of
communal space and communal resources, will be at the forefront of the strug
gle for safety in community. They will seek to establish places of safety for all
persons at risk of molestation, violence, discriminatory, or oppressive practices
of any sort. This will mean a keen eye for potential danger evident in the social
climate. Aware of the fact that societies can be manipulated and mobilized in
ways that are oppressive of minority groups, they will be searching through
social and public policy making processes for any hints of legislation that could
prove harmful to certain groups. They will in such instances be willing to
organize against such policies ever becoming law.
They will be mobilizing resources for the provision of safe houses for women
at risk of violence, and the staffing of such premises with suitably trained per
sonnel. They will be engaging in the political processes of the communities in
which they are in the interest of disadvantaged and marginalized groups. This
means that a crucial part of the pastoral caregiver’s art is listening for the voices
of the marginalized of whatever kind. Such voices are frequently very loud by
their absence. So pastoral caregivers will be attuned to the voices of the silenced
and the silence of the voiceless. Pastoral caregiving includes advocacy for social
justice. And pastoral caregivers do not shy away from participating in and
engaging the political process in the interest of the creation of humane com
munities. The goal of pastoral care is always the creation of healthy communi
ties in which
all persons
can live humane lives. Human dignity is premised
upon social institutions and processes of nurture and growth.
With Kofi and Ama, the conversations revolve around what healthy com
munity might look like within their extended families. The extent to which
they are open and flexible enough to permit difference of opinion and ritual
practice in terms of religious or spiritual observance is a measure of the health
of their family. Work communities also need to be examined by the same token.
Is the school a safe place for the children? Does Afia, their older daughter about
whom not much is heard in this case study, have a voice? Is she considered
important only in as much as she can be seen to provide role modeling and
leadership for her younger sibling? Or does she matter in her own unique right?
It Takes theWhole World: Transforming Cultures
Postcolonial pastoral care has to do with the transformation of cultures.
Postcolonial pastoral theologians see pastoral care really functioning as a liber
ating human activity, in line with divine activity. As such, it aims at changing
underlying assumptions about human communities, about divine presence
and activity, and about human wellbeing. Accordingly, postcolonial pastoral
care aims not merely at the personal transformation of individuals, but rather
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
at changing the total ecology of the world, the nature of relations between and
among peoples. Communities, and therefore individuals, are set within cul
tures. Whole cultures can promote and maintain healthy communities which,
in turn, nurture individuals who are well. Cultures in which the signs, symbols,
tendencies, ideologies, and covert assumptions are disrespectful of human
persons and deathdealing cannot produce healthy communities. Communities
that result from the postcolonial pastoral care activities and practices referred
to do bear the hallmarks and characteristics of health, safety, and human dig
nity, interpersonal, communal, and intercommunal wellbeing.
What needs to change within Kofi and Ama’s world and cultural context for
there to be greater health and wellbeing for all? This line of examination makes
possible a reexamination of the entire assumptive world within which they
operate and the opportunity to interact with ideas, concepts, and worldviews
that may be foreign or alien to that in which they have been and are living. In
postcolonial pastoral care, clients are invited to imagine a world that is com
pletely different from the one they live in and to explore what the nature of
their relational patterns might be in such a world.
In Kofi and Ama’s pastoral therapy, a time came when they were allowed to
craft a play—they were both creative artists—compose music, and then actu
ally dance out in expressive form their vision of a renewed more healthy com
munal existence. This was done in clear recognition and as an ode to an
epistemic turn that postcolonial practical thinking values. Creativity, ritual,
and movement can be vehicles of knowledge and transformation that words
alone cannot accomplish.
Postcolonial pastoral theology is charting a trajectory in which the upliftment
of the forgotten, denied, suppressed, and subjugated in a range of different
practices of pastoral care and counseling becomes a reality. Its aim is not to
supplant or replace Western forms of the discipline, but rather to be an
authentic partnering voice in what needs to be a global phenomenon in which
voices from throughout the world are able to contribute their wisdom and
where such contributions are valued and respected. Postcolonial pastoral the
ology and pastoral care operate under a vision of empowered communities of
the oppressed former colonialized peoples of this world. This vision of global
responsibility inspires postcolonial theorists and practitioners to recover sub
jugated knowledge and to revalue silenced people. The table can be enriched.
The disciplines of pastoral care and counseling can be more relevant to a
world that is diverse and polyvalent—not by a onesizefitsall monolithic
endeavor but instead by a polyvocal, communal, respectful practice of the
care of persons.
Pastoral Theology and Care
In this essay I stay within the discipline of pastoral theology understood as
xploring the theological underpinnings, implications, and practices of pastoral
care and counseling. In this regard I would define practical theology as encom
passing the four disciplines of religious education, liturgy and worship, homilet-
ics, and pastoral theology.
For a detailed summary of the most trenchant critiques, see Bart MooreGilbert.
stcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics
. London: Verso, pp. 5–33.
Spivak’s oftquoted essay with the title, “Can the subaltern speak?” was published
irst in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg’s (1988)
Marxism and the
Bhabha, Homi. 1984.
The Location of Culture
. London/New York: Routledge.
Choi, Hee An. 2015.
A Postcolonial Self: Korean Immigrant Theology and Church
New York: State University of New York Press.
Dreyer, Jaco, Yolanda Dreyer, Edward Foley, and Malan Nel, Eds. 2017.
Ubuntu: Practical Theological Perspectives on Injustice, Personhood and
Human Dignity
. Zürich: Lit Verlag.
Fanon, Frantz. 1990.
Postcolonializing Pastoral Theology
Mucherera, Tapiwa N. 2009.
Contextualizing Matters
My commitment to these emphases mirrors the spiritually and religiously
diverse context of Claremont School of Theology (CST) and southern
California. For over two decades, students from diverse traditions have enrolled
at CST, especially due to desire to offer chaplaincy. Our classrooms and their
clinical placements have been laboratories for creating theory/practice in
PT&C informed by but not restricted to the field’s Christian origins. This work
also has personal foundations, especially the role of religion in my experience
of economic vulnerability and marginalizing illness in my family of origin, and
learning I sought from feminism and antiracism training about navigating
asymmetries of power and privilege. I am further informed by experience of
plurality within my religious tradition, Christianity. Learning from other spir
itual and religious traditions has helped me navigate distances and divisions I
experience among Christians and leads me to anticipate that readers of this
volume from other traditions will have insights that enrich my own.
Caring fromaDistance
Intersectional Pastoral Theology amid Plurality Regarding
Spirituality andReligion
Kathleen J. Greider
Pastoral Theology and Care
Caring fromaDistance?
Within liberating traditions of Protestant Christianity, pastoral theologians
develop theory/practice that offers caring responsiveness to suffering, interwo
ven with sociopolitical engagement informed by caregiving, with commitment
to disrupt oppressive systems and decrease the misuses of power that cause
suffering. Pastoral theology conceived in this way has been characterized by an
intercultural commitment to engage particularity, diversity, and asymmetries in
social locations. All this draws attention to the distances between us whenever
we apprehend the actual, existential, embodied otherness of others—gaps
between us that cannot be closed.
Increased clarity about these gaps implies limits to empathy. Trying to articu
late the needed evolution in empathy, David Augsburger offers “interpathy,” which
increases our attention to difference as we imaginatively engage others’ realities
(1986, 2014). Whatever terminology is used, contemporary theory/practice in
PT&C is grounded in the recognition of complex difference and in confidence,
theologically argued, that with enough caring intentionality it is possible to com
prehend and make connections with those from whom we are most distant. And,
of course, even as we are Other to one another, embodied particularities of wildly
differing cultures and worldviews, we experience care. I presume the possibility
and value of making caring connections amid difference and distance.
Still, growing awareness of the severity of polarization—globally, in everyday
encounters, in our most personal relationships—confronts us with gaps that are
persistently, poignantly, painfully unbridged. As surely as we know positive
potentials of relationality, we know dispiriting disconnections (also theologically
understandable). The differences and distances we appreciate also challenge us,
especially when we experience them as unexpected, unwanted, inexplicable, or
violating. Whether we call it empathy or interpathy, excessive optimism about
human capacity for care amid differences and distances is not warranted.
Wisdom requires wrestling with the real limits of our capacity for empathy and
interpathy, and with the cost of our denial of those limits.
Differences and distances do not need to be disconcerting or divisive, of
course. But when they are, and when neither referral nor abstention from car
egiving are adequate, how do we offer care? How do we offer care if closeness,
similarity or, especially, agreement and shared affirmations cannot provide suf
ficient bases for our care? Especially, given intersecting systems of oppression
and privilege, what might it mean to offer care that intentionally makes space
for distances and divisions, as compared to bridging or transcending them?
Intersectional Pastoral Theology
Intersectional pastoral theology synthesizes intersectionality theory’s empha
sis on social justice (Ramsay, 2014, p. 455) and pastoral theology’s emphasis on
relational justice, to the benefit of both. Justice is created through a web of
Caring from a Distance
ethical nonviolent social and interpersonal relations grounded in values that
serve the common good and abundance of life for all. Justice itself is holistic—
subjective and social, interpersonal as well as systemic, enacted at the micro
and macro levels. Widespread justice will be attained only through eradication
of the cycle of violence, which is fueled by abuse and neglect in interpersonal
relationships and by injustice at the systemic level.
Intersectional pastoral theology takes intersectionality seriously in both
methodological and phenomenological ways. Relative to our focus, methodo
logically, intersectional theory analyzes and strategizes with attention to the
interactional nature of our personal, group, social,
and religious
locations rela
tive to asymmetrical systems of power and privilege. Phenomenologically, we
will focus on plurality regarding religion and spirituality but will resist treating
those differences like a special or isolated case of distance or aspect of identity.
We will treat religion as sometimes distinguishable, but never separable from,
other intersecting aspects of culture and interculturality itself.
Spirituality andReligion: Plurality, Location,
The phrase “plurality regarding spirituality and religion” carries a wide range
ofmeanings. First, religious plural
—the ongoing intentional work of con
structive relationality between persons and communities of differing religious
identities—is largely beyond our scope. Rather, our focus is mainly on plural
the mere fact of diverse opinions and identities regarding spirituality and
ligion, which so often bring distances into sharp focus. Spirituality and
ligion are aspects of culture where differences between us remain relatively
concrete—dress, rituals, prayer practices. Further, plurality regarding
and religion is often fundamental to the affective and cognitive challenges asso
ciated with differences and distances: old traditions eclipsed by radical
and secularism; spirituality unamicably divorced from religion; disdainful
breaches between conserving and liberating religious camps. In the realm of
spirituality and religion, otherness remains obvious and intercultural compe
tence is in its infancy.
The phrase also signals the variety of positions taken visavis spirituality and
religion. That is, whether we are appreciative of religion or ambivalent or antago
nistic, or consider ourselves spiritual but not religious, or call ourselves agnostic,
atheist, humanist, or are simply uninterested, all these are
relative to
religion. From this point on, I refer to all these positions collectively as
, like notions of social location and personal location (Greider, 2015).
As with our social and personal locations, analysis of power dynamics rela
tive to religious location is a foundational aspect of caring and just relationality.
In the US, we benefit from a developing discussion in which
religious privi
—asymmetry of power in religious location—is being analyzed, a notion
Pastoral Theology and Care
that parallels male privilege and white privilege. From his religious location in
Judaism, Lewis Schlosser (2003) offered an early examination of the dominance
and advantages enjoyed by Christians in the US, where Christian privilege
accrues from numerical dominance but even more from the dominance of
Christians in positions invested with sociopolitical and economic power/
privilege. In the US, all Christians enjoy religious privilege, to greater or lesser
degrees. These dynamics operate professionally, as can be seen in the power/
privilege enjoyed by Christians in PT&C.
traceable to religious location illustrates the danger of not caring for
those with whom we cannot agree. Blaming violence on religious extremism is
common. But this is scapegoating. Of all kinds of cultural difference, those
related to religious location are most likely to bring out nonnegotiable,
licting values that quickly bring us to the limits of our capacity for peaceable
inclusion of difference—disagreements related to parenting, sexuality, and
gender are pr
ime examples (MillerMcLemore and McGarrah Sharp, 2010;
McGarrah Sharp, 2013). Mutual contempt simmers in the distancing near
silences between religious right and left. Attitudes of religious superiority
ersect with racism, nationalism, sexism, and other oppressive systems and
attitudes to make our divisions increasingly dangerous—from the vitriolic
polarization noted above to religiously fueled microaggressions and hate crimes.
The toxicity between us, no matter where we like to place ourselves on the
ctrum of attitude toward religion, fuels destructiveness.
Description oftheCase: Parents CircleFamilies Forum
Reflection on lived experience and narrative are widely considered to be basic
elements for informative scholarship in PT&C. Thus, we turn here to reflec
tion on Parents CircleFamilies Forum (PCFF), which describes itself as “a joint
Palestinian Israeli organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a
close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict.”
Here we focus on
the “thick description” prized in practical theologies and in a later section turn
to reflection on the case. I choose this case because it exemplifies our foci:
caring from a distance amid plurality of religious location; phenomenological
intersectionality; and human experience for which PT&C has particular
responsibility—in this case, death and mourning complicated by other forms
of human violation and divisiveness.
Limits and benefits attend my choice. Obviously, it is far beyond the limits of
a chapter to convey or argue the Palestinian–Israeli conflict; basic understand
ing of the situation must be assumed.
Moreover, like PCFF, which strives to be
proIsraeli, proPalestinian, and prosolution, our emphasis is on living and
working with the conflict, not on arguing sides. I am in important ways an out
sider in this conflict and still implicated; this case exemplifies situations where,
though we may not be immediately involved, we still have obligations due to
Caring from a Distance
intersectionality, history, globalization, and/or religion. My authority for reflect
ing on PCFF is limited by my very modest firsthand experience of their work
and of Israel/Palestine. Importantly, then, though our method is not technically
among the empirical methods increasingly used in practical and pastoral theol
ogy, study of this case allows for a value of empiricism: it is based on data acces
sible for readers’ further investigation, mainly, two documentary films, and the
PCFF website. Care is central to pastoral theology, and participants in PCFF
convey that they experience being cared for; nonetheless, care is not the focus
of PCFF and can only indirectly illuminate the complications we encounter
when functioning as identified religious leaders and caregiving professionals.
Finally, precisely because it is a situation of unvarnished intersectionality,
spirituality and religion are rarely distinct dynamics, forcing us to practice mov
ing beyond singleaxis analyses and ferret out more subtle dynamics. Religion is
so embedded in these holy lands and intertwined with all aspects of life and the
conflict that it is part of every interaction even when not explicit. PCFF partici
pants rarely speak of religion as a distinct entity, perhaps because in this region
religion is ubiquitous, not a distinct category. And paradoxically, when PCFF
participants do seem to speak explicitly about religion, they are not necessarily
speaking religiously, and vice versa. The simple matter of selfnaming provides
an example. Participants in PCFF mostly refer to themselves as Palestinians or
Israelis. Almost always, though unstated, Palestinian
Arab and M
wish. However, many PCFF Israelis are culturally Jewish but not reli
gious. Important minorities within the Palestinian participants in PCFF are
nonobservant Muslims or practicing Christians. Further, given that religion is
present but mostly implicit in PCFF, other religious communities may be repre
sented in PCFF even though I encountered no explicit reference to them.
As its first name conveys—Bereaved Families Forum—PCFF roots itself in
death and grief related to the conflict. Videos of PCFF participants telling the
story of their losses show people weighted with the grief of bereavement mul
tiplied: killing of multiple loved ones across generations; conflictrelated sui
cide of bereaved loved ones; for the Palestinians especially, preventable deaths
because treatment was not reachable. Violence mars religion and religion mag
nifies losses when deaths coincide with religious holidays. They are engaged in
work for peace, yes, but they are no less scarred and anguished. It is important
to remain cleareyed that PCFF is a story of destruction as much as it is a story
of work toward peace.
Bereaved families visit the homes of other bereaved families to share stories,
describe their experience of PCFF meetings, and invite families to give it a try.
Willing family members come to meetings jointly facilitated by Palestinian and
Israeli bereaved family members. Basic communication guidelines are offered
and modeled, and the facilitators guide the bereaved family members to create
among themselves the kind of space in which they can also slowly create the
difficult dialogues that are needed. The team tells the stories of how their loved
Pastoral Theology and Care
ones died in the conflict and then the story of their experience of dialogue and
work in PCFF. The team makes the main expectation clear: participants are
asked to listen to each other and strive, not necessarily to agree, but to under
stand. PCFF facilitators from both sides express this core commitment—Israeli
Daneilla Kitain, bereaved mother: “Our identity won’t suffer if we listen to
someone else’s pain, and vice versa” (Ben Mayor etal., 2012); Palestinian Ali
Abu Awaad, bereaved brother: “I don’t have to love Israelis to make peace with
them” (Avni etal., 2007). A variety of learning modes are used: separate orien
tation meetings; in small groups and plenaries, participants tell their stories of
loss and bereavement and listen to the stories of others’ suffering; exercises
designed to help participants imaginatively experience the experience of the
other; education about the history of the region and its peoples; and guided
visits to sites of pain in the other sides’ history. Most fundamentally, these
meetings aim to provide a space where participants experience the complexity
and humanity of their adversaries and begin to comprehend the existence of
multiple realities and truths. Especially, they experience unexpected, compel
ling narratives from the other side that mirror their own, especially persuasive
claims to the land and undeniable injustices. Slowly, conflictfilled conversa
tions emerge—about the physical violence and other violations, historical and
current, that divide them and led to the deaths of their loved ones. The excru
ciating honesty is understood as necessary grounding if sufficient trust and
cooperation for peace work is eventually to be built.
It is difficult to convey how stunning the PCFF meetings are for participants.
For the large majority, especially younger participants, PCFF meetings are
often their first persontoperson encounter with the humanity of the other
side and almost none has experienced the dialogue and cooperation they wit
ness between the Palestinian and Israeli PCFF facilitators. Most basically, they
have not engaged because of frequent language difference—Hebrew and
Arabic. (Simultaneous translation is needed in all meetings.) Even if they share
language, a workplace, or neighborhood, it is increasingly the case in the region
that Israelis and Palestinians rarely encounter one another outside the roles
they play in the conflict—they are to each other the more and less powerful,
soldier and resistors, oppressors and oppressed, occupier and occupied, set
tlers and refugees—and all these roles carry valence relative to religion. They
lack the most basic conflictrelevant information about each other: that
Israelis—females as well as males—are mandated to serve two years in the mili
tary after high school; that Palestinians regularly spend hours trying to pass
through checkpoints when they need to enter Israel for work or school; that
there are everyday people on both sides who believe in the peace process and
are working for a solution. Consequently, participants regularly report initial
PCFF meetings to be utterly bewildering.
We will use the overarching, singleidentity nomenclature they most com
monly use for the other side—Israel/Israeli/Jewish and Palestine/Palestinian.
Caring from a Distance
However, intersectional theory helps us comprehend the depth of the confu
sion they experience: their realities are astonishingly decentered and their
identities complexified. The alienating dualistic dynamics of the primary con
flict between Palestinians and Israelis are invaded by new perception of addi
tional circumstances suffered and endured by the other side. Indeed, the
common assumption that there are (only) two sides to a conflict is destabi
lized. The meetings disclose the mindboggling range of peoples present with
their diverse personal and communal experiences of the conflict and the
attendant asymmetries of power and privilege: women and men; divisions
between Jews, from secular to ultraOrthodox; the minority of Arabs living in
majorityJewish Israel and of Christians living in majorityMuslim Palestine;
Muslims navigating diversity of observance among themselves; differing grief
of parents, spouses, siblings, and extended families, complicated by the age
cohorts they represent; differences in education, financial vulnerability, ways
of selfexpression.
The mission of PCFF is to increase peace and stop the bereavement. Having
watched truth and reconciliation processes around the world, they see them
selves as starting that work preemptively, frustrated by their politicians’ failure
to work out peace accords. Several statements recur as expressions of their
mission. They work because of “the unbearable thought of yet another family
joining the ‘dreaded club of the bereaved’”: they want no one else on either side
to suffer as they are suffering. They talk to each other because “it won’t stop
until we talk”: not talking, whether in formal peace negotiations or in everyday
life, fuels more violence and bereavement. Their public witness leverages on
behalf of peace the moral authority of having lost a family member to the con
flict: “If we who lost what is most precious can talk to each other, and look
forward to a better future, then surely you can, too.” To work toward these
ends, PCFF takes into the community the model of the facetoface meetings
between bereaved families. “Our most important ongoing daily work,” PCFF
says, is the many forms of Dialogue Meetings they offer in the community for
Israeli and Palestinian youth and adults. These programs allow participants to
hear the personal narratives and joint message of an Israeli and a Palestinian
representative from the PCFF and then to raise their concerns and questions in
freeranging discussion.
Thus, creating opportunities for difficult dialogue remains the core from
which all other PCFF projects emerge, even when the project also has other
goals: public art installations to concretize the dialogue; Palestinian women
engaged in economic development, assisted by Israeli women; the Blood
Relations program—Israelis donating blood for Palestinians, Palestinians
donating for Israelis. During the most recent years of violence, PCFF has taken
dialogue meetings to Facebook, and to the streets. PCFF members set up tents
and chairs in urban spaces and invite passersby—Jews and Arabs—to join the
discussion. In every case the goal is to reach skeptics and critics.
Pastoral Theology and Care
Given the particularities of grief, compounded by the volatility of the con
flict, it is to be expected that PCFF has critics, about which they are transpar
ent. The PCFF website provides a link to writings by Israeli Arnold Roth,
bereaved father, that articulate what are likely to be common critiques: PCFF
misrepresents and disrespects bereaved families whose expression of grief and
political views differ from PCFF; PCFF’s characterization of the conflict is
naïve and not balanced, favoring the Palestinian narrative; PCFF’s accounting
of membership, activities, and use of funds is suspect (Roth, 2014). These cri
tiques are an example of distancing and irreconcilable differences; they are
important and, at the same time, do not need to derail us from learning from
those who find value in their experience of PCFF.
Reprisal also evidences such criticism. Numerous participants convey that
they pay a harsh cost for their involvement in PCFF, especially from their own
people. Palestinian Bushra Awad, bereaved mother:
Some of the [Palestinian] people accept what I am doing and some of
them don’t. The ones who are against what I am doing are telling me I
am selling the blood of my son. But I am not selling the blood of my son
and I will never do that. And I’ll never forget my son. I am buying the
blood of my other children that are still alive. (Kang, 2015)
PT&C andPlurality inReligious Location:
Developments thus Far
Turning to relevant PT&C literature, it is important first to emphasize that
there is a multilingual international discussion none of can fully engage. We
can glimpse it through conferences and publications sponsored by guilds and
described on specific pages of their websites, for example: “Publications” of the
Society for Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counseling (SIPCC, n.d.) and of the
International Association for Spiritual Care (n.d.); and “Papers” of the
International Council on Pastoral Care and Counselling (ICPCC, n.d.). Only
Englishlanguage literature in PT&C is engaged here. Plurality of religious
location has been most substantially addressed in PT&C scholarship through
four themes: interculturality in global perspective, especially internationaliza
tion; hybridity; postcolonialism; and interfaith chaplaincy.
Substantial engagement with diverse spiritual and religious worldviews argu
ably first appeared where concern for
interculturality in global perspective
strong. David Augsburger’s
Pastoral Counseling across Cultures
(1986) had
groundbreaking effect through combined emphases on interculturality, inter
national scope, and engagement of multiple religious traditions. At about the
same time, concern for cultural diversity led to participation of persons from
religious traditions not previously represented in guilds such as SIPCC and
Caring from a Distance
ICPCC—particularly Buddhism, Judaism and, later, Islam (Elsdörfer, 2013).
Especially, the Christian professionals were confronted in these facetoface
encounters with the relationally destructive effects of their unexamined
Christian privilege, insufficient education in other traditions, exclusivist
Christian theologies, and, in Christian pastoral care, culturally biased assump
tions about soul and spirit, communication, caring relationality, and wellbeing.
Even in their earliest work, Emmanuel Lartey (1997) and Siroj Sorajjakool
(2001) personified and led development in the Christian PT&C literature of an
emerging synthesis: interculturality, internationalization of scope, and engage
ment of plurality in personal religious location. Their work and this synthesis
evolved into another relevant development: literature engaging
religious and spiritual practice. This literature explores the phenomenon in
which persons and communities engage more than one religious or spiritual
tradition (e.g. Greider, 2011; Lee, 2011; Bidwell, 2018, forthcoming).
As early as 2002, Lartey observed a number of “postphenomena” affecting
PT&C: postcolonialism, postChristian, and “postpastoral” (p. 1), the latter
signaling the field’s shift away from the Christian terminology of “pastoral
care” to “spiritual care.” All these effects, along with religious hybridity, are
reflected in
Postcolonializing God
(2013), in which Lartey demonstrates how
profoundly PT&C is challenged and transformed when Christianity is not
assumed and plurality of religious location is taken seriously.
By far the largest portion of resources in PT&C addressing plurality of religious
location is motivated and informed by
interfaith spiritual care
(IFSC) and chap
laincy. Chaplains’ work in public settings—health care, military, prisons, educa
tion—requires spiritual care offered amid direct, daily experience of plurality in
religious location. A substantial portion of the resources address preparation for
IFSC, not only of students but also of seasoned professionals who received their
formal education and certification with little attention to IFSC. Facetoface
encounter within groups of religiously diverse chaplains is especially valuable in
classrooms and professional organizations because in such settings caregivers do
not need to prioritize the experience of careseekers and can instead focus on their
own reactions to religious plurality. Englishlanguage resources from the
Netherlands (Ganzevoort etal., 2014) and Germany (e.g. Temme, 2011; Weiß,
2011) help us glimpse a global emphasis on such interreligious continuing educa
tion in IFSC.
Several booklength treatments help us characterize other resources for
IFSC too numerous to cite exhaustively. Dagmar Grefe’s
Encounters for Change
(2011) offers the most comprehensive examination of interfaith education and
cooperation for the purpose of caregiving, using primarily social psychological
and theological analyses. Especially pertinent for our purposes is that Grefe
unflinchingly pursues a straightforward question throughout her analysis—
“What keeps us apart?” In the gaps, she sees us that we: use social categories
that assume too much alikeness; see the best in our “clan” and the worst in
Pastoral Theology and Care
others; lack sufficient consciousness of prejudicial stereotypes and systemic
discrimination; and allow our realistic fears to be exaggerated.
and Interreligious Pastoral Caregiving
(Federschmidt and Louw, 2015) offers
an overview of the international discussion SIPCC has created through 20
years of international seminars. It valuably interweaves multireligious perspec
tives—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim authors—with a global purview—authors
from 11 countries. Similarly,
Encounter in Pastoral Care and Spiritual Healing
(Louw etal., 2012) is a window into the contributions of ICPCC and shows
how even where Christian location predominates among the authors, integrity
in selfreflexivity and interculturality inevitably brings plurality of religious
location into discussion.
Authored and edited publications by Leah Dawn Bueckert, a Canadian, and
Daniel Schipani, an Argentinian living in the US, comprise the largest share of
the IFSC literature. They address foundational, crucial issues for IFSC: prayer,
Christian biblical foundations, care for language, ethics of care, practical theo
logical method, pastoral theological reflexivity, and competencies for the sake
of cultivating wisdom (Bueckert and Schipani, 2011b).
Interfaith Spiritual
(Schipani and Bueckert 2009) helps us identify two major emphases in
the literature overall. We find resources that strive to build for IFSC somewhat
generalizable models, best practices, rationale, and competencies for educa
tion and certification. Also, we find resources that address IFSC in specific
national and religious contexts.
Multifaith Views in Spiritual Care
exemplifies Schipani’s leadership in this area; as editor and coauthor he drew
together an international group of scholarpractitioners who articulate IFSC
from seven spiritual/religious traditions.
What is inaCaring Distance?: Learning fromtheCase
What can we learn from PCFF about caring amid plurality of religious location?
Space allows us to consider only their foundational activity—facetoface encoun
ters between bereaved Israelis and Palestinians. Because spirituality and religion
are not usually explicit in PCFF and always intersecting with other dynamics, our
reflections will emphasize existential, philosophical, and relational concerns
arguably at the heart of spirituality and religion. Three themes emerge that address
common concerns in PT&C and provide some counterpoint to its commonly
emphasized goals:
Irreparable devastation: attends to death and mourning, and complements
emphases on healing and wholeness.
Inescapable finitude: attends to limits and losses, and complements empha
ses on empowerment, possibility, and growth.
Living and working with enemies: attends to just relationality and care, and
complements emphases on forgiveness, reconciliation, and conflict resolution.
Caring from a Distance
This reflection is done with respectful acknowledgment of the many
Palestinian and Israeli bereaved family members not involved in PCFF, espe
cially those who critique the PCFF approach. They evoke essential, nagging
questions. For example, when injustice kills, how is nonviolence morally
adequate? Intersectionally, what power/privilege might make choice or
rejection of the PCFF approach more possible or likely? Interculturally, how
do we create enough space for the endless intersecting variety of personal,
familial, and cultural circumstances that tax our inclusivity? From a PT&C
perspective: if care and increased cooperation for peace are experienced
between Palestinians and Israelis involved in PCFF, and publicized, why
does that care and cooperation not persuade or attract the majority?
Irreparable Devastation: Futility andRemorse
PT&C prioritizes excellence in supporting those suffering death and mourn
ing. Relevant to this, the case raises a helpful question: do our emphases on
healing and wholeness give sufficient attention to devastation that cannot be
repaired, specifically, to the irreparability of lost lives and devastation of grief?
As we will see, PCFF participants challenge caregivers to temper our optimism
about healing and interrogate our rhetoric that gives preference to wholeness
over living amid persistent brokenness.
Of course, anything we learn from the case of PCFF is, at its core, learning
from the devastation of death and mourning. Its lifeblood is, paradoxically,
irreversible loss. PCFF participants are devastated by their loss, but that by
itself does not distinguish them from bereaved family members who disre
gard or refuse PCFF. The radical decision to participate in PCFF appears to
be a turning point, compelled by a new conviction: the old ways of being in
the conflict will never repair the devastation suffered by their families and
cultures. Two themes can be identified inherent in this conviction: futility
and remorse.
PFCC participants convey a poignant experience of
with regard to the
death of their loved one and the conflict itself. Many speak of the pointlessness
of their loved one’s death: it accomplished absolutely nothing; the conflict grinds
on the same way as before, only killing more. It seems these families are together
first and foremost because for them, though they are enemies, the wastefulness
of the conflict is more intolerable. Especially, the strategies of violence used in
the conflict are futile. Some protest that officials use the killings politically, to
justify more violence, more bereaved families. PCFF aligns itself with the tradi
tion of nonviolence, though the common argument participants voice is not
that violence is wrong but that it is ineffectual. Palestinian Jalal Khudari, whose
mother, two siblings, and friend were killed in the conflict, speaking about his
first meeting of Israeli and Palestinian families: “All spoke about pain, and of
what we had not gained with violence.”
Pastoral Theology and Care
The strategy of violent revenge—though they see it as a natural drive—is
especially futile. Israeli Rami Elhanan, bereaved father, describes his first
impulse as “an urge for revenge that is stronger than death.” But also:
When the first madness of anger passes, you begin to ask yourself pen
etrating questions: if I kill someone in revenge, will that bring my baby
back to me? And if I cause someone pain, will that ease my own pain?
And the answer is absolutely “No.”
Palestinians speak of the futility of selfdestructive revenge, understanding but
rejecting the rationalization of suicide missions. Mazen Faraj, bereaved son:
It’s easy to walk up to a soldier and kill him or go to some organization
and obtain explosives. To do a huge terror attack in TelAviv or Jerusalem,
blow myself up and kill lots of Israelis but … I believe that … I may have
lost my father, but I didn’t lose my head. (Avni etal., 2007)
Expressions of
also distinguish the bereavement of PCFF participants.
Remarkable selfreflexivity is demonstrated by participants throughout PCFF
materials, perhaps no more than in this example: they examine how their
action or inaction before their bereavement might have contributed to the vio
lence that eventually killed their loved ones. Especially, they feel remorse for
having been uninvolved in working to increase peace. Indeed, remorse led to
the creation of PCFF. During an interview about why he created PCFF, founder
Israeli Yitshak Frankenthal, bereaved father, speaks of such remorse:
After Arik was murdered, I understood that I had failed as a father. … I
had brought a son into the world but he did not live—not because he was
sick, but because there was no peace. Because I didn’t do anything to
promote peace. (Ahituv, 2014)
The irreparable devastation of death, and grief complicated by futility and
remorse, leaves many without clarity about how to function, even to stay alive.
But then, some bereaved families say, the eventual discovery of the work of
PCFF was for them “a reason to get up in the morning.” Such discovery of a
reason to keep living is long in coming and does not repair the devastation.
Still, it is lifesaving.
What can we learn? Caring from a distance is capacity to acknowledge devas
tation beyond our comprehension, to lament brokenness that cannot be undone,
much less wholly healed, especially death. We admit with sufferers the natural,
powerful, tantalizing impulse toward revenging the death of their loved one,
and join in the search within ambivalence for strength to resist the pull of retali
ation. This is difficult territory for many caregivers. In my tradition, and despite
Caring from a Distance
the high value caregiving places on selfreflexivity, progressive Christians often
balk at accompanying sufferers into the realities of futility and remorse, and
speak precipitous words of hope or absolution. Such “care” may well be a luxury
rooted in privileged life experience that distances us from the devastation
suffer and cannot escape.
Inescapable Finitude: Humanness andInvitation
PT&C prioritizes excellence in supporting those suffering the limits and losses
inherent to our human condition. Relevant to this, the case raises a helpful
question: do our emphases on empowerment, possibility, and growth give suf
ficient attention to the inescapability of limited power, lost possibilities, and
the unavoidable finiteness of our human condition? As we will see, PCFF par
ticipants challenge caregivers to see in the gaps between us actual differences
of opportunity and capacity and question strategies for care that fail to account
for all that is not within reach.
PCFF materials convey that for participants, the experience of futility and
remorse in the devastation of bereavement often evolves into increased cogni
zance of finitude’s inescapability. Of course, the devastation of their loved ones
being killed is a jolting confrontation with what is surely the most inescapable
aspect of human finitude—mortality, the transience of human life, including
their own limited time. Additionally, PCFF participants convey awareness of
living in inescapable finitude through at least two other emphases: a height
ened sense of the humanness of self and others, which, in turn, increases open
ness to invitations to meet their enemies.
PCFF narratives suggest that confronting the very
of humanity
lays a foundation that seems later to embolden participants for the countercul
tural action of meeting with the enemy. Their humanness comes through in
numerous forms. Participants convey being rocked by experience of their vul
nerability—loss has broken into their lives like a thief, robbed and ransacked
them, made plain the illusions of control, safe space, protection, security. They
are humbled people, not in selfeffacing ways, just very aware of their limits.
Lack of pretense allows a transparency and authenticity about the humanness
of struggle and the struggle to be humane.
Being grounded in realism about the inescapability of their own finitude
seems to prepare them for encountering the finitude of other humans and
experiencing appreciation when others exceed the most minimal expectations:
Palestinian Hanim Sbieh, bereaved sister, thanks other participants at a PCFF
meeting, saying “I think finding a person who’s willing to think about you is a
great achievement” (Ben Mayor etal., 2012). They openly admit lack of under
standing and even, remarkably, a dawning awareness of their ignorance about
the enemies they thought they understood all too well. A Palestinian Christian,
Imad Amin Abu Nssar, tells of learning by happenstance, after participating in
Pastoral Theology and Care
a demonstration that turned into rockthrowing, that Israelis had been protest
ing with him and protected him from Israeli soldiers:
For me it was a big surprise. It was the first time that I met Israelis who
were not interrogators or soldiers or settlers. It sounded strange when
one introduced himself as a university lecturer, the other as a student
and the third as an engineer.
Eventually, Israeli Rami Elhanan, bereaved father, wrestled with his ignorance
about his enemy, posing “penetrating questions” to himself about the suicide
bomber who killed his daughter and her friends and allowing some curiosity
about his enemy to emerge.
During a long and slow, difficult and painful process you gradually reach
the other road, and you try to understand: what occurred here? What
can drive someone to such anger and despair as to be willing to blow
himself up together with little girls? And most important: what can you,
personally, do to prevent this intolerable suffering from others?
And then, they experience an
from a PCFF member to meet other
bereaved families from among their enemies. In this terrain of irreparable dev
astation and inescapable finitude, how can they accept this invitation? Perhaps
the confrontation with futility, remorse, and humanness of self and Other has
the paradoxical effect of nursing desperation, and then desire for some different
experience. Perhaps the known danger of the enemy has been relativized by
their battle with finitude’s other dangers. Somehow, intrapsychic, interpersonal,
and psychosocial ground is cultivated for encountering the other side more
directly, even allowing the choice to expose one’s bereaved self to the enemy.
Sometimes the invitation is between persons on the same side of the conflict,
which can allow for easier trust, and candor. Rami Elhanan remembers that it
took a year to be ready to accept his invitation to a PCFF meeting, which came
from another Israeli, PCFF founder Yitshak Frankenthal.
He suggested that I come to a meeting of the “bunch of crazies” and see
with my own eyes. Not wanting to offend him, and also because I was a
bit curious, I went.
Here we can see the synergy of Elhanan’s budding curiosity combining with
Frankenthal’s nonpressuring, even lighthearted tone. The preposterous
ness of such people meeting—“crazies”—is complemented by a significant
but simple request—“see.” The invitation is modest: try, once, to approach
your enemy humantohuman. The minimalism of the invitation, so impor
tant for making the impossible possible, foreshadows the oftrepeated
Caring from a Distance
expectation of PCFF meetings: not to agree with the enemy, much less love
or even forgive, but to listen, to try to understand.
Sometimes, though, the invitation comes from, and is the first encounter
with, the enemy. Frequently, Israelis extend the invitation to Palestinians, one
way in which prevailing power dynamics are acknowledged and challenged
early in PCFF processes. It is impressive to Palestinian participants, though
ambiguously so, when Israelis take the initiative and first risk, venture into
wary Palestinian neighborhoods, reject domination and instead choose to
expose themselves by offering their stories of bereavement, risk extending such
preposterous invitations. After becoming active in PCFF, Israeli Rami Elhanan,
bereaved father, went to a Palestinian home to meet a bereaved family and
invite them to try a PCFF meeting. Palestinian Osama Abu Ayash, bereaved
brother of the family being visited, recounts a rocky experience often echoed in
PCFF narratives:
I saw an Israeli car parked nearby the house of my sister and her husband
Razi. I asked who the visitors were. When I heard that they were Jews I
said to Razi: how can you bring home Jews who killed your brother, have
you forgotten his blood? He told me that his visitors had lost dear ones
in a terrorist attack. “Please,” he said, “they are here, enter and speak to
them. If they don’t find favor in your eyes, you can leave.” I said that I will
not leave and it is they who will go and not return. However, when I
entered I met someone by the name of Rami Elhanan who respectfully
stood to greet me. He shook my hand. I felt as though he was about to
kiss me. I asked: “What are you doing here? Aren’t you afraid?” He said:
“Aren’t we all human beings?” He started to tell me how he had lost his
beloved daughter and how much he missed her. He encouraged me to
speak about our pain. He told me that he recognizes the Palestinian pain
and feels that it is imperative that a Palestinian state be established. It is
necessary to put a stop to the occupation. He told me that he is working
to that end with the Forum of bereaved families, both Palestinian and
Israeli. Rami spoke about the Forum, its members, objectives and activi
ties. His words were strong and convincing. I also told him about our
loss. He invited us to join the Forum, to become members. … I agreed to
become a member of the Forum at that moment.
Certainly, decisions to choose PCFF this quickly are rare. And it is essential not
to sentimentalize this moment: personal loss, compounded by the long disas
ter engulfing the region, has brought PCFF participants so low that they do the
unthinkable—they stop waiting for the ceasefire and, unarmed, walk toward
the enemy amid danger. Still, as we turn our attention to reflection on what
happens in the meetings, we will encounter in different forms the startling
power of a PCFF mantra: “[The killing] won’t stop until we talk.” And when
Pastoral Theology and Care
they do begin to talk, PCFF members appear to experience on both sides what
Mazen Faraj, bereaved son, articulates from a Palestinian perspective:
[The meeting] was completely strange for me. They wanted to hear, they
wanted to listen, they wanted to talk with you. Not like with Israeli sol
diers, or in an investigation. Not as intelligence agents or that you are
working with them. No. They want to talk as humans.
Discovering humanity where we had only seen inhumanity, risking invitation
to meet, can be the fruit of accepting finitude’s inescapability.
What can we learn? Caring from a distance means not distancing ourselves
from the realities of mortality, which, despite our denial of death, is not a dis
tant threat. We know that fears and limits that seem to us unrealistic or exag
gerated are fed by actualities we cannot know. We refuse grandiose hopes,
refuse to ignore that we can barely know the constraints sufferers endure. Our
awareness of sufferers’ smallest accomplishments is heightened, limits and
losses having turned them into achievements, for which we offer respect. Our
invitations are gentle, our expectations modest, both spoken only because we
have taken the risk we ask of the other.
Living andWorking WithEnemies: Validating Pain and
PT&C prioritizes excellence in supporting those suffering conflict and injustice.
Relevant to this, the case raises a helpful question: do our emphases on forgiveness,
reconciliation, and conflict resolution give sufficient attention to situations where
the continuation of conflict is necessary to establish justice and, thus, the capacity
for living and working constructively amid conflict is urgent? PCFF participants
challenge caregivers to ferret out tendencies we have toward conflict avoidance or
privileged sentimentality about peacemaking and to develop values and practices
necessary to support those who must live with their enemies and with that which
is unforgivable, irreconcilable, or unresolvable. Space allows for attention to only
two themes, chosen for their role in evoking cooperation among these adversaries:
mutual processes of validating pain and multiplication of narratives of truth.
Israeli Rami Elhanan recalls his initial experience of Palestinians at a PCFF
meeting of bereaved families:
And then I saw an amazing spectacle! Something that was completely
new to me. I saw Arabs getting off the buses, bereaved Palestinian fami
lies: men, women and children, coming towards me, greeting me for
peace, hugging me and crying with me. … And I distinctly remember, a
respectable elderly woman dressed in black from tip to toe and on her
breast a locket with a picture of a kid, about six years old…
Caring from a Distance
This experience exemplifies many others where PCFF participants allow
insight to break into their stereotypes of the Other—ignorance yields to
amazed recognition of the ordinary humanity of their enemy. One of
Elhanan’s most detailed perceptions is recognizing that behind the ubiqui
tous black veil is an old woman grieving a child lost to battle. Suddenly,
insight dawns: it could have been a locket with a photo of his own 14year
old daughter, killed in a suicide bombing by Palestinians. It seems that per
ceiving the meaning of that sight opened Elhanan to a first moment for
mutual validation of pain
. This veiled woman wears, literally, a stereotype
of terrorism. Simultaneously, he sees in her—and she in him, apparently—
the suffering of bereavement both know in their bones. One side initiates
risk and the other side risks in return. Both sides allow themselves to show
that they are touched by the sight of the other: she moves toward him, and
he toward her. She offers embrace, and he accepts. Then, somehow, all
around, enemies are reciprocally offering physical touch, tears, words of
Imagine the cognitive dissonance, psychospiritual upheaval, and clash of
worldview in their bodies/minds/spirits. Their pain is acknowledged, not
rebuffed, by people who represent the enemy. That the expression of pain is
mutual seems to draw them into new ways of interacting with their enemies.
Palestinian Jalal Khudari, bereaved son, brother, and friend: “The fact of seeing
an Israeli feeling pain and loss led me to speak with him, to tell him what had
happened to my family.”
This is crucial: mutuality is not equality. The touching encounter
described above by Elhanan is set in motion because the occupied moved
toward their occupiers. This is, sadly, given the human tendency to hoard
power, what is required to disrupt asymmetrical power dynamics—the less
powerful initiate humane interactions with the more powerful. Whenever
we are privileged and protected peoples, we almost never initiate the redis
tribution of our power. Then again, when we reflected above on invitation,
we considered a vignette in which Elhanan had taken the risky first step
toward Palestinians, voluntarily relinquished some of the privilege of the
occupier, exposed his vulnerability to his enemy. But even so, mutual valida
tion of pain does not override asymmetries in power, pain, and responsibil
ity. A bereaved Palestinian:
Our suffering is different from theirs. They’re the cause of our suffering.
Whether or not they suffer, they must deal with the consequences. …
One of them might have lost a son but it doesn’t make us equal. It can’t!
(Ben Mayor etal., 2012)
Also, this is crucial: the enemies continue to be enemies, including the most
religious. Israeli Dudu Shilo, twicebereaved uncle from a family of rabbis and
Pastoral Theology and Care
principal of a school for mysticism, says that he cooperates with Palestinians not
because they cease to be the enemy but because they continue to be the enemy:
Because of the way in which they chose to kill citizens, women and chil
dren indiscriminately, in my eyes they are terrorists, rather than free
dom fighters. So why do I sit with them? Because they are the enemy.
Must I forgive them? Not an option.
As noted above, PCFF processes intentionally make space for the conflict to
continue in the meetings, not requiring agreement, much less love or forgive
ness. As Palestinian Ali Abu Awaad, bereaved brother, says, “we’re here to put
all our problems on the table and try to reach a mutual understanding.”
Skepticism abounds about the possibility of experiencing understanding, much
less mutuality. Words spoken by bereaved Palestinian Tamer Atrash could have
been spoken by an Israeli:
We’re going to sit there and enumerate our rights and they’re going to
deny them and tell us we have none. Things will get violent, we’ll curse
each other. Then what? (Ben Mayor etal., 2012)
Indeed, physical nonviolence is required, but verbal and psychospiritual conflict
rages in the meetings. The diversity strategy of “difficult dialogues” on controver
sial social issues to promote pluralism is increasingly popular. But this terminol
ogy pales when the difficulties are rooted in each person’s/people’s devastations
and core truths, so often rationalized via religion. PCFF processes remind us that
even as mutual validation of pain and compassion for one another begin to
emerge, in these difficult dialogues the mutual infliction of pain continues. The
pain that begs for mutual validation is not past but reoccurring. Participants are
deeply touched by mutual recognitions even as they are deeply enraged by
mutual elisions and offenses. PCFF processes are a rollercoaster—politically,
relationally, psychospiritually.
Arguably most important where the pain is concerned, PCFF processes
include visiting physical locations where the pain inflicted, past as well as pre
sent, is more viscerally experienced. The two groups travel together to places
of Palestinian pain. Israelis experience how Arabs are treated at checkpoints
and how the security barrier walls off employees from work, children from
schools, families from relatives. They spend unsegregated time in the West
Bank, so that the Israelis might experience, alongside the Palestinian partici
pants, mistreatment by Israeli settlers. They travel to ruins of Palestinian vil
lages destroyed in
, the campaign carried out by Zionists during the
1948 War during which Arabs were massacred and survivors exiled, and at
those sites Palestinian participants tell Israelis the stories of how their families
suffered. Israelis are taken by Palestinians to the numerous refugee camps
Caring from a Distance
established after
, and see the conditions in which many Palestinian
families have lived during the decades that have passed. Bereaved Israeli, Shira
Listening to the Palestinians talk today, I feel like this is the first time I’ve
really encountered the conflict. Em … you’re always hearing about it, but
listening to people tell their painful life story, it feels like I’m encounter
ing it for the first time. And it isn’t easy to be on the hurtful side.
(BenMayor etal., 2012)
The two groups travel together to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the
Holocaust, and Israelis tell how their families continue to suffer because of that
genocide. The average Palestinian has little education about the long history of
antiSemitism or even the Holocaust. Imad Amin Abu Nssar, bereaved former
We [Palestinians] had heard previously of the Holocaust, but we didn’t
really know much about it and didn’t delve too deeply into the topic.
When one hears of the Holocaust from a person whose father or grand
father experienced it firsthand, it is very difficult.
He refers to Holocaust survivors who speak at the meetings, such as Israeli
Yaakov Guterman:
When a Jew or an Israeli talks about security arrangements he’s really
thinking about his children’s gas chamber. He lives in a constant state of
anxiety. Is that normal? Of course not. But it’s there and you have to
understand that. (Ben Mayor etal., 2012)
In the PCFF process, experiencing the present pains and their excruciating
histories is exactly what sets in motion not only the mutual validation of pain
but also
recognition of the multiplicity of truth
. When the battle is waged not
only remotely but also with the people in front of you, the mutuality of anguish
and passion in differing histories and truths becomes more perceptible and, for
most, undeniably convincing and moving. In PCFF meetings, adversaries grow
in understanding of each other as they are moved by the pain and truth in each
other’s narratives, now unavoidably embodied in persons who have, just a
moment ago, mutually embraced.
Again, mutuality is not equality. Asymmetries of power play out especially
here. Israelis resist listening to the pain of the Palestinians, or do so reluctantly,
knowing it will confront them with the pain their peoples’ actions have caused
and the inequality of suffering. Palestinian Mazen Faraj, bereaved son, on being
a facilitator of a joint meeting: “It was hard to push the Israelis down to hear
Pastoral Theology and Care
and receive this information, not just to send information.” Israeli Ohad Tal,
bereaved friend, demonstrates the dominator’s struggle to receive and not just
send information to the dominated:
When you’re facing a [Palestinian] victim then you’re always on the
defensive, you’re always trying to explain yourself and prove you aren’t
some cruel occupier, that the pain they cause you is just as bad as theirs.
(Ben Mayor etal., 2012)
Slowly, the recognition of the mutuality of pain and of the multiplicity of truths
begin to intertwine. Before a joint meeting, bereaved Israeli Yarden Schwartman
is courageous to admit to other Israelis her fear of encountering competing,
compelling truth claims: “I’m worried I’ll understand them [Palestinians]. I’m
worried they’ll be right. I live here, this [land] belongs to me, but I’m uncomfort
able with it.” After many meetings, Israeli Ohad Tal, bereaved friend, sees that
enemies’ pain and truth can be like mirror images:
What changed in me is that I understand today more of their pain …
after you understand their point of view, you can understand why, when
a mother tells the story of her boy who goes to the street and a soldier
points a gun at him or shoots at him, this soldier—from their point of
view—has hurt an innocent [Palestinian] person exactly in the same way
a suicide bomber kills innocent [Israeli] people. (Ben Mayor etal., 2012)
Finally, Israeli Roni Hirshenson, bereaved father, demonstrates mutual valida
tion of pain and multiple truths, in the midst of inequality:
I think both sides are demonizing each other, I think, but we have to flip
it. We must express sympathy for the sorrow and pain the other side
suffers. We need to listen to them and they must listen to us—the Jewish
people, who returned after 2000 years of exile, without a homeland and
after the experiences of the Holocaust, this is the only place where we
can live. [However,] we came to a place that wasn’t empty or uninhab
ited. The people living here are entitled to selfdetermination, you can’t
take freedom away, or someone’s desire for selfdetermination and inde
pendence … a person will revolt against you. (Avni etal., 2007)
What can we learn? Caring from a distance is, often, caring amid painful con
flict, not expecting, much less requiring, that hostilities end. We do not assume
that others enjoy or need, even if we do, the luxury of safe space. In Christian
PT&C, we have emphasized forgiveness and reconciliation, as if conflict must
end before care can have integrity. But, given that conflict is neverending,
PCFF helpfully reminds us of the reality: difficult dialogues are painful
Caring from a Distance
dialogues. Dialogue in our intractable conflicts will mean harsh words rooted in
past injustice and conflicting truths, more experience of the power of language
and emotion to attack and wound reciprocally. The value of language care
(Bueckert and Schipani, 2011a) is not limited to the carefulness of diplomatic
words. No, PCFF meetings, like all truth and reconciliation processes, show that
we express care for and through language when we facilitate the tough talk nec
essary for psychospiritually honest expression of our differing convictions and
experience of woundedness at the hands of the other. In caring from a distance,
enemy love, a notion treasured in many spiritual and religious traditions, is not
sentimentalized, not denuded of the very conflict that makes us enemies.
Enemies can, indeed, love one another, without first becoming friends.
Future Steps
We close by enumerating a few further emphases emerging from the case of
PCFF that help us chart the future of caring in situations of distance and divi
sion. Fundamentally, the profound transformation in which PCFF antagonists
come to have benevolent relations is a mystery, religiously and otherwise, as
Israeli Rami Elhanan, bereaved father, suggests:
I am not a religious person—the very opposite—and I have no way to
explain the change that came over me in the first meeting with members
of the forum.
Thus, first, acknowledge spiritual mysteries like enemy love, conflicting truths,
finding a way to go on when what matters most is lost. Theoretical models and
lists of competencies for IFSC are valuable but have integrity only if they make
space for sacred realities not fully accessible to us. We would all do well to read
and imitate Jenny Gaffin’s (2009) model and competencies for IFSC: after
numerous years of experience, she has come to value “bumbling along with as
much goodwill and humility as I can muster” as “the only honest approach
possible, and the only stance I can adopt which will free other people up to
share their lives with me” (p. 347).
Develop spiritual fortitude to endure the decentering, ambiguity, and confu
sion inherent to distances and divisions. Equanimity, humility, kindness,
remorse, and patience are required. Words spoken at an SIPCC seminar describe
well the intense spiritual demands of intercultural and interfaith encounter:
handle one’s own as well as the others’ individual and cultural weak
nesses, regressive and sometimes aggressive impulses, to bear feelings of
impotency, fear of failure, feelings of insufficiency and if possible to turn
the crisis into something productive and creative … look at the crisis, the
Pastoral Theology and Care
feeling of lost security and helplessness as a new chance, a different
approach and a different way of understanding … find ways to meet and
forms to communicate that endure intimacy and remoteness, touching
and defence, understanding and nonunderstanding. (Rohr, 2006, p. 30)
Approach the unknown in others with reverent curiosity, seeking not to over
ride gaps between us but instead trying to comprehend what is in them and,
even more, all that we cannot, will never, comprehend. Practice trust that gaps
between our experience and others’ have resources for healing and wholeness
that we will not immediately recognize. Prioritize understanding and conver
sation more than agreement.
Acknowledge genocides and the real possibility of annihilation embedded in all
injustice. Seek to comprehend how we and our people have harmed others. Prepare
to tell and hear, repeatedly, mutually, stories of conflicting pains and truths.
Seek wisdom and spiritual grace to navigate fluctuating asymmetries of power:
restrain, relinquish, lend, and assert our power as needed for the sake of caringly
just relationality. Study intersectional theory as it develops, including dynamics of
religious privilege and bias. In place of the
reflexivity PT&C has prized, develop
reflexivity: identify interconnections of self
withpeoplesandcontexts, question self as well as affirm self, fully examine our
power as well as our disempowerment, how our multiplicity of identities leads us,
inevitably, to perpetuate and benefit from injustice, not only suffer from it.
Finally, it is commonly asserted that meaningmaking distinguishes spiritual
ity and, as well, the kind of care offered by religious and spiritual caregivers.
However, PCFF suggests that Martin Walton’s claim may be accurate: receptiv
ity of otherness, more than the making of meaning, characterizes lived spiritual
ity (2013). Understandably, caregivers welcome similarities, connections,
agreeableness, and other comfortable relations. However, integrity in caregiving
amid spiritual and religious plurality may well require that, as a fundamental
spiritual desire, we welcome differences, distances, disagreeableness, and other
uncomfortable relations. Receiving otherness—religious and otherwise—may
be a reliable common ground we experience rarely but, together, can cocreate.
Parents CircleFamilies Forum (n.d.).
HeZDbYrLpB (accessed January 11, 2017). Unless otherwise
ted, all infor
mation provided relative to PCFF and family narratives is taken from their website
The PCFF website, especially the Reconciliation Center, offers a starting point
or readers unfamiliar with the conflict.
Caring from a Distance
Ahituv, Netta. 2014. “The Saddest and Most Optimistic Peace Organization Turns
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Augsburger, David. 2014. “Interpathy Reenvisioned: Reflecting on Observed
Practice of Mutuality by Counselors Who Muddle Along Cultural Boundaries
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Religion is everywhere. Religion might be an answer as well as, in some
cases, a problem
(Octavia Butler)
On the evening I had given myself to complete this chapter, I was confronted
with the news that yet another black teenaged male, unarmed and not
engaged in a criminal act, was shot and killed by a police officer (Fernandez
and Haag, 2017). Jordan Edwards was 15 years old. The now fired police offer,
used a shotgun to fire into a car driving away. Jordan was leaving a house
party and was shot in the head with a rifle. His two brothers and a friend, also
in the car, witnessed his murder. The police initially lied about the circum
stances surrounding his murder. His brothers watched him die. Jordan
Edwards’ mother is lamenting. Her deepest fear, that her son might be mur
dered in the streets, has materialized. Her fear ripples across time as a fear
shared by most black mothers; it is not a new fear. It is a fear written down in
memory and reenlivened across the landscape of black life. The black les
bian feminist poet Audre Lorde captured well the effect of this reality on
black and white feminist coalitions.
But Black women and our children know the fabric of our lives is
stitched with violence and with hatred, that there is no rest. … For us,
increasingly, violence weaves through the daily tissues of our living—
… Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your
children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you, we
fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the
street, and you will turn your backs upon the reasons they are dying.
(Lorde, 1984, p. 119)
Womanist Pastoral Theology andBlack Women’s
Experience ofGender, Religion, andSexuality
Phillis Isabella Sheppard
Pastoral Theology and Care
Lorde directs us to grapple with, at the deepest levels, the difference that
interlocking features of gender, race, and class make in women’s lives. In the
case of black women, Lorde argues, the likelihood of violence is an everpre
sent dread.
From its earliest development, womanist pastoral care and theology has
maintained a methodological commitment to an epistemology based in the
particularity of black women’s lives and an intersectional approach to analysis
and practice. This chapter explores that trajectory of intersectionality and par
ticularity in relation to what I propose is its underdeveloped attention to the
meaning and function of religion, specifically black church experience, in black
women’s lives. In so doing, I will propose a womanist psychology of religion
that argues for the necessity of placing gender, race, sexuality, and cultural and
religious practices in critical dialogue. Such a dialogue encourages us to grap
ple with the psychology or psychological meaning of religious experience for
black women, and the methodological approach necessary to sustain the inter
locking features of black women’s experience.
In this chapter I contribute to womanist pastoral theology by offering an inter
sectional perspective on black women’s experience of religion. Intersectionality,
as articulated by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), was in response to the way in which,
particularly in law, cases involving discrimination failed to recognize that black
women are frequently the target of racial and gender discrimination rather than
a single form. A singleissue analysis essentially renders some aspects of black
women’s experience invisible. In addition to race and gender, sexuality, gender
representations, and class are targets of discrimination, microaggressions, and
violence. Recognizing that black women experience these forms of oppression
simultaneously is to see the inseparable intersectional links.
As I take up this intersectional approach, through religious experience, I
emphasize that practices of formation shape experience and selfunderstand
ing and the places in womanist pastoral theology and care that include the
psychological role of religion. I attend to religion for two reasons: religion as a
feature of black life is often assumed, and because sexuality
religion are
treated as separate or discrete experiences. My diagram below is an attempt to
demonstrate that practices, explicit and implicit, cultural, religious, and sexual
underlay how one comes to be in the world as gendered, racial, and religious.
That said, a deep intersectional approach directs our attention to the fact that
scant attention has been paid to what I am calling the complicatedness of black
women’s religious engagement and practices.
Where womanist pastoral theology and care has given attention to religion,
we have often assumed the congregational or communal nature of religion and,
in my view, have given less attention to the interior, psychological nature of
religious engagement at the intersection of broad cultural experience—with
rare exceptions. Exceptions include
A Womanist Pastoral Theology against
Intimate and Cultural Violence
by Stephanie Crumpton (2014).
Womanist Pastoral Theology
In a recent article I laid out some groundwork for a womanistlesbian pasto
ral ethics, and reiterate the methodological commitments here:
As a womanist pastoral and practical theologian, I am committed to a
methodology that privileges particularity as an epistemological given;
thus lived experiences are a running thread through this work. It is also
interdisciplinary in its sources and iterative in approach, the process
grapples … with the work of critical reflection on strategic practices. …
I take seriously the womanist commitment to position black experience
and sources of knowledge … to make sense of the world and [black
women’s] action in it. (Sheppard, 2016, p. 168)
Therefore, at this point I am concerned with black women’s simultaneous
negotiation of religion along with gender, race, class, and sexuality—that is,
formative aspects of self. The simultaneity of experience provides the soil
in which religious engagement develops, and shapes the meaning of
Case e
Pastoral Theology and Care
This negotiation, a meaningmaking process, is not as direct and selfevident
a process as one might imagine. Ascertaining meaning in the practices of reli
gion and the psychological processes involved is no small feat, and to do so
focused on black women’s practices and experiences requires awareness that
one is approaching areas demanding both curiosity but great sensitivity and
respect, and a posture of receptive introspection.
I am concerned with the everyday religion in the lives of black women as
well as the nature, meaning, and varieties of religious experience. When I
reference “everyday religion” I mean to signify that religion is embedded in
a social and cultural context—a life infused with a multiplicity of values,
linguistic communications, and systems of formation—wherever it is occur
ring, and cannot be limited to buildings or even to previously defined
es. This means that we must recognize that a turn to the interior
social relationship cannot collapse into a black version of the psyche theo
rized as a psychological structure separate from the influence and shaping
of the external world. For instance, I have been writing this chapter in the
time of Black Lives Matter, Black Girl Magic, and demands for justice in the
policing in black and brown neighborhoods. In fact, in the US the demands
for radical substantive change include a call for the transformation of reli
gious ideologies and spiritualities whose theological anthropologies are
steeped in language that insults lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
queer (LGBTQ) identified persons, and denies they are, along with the rest
of humanity, the mirror of the imago dei. The lack of health care for all has
implications not only for those in medical distress today but also for future
generations who are unable to receive preventive care. And the inhospitable
rhetoric and policies toward immigrants and refugees not only expose these
neighbors to prolonged suffering and possible death, but cut the US off
from the corporate goods that would benefit our society if we fully embraced
the diversity presenting itself at our borders, the mosques and temples in
our communities, and varieties of cultures already living as our neighbors.
And, I would be remiss if I did not name the divide let loose during the
presidential campaigning of 2016. In 1984 Audre Lorde wrote that operative
in the cultural and individual psyches is “a mythical norm, which each one
of us within our hearts knows that is not me. In America, this norm is
ally defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and
financially secure” (1984, p. 116). And now, in the US, we have a president
who espouses sexism, xenophobia, and antiMuslim policies, and directs
unchecked verbal violence to those who counter his depiction of beauty,
gender, immigrants, disabilities, and his ideology of wealth and white privi
lege as the hallmark of normal. That which Lorde believed to be only on
theedge of consciousness is now the publically espoused normativity by
those in power.
Womanist Pastoral Theology
Pushing Against theGrain ofImposed Normativity:
Womanist Pastoral Theologizing
The reign of cultural terror directed at those who do not fit the bill for normativ
ity seems to be the
modus operandi
in this season and has reenforced for me the
need for womanist pastoral theology to
to challenge the broader disci
pline of pastoral theology for its lack of black and brown voices in our scholar
ship, our guilds, and our institutions, and furthermore, to strongly urge pastoral
theology to ask of its disciplinary self how depictions or representations of black
women’s lived embodiment of genderracesexuality is often ignored in our dis
course or given short shrift especially when black women are recognized as hav
ing a race, or a gender, or a sexual orientation, and (maybe) a class status. In
actuality, we should write classgenderracesexuality and in linking these terms
signify that for black women these are interlocking facets of experience, and con
stitutive features of
. This notion of
captures Kimberlé Crenshaw and
others’ development of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989, 1991), but simultane
ously conveys the ways in which we embody and house these realities, and the
way in which our psychological orientation to ourselves and the world is shaped
by these intersectional and interlocking realities. In other words, in speaking of
we recognize that these factors matter inside and out in the world. As such,
we also realize that “black people’s being often does not register in the normative
categories assigned to describe existence.”
This not falling within normative categories as black women is a nexus
between US black women and black women in the UK. Lorraine Dixon in her
article “Reflections on pastoral care from a womanist perspective” appropri
ates “mothering” as a metaphor for womanist pastoral care and notes that
when examining her own life and in ministry with black women, Caribbean
women new to Great Britain, she recalled
arriving in Britain from the Caribbean and being met by discrimination
and “colour bars”. They, like so many other Black women, found ways to
work around and against racism. They did this by encouraging their
community to work together, to unite in a common goal of empower
ment. … They established hair salons to cater for Black women’s hair but
they also provided a safe meeting place to share information and news.
It is this awareness of the potential to experience negative aspects of this
as well as lifegiving aspects that contributed to the rise to womanist
theologies, as well the decision by womanists to take an invested standpoint in
their scholarship. Marjorie Lewis, writing from a Jamaican black British stand
point, conducted research on racism within her predominantly white
Pastoral Theology and Care
denomination. The women she interviewed lamented that they could not dis
cuss the deep pastoral concerns they carried because the mostly white male
pastors “do not understand suffering.” This was brought home even more
forcefully for Lewis when she realized that the church could not effectively
“nurture the spirituality of my adolescent daughter” (2004, p. 86). And Christine
Wiley, as late as 1991, complained that her program in pastoral psychotherapy
was a reflection of the “Eurocentric approach” and “was heavily oriented
toward white males” (1991, p. 355). Thus, in her pastoral counseling with
African American women, for whom culture, gender, and race were clinical
features of their care, Wiley had to make her own way.
Womanist Pastoral Theologizing
When I began my clinical and doctoral programs in 1989–1990, womanist pas
toral theology was only beginning to create a space within the discipline. The
work was focused on creating a perspective specific to black women’s pastoral
care needs arising out their experiences in church and society, creating a voice
distinct from the more prevailing perspectives emerging out of ethics and the
ology, and correcting the near absence of black women’s voices in the disci
pline. The trajectory included black women’s experience of religion and the
complicated nature of religious engagement because of sexist theologies and
practices in many church contexts and the combined practices of sexism and
racism in the broader society. The institutional experience of religion was both
balm to fight off the stress of societal mistreatment and struggle in the church
to transform sexist practices of exclusion from leadership roles.
At this juncture, several voices were becoming established contributors to
defining the contours of womanist pastoral perspectives. Linda Hollies’ edited
Womanistcare: How to Tend the Souls of Women
, was published in
1992. This edited collection actually grew out of a quickly called—I would say
“emergency”—gathering of black women “from the pastoral care professions”
in 1991. This gathering of black women came to the meeting feasting on the
published works of ethicist Katie Cannon, theologians Jacqueline Grant and
Delores Williams, and the biblical scholar Renita Weems. Marsha Foster Boyd,
in her article emerging from this meeting, “Theological Implications of
” turned to scripture and hymnody to address the subject of
care and black women’s relationship with and understanding of Jesus. Her
theological reflection on the hymn by Frank Graf “My Savior Cares” asks a
series of questions related to “Does Jesus Care” during hard times to which
there is the answering refrain “Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares, His heart is
touched with my grief; When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know
my Savior cares” (Graf, 2001 (1901)). This statement of faith made this a crucial
aspect of religious experience in her articulation of a womanist pastoral
Womanist Pastoral Theology
theology. But Foster Boyd also made it clear that a womanist pastoral theology
must be situated in black women’s social location and must take the social,
historical, class, and religious contexts of black women’s lives seriously. Turning
to Katie Cannon she concurred that black women’s social location leaves them
vulnerable to exploitation, commodification, and oppression of their bodies
and psyches (Cannon, 1988). Carolyn McCrary directed her attention to the
need for healing for black women suffering from the results of physical and
emotional abuse. She emphasized communal healing and the necessity for a
model of health that fostered interdependence. McCrary was early to develop
a psychodynamic approach to womanist pastoral care (McCrary, 1990, 2000).
Carroll Watkins Ali dismissed psychodynamic theories and utilized an
Afrocentric black psychology to focus on communal healing and social trans
formation (Ali, 1999). In early womanist scholarship, religion was primarily
approached at face value, that is, the intersectional realities of black women’s
lives were engaged without fully integrating a psychology of religion that would
see gender, race, and sexuality as part and parcel of religious meaning and
engagement. I would argue, however, that the epistemological claims and aims
suggest a psychology of religion was nascent in these works.
Womanist Pastoral Epistemological Claims andAims
As a result, from its inception, the epistemological claims that womanist pas
toral theologians articulated were grounded in the social realities of black
women’s lived experiences—experiences that had shaped their lives and com
munities. The analogy “Womanist is to feminist as feminist is to lavender”
struck a chord for black women who had a troubled relationship with feminist
aims and methods, and increasingly resisted the need to particularize feminist
with black feminist. This, combined with Patricia Hill Collins’ articulation of
“another epistemology … an experiential, material base underlies a Black femi
nist epistemology, namely collective experiences and accompanying world
views that U.S. Black women sustained based on our particular history …”
(Collins, 2000, p. 256), provided the soil on which to begin to build a womanist
approach. That said, it must be noted that, at this nascent point in its develop
ment, the collective experience represented in womanist pastoral theology was
overwhelmingly Christian, heterosexual, cisgendered, and Southern in con
text, representation, and cultural aesthetics. Walker’s third definition, “Loves
the Spirit” seemed to assume the Holy Spirit that black folks experienced in
churches, and her fourth definition, “Also: A woman who loves other women,
sexually and/or nonsexually” (Walker, 1983) very rarely made it into the
Furthermore “black women” most often meant US black women without
explicit naming of the context, and even though there is very often synergy
Pastoral Theology and Care
between the experiences of black women of the US and black women from
across the globe, the nature of race and racism, for instance, is lived out and
experienced differently based on history, language, and country. In the UK,
Marjorie Lewis in her critical assessment of womanist theology locates two
areas of critique when considering the appropriation of the term womanist for
use in the UK: first, it must be acknowledged that “womanist” emerged from
the experiences of black Southern Christian women and therefore is not a term
that captures the global experiences of black women. In the end, she rejects the
term but interestingly she rejects it in a “womanist” way: she privileges her
social location and particularity as a Jamaican black woman living in the UK.
This cultural divide, she determines, is too wide for US womanist theology.
While Lewis is accurate in criticism and assessments of womanist perspec
tives, she does remind US womanists that black experience is diverse in region,
sexuality, class, and sexuality, and that the ways in which oppressive systems
operate in black women’s daily lives are contextually informed. Thus, black
women in the US and other parts of the world will share experiences of oppres
sion but not all experiences will manifest in the same way. Second, womanist
theology, with rare exception, is generally still very silent on the experience of
women’s sexuality. The case in this chapter will grapple with this reality.
Even with these brief critiques, it is clear that black women—first generation
womanists—who adopted and developed the term womanist did so because
“black feminist” as an identity and methodology was no longer evocative,
descriptive, or adequate, and they sought to have a term closer to their experi
ences of being black women. Therefore, in brief, an appreciation of the realities
of black women’s experiences, in and out of the academy, gave rise to its initial
articulation and focus and continues to shape the content of its ongoing
Intersectional Realities inBlack Women’s
While womanist pastoral theologians have increasingly given deep atten
tion to sexism in church and society, embodiment and trauma, negative
cultural representation and abuse of black women, black women’s spiritual
ity and religious practices, and psychodynamic pastoral counseling and
psychotherapy,, sexuality remains an underdeveloped aspect of womanist
pastoral theology. Furthermore, sexuality as a coconstituent of religious
experience, if referenced, is often steeped in assumptions about heterosexu
ality and given a cursory analysis. This created a scholarly picture of black
religion as Christian, institutional, and a faithfueled social activist project,
and, while denominationally diverse, it was painted on a primarily Protestant
Womanist Pastoral Theology
Religion and sexuality in womanist pastoral approaches often become a
point of concern because they converge in clinical work (Crumpton, 2014;
Sheppard, 2014), during pastoral leadership and opportunities for care, as well
during personal professional discernment. During this early phase of develop
ment the voices most referenced, and who admittedly influenced my own
work, were primarily mainline black Protestants (notable exceptions included
Catholic theologians M. Shawn Copeland, Diana Hayes, and Jamie Phelps).
Despite the considerable scholarship devoted, in the past several decades, to
the study of black religion, very little sustained attention has been given to the
psychology of African American religious practices. A womanist pastoral the
ological engagement with religious experience allows for the creation of con
versations between black women’s lived religion and womanist methods. A
womanist pastoral approach to religion makes black women’s everyday lived
experience of religion the fulcrum for its work and, in so doing, it also exposes
how black women are, by and large, invisible in current psychologies of reli
gion. But it also looks to dismantle the pervasiveness of hegemonic realities of
whiteness, heteronormativity, and notions of self. As such, a womanist pastoral
perspective work will complicate the ground of black religious experience.
Much of the cultural and psychological discourse concerning black religious
expression assumes a cognitive psychology position on why African American
women engage in religious practices, such as affiliation, historical significance,
mental health, etc. I do not dispute the accuracy of these claims. However, I
enter the dialogue through selfpsychology, interested in something broader
and open to ambiguity and begin with these three questions: first, “What is the
relationship between black women’s religious experiences in private and cul
tural spaces and psychological processes?” “What kind of methodology is
required for such a project?” “What are the implications of this relationship for
a womanist pastoral perspective on religion?”
I maintain that black religion operates in the lives of practitioners as it does
because powerful psychodynamic forces are at play. These forces shape how
and what we enact, reenact, and embody in religious practices, and influence
the sites where we seek to satisfy the most powerful of needs. For instance, in
her book,
Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican
Religious Experience
, Dianne Stewart, reveals her complicated relationship
with Christianity:
The validation that I felt after reading James Cone’s works empowered
me to pursue an even more steadfast search within Black Christianity for
answers to my questions about God and humanity, but a lot of damage
had already been done. In the furthest reaches of my spirit, I realized
that Cone’s books could not erase the ubiquitous Whiteness of Jesus
Christ, which was deeply embedded in my consciousness and sub
consciousness. My intellect was loyal to the Black Christ but nothing in
Pastoral Theology and Care
my social reality, including my black Church community, reinforced
Cone’s Black Christ proclamation. I knew the Black Christ was rein
forced, but I did not believe it. (2005, p. xi)
Psychological undercurrents are clearly operative in and out of the religious
environ, and these kinds of dynamics require that we dig beneath the surfaces
of religion. We need a womanist understanding of religion that allows for the
complicated nature of religious experience, and that attends to the demands
placed on womanist pastoral theologians and our constructive work.
Emerging Psychologies ofBlack Religion
Black religion has historically been, and continues to be, a point of entrance for
understanding black life, and recent work in the study of black women contin
ues in this vein. However, womanist and black feminist psychological
approaches are limited (Mattis, 2000, 2002), and furthermore, in white femi
nists’ psychologies of religion, black women’s experiences are seldom taken up
for robust consideration.
Despite considerable evidence regarding the authoritative roles of reli
gion and spirituality in the lives of women generally, and African
American women in particular, explorations of the spiritual lives of
women remain limited in research on both the psychology of religion
and the psychology of women. (Mattis, 2000, p. 1)
Mattis’ empirical research suggests that for black women, religion and spiritu
ality have an important role as a coping mechanism. Specifically, her interests
are concerned with the intersection of religion and spirituality and positive
social and psychological development for African Americans (Mattis, 2011).
Others have also challenged the prevailing singular models of black religion and
religious experiences (Taylor etal., 2004). These researchers give consideration
to the importance of context, and in so doing, point toward the necessity of
examining the interlocking features of religious experience. They argue that a
multitude of intersectional issues shape black experience of religion such as
class, region, and education, as well as gender and denomination. Their biggest
contribution in this work is its empirical evidence to discuss, in particular, the
“functions of religion” and the “effects of religion” (Taylor etal., 2003).
Cheryl Townsend Gilkes argues for the need for a culturally situated psy
chodynamic perspective on religion (Gilkes, 1980). She critiques social sci
ence research that focused on social pathology and readily labeled black
community social life as deviant without researching distinguishing differ
ence from deviance. In “The black church as a therapeutic community,” Gilkes
Womanist Pastoral Theology
observed some new mental health treatment models seem to “possess over
whelming similarities to the activities of the black church” and elements of
religious practices appearing in some black religious contexts “act as a deter
rent to … psychiatric symptoms within the black community” (Gilkes, 1980,
p.31). Gilkes’ argues further that black churches provide “a true asylum and a
regular setting for group therapy and an objective mediator between percep
tions of experience of black people and the messages of the wider social sys
tem” (Gilkes, 1980, p. 31). Therefore, there is a culturally specific group
psychology of black religious practices and the aim of the group psychology,
expressed in unique black religious practices, is therapeutic. The therapeutic
action provides four functions: (1) “the articulation of suffering”; (2) location
of persecutors; (3) provision of asylum for “acting out”; and (4) validation of
experiences. “Also provides for an alternative set of positions which provide
selfesteem and role continuity …” where black religious practices heal mental
health suffering (Gilkes, 1980, p. 32).
While Gilkes “redefines black religious experience as therapeutic” (1980), it
is important to note that Gilkes does not define black religious experience as
psychological. Thus, she is interested in the efficacy of black church practices
to contribute to mental health wellness. She is not pursuing the internal pro
cesses that contribute to one’s experience of religion as therapeutic or not, or
the dynamics of black religious culture that, according to her argument, create
a therapeutic space. I would add to Gilkes’ work that there are a multiplicity of
meanings that are possible in the worship context and that these might be
explored. Her work stimulates questions such as: What are religious practices
doing socially and individually where mental health is stable? And what is the
impact of personal meanings of religious practices on the sociality of the prac
tice, and on whether healing is experienced by some and not others? Clearly
there are ways in which religion functions, effects, and is engaged for reasons
not always explicit or known. I am arguing that religion and religious experi
ence is not as “straightforward” as these primarily positive outcome models
suggest, especially in terms of the way religion functions, in the life of the indi
vidual and communities, beyond the manifest and obvious. It is this multiva
lent nature of black religious experience, in its exchange between the personal,
the religious cultural, and, ultimately, religious practices, that makes the mean
ingfulness of black religious experience powerful, deeply psychological, and in
many respects, outside our awareness. The combination of the explicitly reli
gious and unclaimed psychological dimensions can thwart critical analysis. A
result is that deep inside black religious experience we discover a habitus—of
“religious” formational practices—based in, and requiring of individuals and
communities, the turning of a blind eye, the mechanism of disavowal. In other
words, religious practitioners are both invited to consciously engage certain
aspects of their experience and the dynamic forces operative in religious con
texts, and to disavow others.
Pastoral Theology and Care
Religion—It’s Complicated
Like many who began graduate school over 25 years ago, my introduction to the
study of black religion assumed a fairly onedimensional read: black religion is
Christian, institutionalized, and a faithfueled social activist project, and, while
denominationally diverse, it was painted on a primarily Protestant canvas.
Womanist approaches to black religion were in an embryonic phase, and the
voices most referenced, and who admittedly influenced my own work were
mainline black Protestants (notable exceptions included Catholic theologians
M. Shawn Copeland, Diana Hayes, and Jamie Phelps). Consequently, as a gradu
ate student in a Protestant seminary, my black Catholic lesbian experience, and
emerging shift in identity from black feminist to womanist, made me something
of an oddity. I became interested in the complexity of black women’s experience
of religion while interviewing black women for a project related to spirituality,
sexuality and the lingering effects of abuse. The women I interviewed mostly
described themselves as religious and somewhattooccasionally involved in
institutional religion. By most standards, their narratives of religion were com
plicated experiences stippled with hope and betrayal. Religion, while described
as a needed resource in their daytoday survival, was also a source of confusion,
pain, and longing for acceptance. For most, there existed an uneasy disconnect
between what they heard preached about religion and sexuality, and what they
practiced in their daytoday lives. Quite often these women felt that they could
not live up to the ideals around sexuality either because of sexual abuse, gender
“performance,” or lesbian identity.
Case: Karen
I turn next to a case study of “Karen.” In employing a case study approach, a
Womanist Pastoral Theology
often under-represented and that the field critically evaluate its conceptualiza
tions of self, gender expressions, formation, and how religion contributes to, and
Pastoral Theology and Care
Forming aReligious Self, Converting Gender
One way of viewing the transformation in/of Karen is to say she was engaged
in performing gender, embodiment, and sexuality congruent with her context
and that, in terms of her own psychology of meaning, coherence between her
inner values, ideals, and images related to sexuality and gender—a dominant
need—was achieved. Regardless of my initial surprise, Karen’s current gen
dered identity representation led her to experience a sense of integration that
she had not previously known. There was a “compulsory” aspect to her new
sense of black womanhood but one that also allowed her to distance herself
from her previously embodied, and similarly compulsory “butch” way of being.
The compulsory nature of gender in her context is not unique. In her research
on gender representation by black lesbians in New York City, Mignon Moore
found that “there are various physical representations of gender in black
communities. They suggest that these portrayals of gender are not arbitrary …
[and that] presentations of self among black lesbians are not mere sexual play.
… Once formed, the gender style women choose tends to remain consistent
over time” (Moore, 2006, p. 114). Her research also suggests gender presenta
tion, while generally persistent, develops in terms of an individual’s particular
style. As one of her interviewees noted: “When you first come out, you’re just
being gay, you don’t realize how the community is” (Moore, 2006, p.128). It is
in the process of trying to figure out how to relate socially that clarity emerges
about gender style (Moore, 2006). Furthermore, Moore observed that the gender
expectations “imposed by these norms also grants women a certain agency …”
(Moore, 2006, p. 129) in those communities. This might suggest that a very
powerful psychocultural experience would have to be operative to disrupt and
convert this “gender style” once established.
In both Karen’s past and present selfidentification, dress, language, and atti
tude were thought of as static categories as if these are all hardwired, in her self,
by the present. The religious context mirrored this gendered and sexuality
imago or template, and religion—in her practice of it and her longing for it—
was a defining psychocultural force in her life. When in compliance with her
own internal expectations, and those represented in the public sphere, related
kind of woman God and Bill expect.” In my view, Karen’s appearance was so radi
cally different that she almost appeared jarring—her heels were higher; her
makeup pronounced and her dress was floral and fell just midcalf. Her talk was
punctuated with Christian spiritual sayings (amen, amen; God is in control). She
added me to a daily email list where she sent out regular commentary about
how a Christian is to live, act and conduct her life.
Womanist Pastoral Theology
to gendered embodiment, Karen’s experience of religion left her feeling
affirmed and sustained in terms of gender and sexuality. Religion was the glue.
Clearly Karen experienced a deep form of kinship in her church. And this kin
ship and related activities reinforced her current self. More importantly, Karen’s
sense of her self seems most strengthened by her capacity to name herself.
Unlike the narratives of Christian conversion that emphasize sinfulness of the
past life, Karen emphasizes the
of her current identities. She thought living
as a lesbian and butch was wrong because they were in conflict with the church
teachings as well as her beliefs about her self. Patricia Hill Collins reminds us
an affirmation of the importance of Black women’s selfdefinition and
selfvaluation is the first key theme that pervades historical and contem
porary statements of Black Feminist thought. Selfdefinition involves
challenging … the knowledgevalidation process that has resulted in
externally defined, stereotypical images of AfroAmerican womanhood.
Selfvaluation stresses the content of Black women’s selfdefinitions.
(Collins, 1986, p. 16)
And, furthermore, allows “AfroAmerican women to reject internalized,
ychological oppression” (Collins, 1986, p. 18). Karen’s experience situates her
such that she knows the experience of
, embodying, her self as an outsider
and insider in terms of gender, sexuality, and race—in black religion. As a les
bian who selfidentified as butch, she challenged stereotypical images and
definitions of bl
ack woman operative in the broader social context as well as
among lesbians, but this challenge was asymmetrically valued in relation to the
internal image she maintained of religious black woman. Therefore Karen’s sub
jective experience of her self was not an individual internal dynamic but rather
a set of complex interacting dynamics that included her inner life populated
with her fantasies, desires, conflicts, and notions of who she hoped to be and the
values inhabiting her sites of cultural affiliation. Of course, cultural experiences,
such as religion, “are embodied experiences, and … culture is inextricably tied
to the formation of self and bodily experiences” (Sheppard, 1997). Furthermore,
if it is true that the manner in which a person configures her association to her
cultural group reflects her state or relationship to her self (Gehrie, 1980, p. 381),
then it follows that the ways in which Karen structured her sexuality and gender
her cultural contexts reflects the state of her sense of self or self state.
Kohut’s self psychological view would, in addition, hold that “communal experi
ences of … religions, the meaningful beauty of integrated symbols of his self
(sic) … are … motivated by the loss of the secure cohesion, continuity and
y of … self” (Kohut, 1978, p. 926). This understanding of religion, its
place in the inner life, and the maintenance of the self assumes that cohesion
and harmony are the product of engagement with religion through the loss, and
that religion, in some respects, is compensatory for this loss.
Pastoral Theology and Care
This perspective is limited in reach, however. A womanist pastoral perspec
tive on religion does not limit religion to a breakdown in selfcohesion, but also
holds that the capacity to engage religion is a discrete selfobject experience,
and a developmental achievement and, thus, contributes to one’s engagement
in the world (Sheppard, 2011). But religion is only part of what contributes to
Karen’s identity cohesion, and in particular, it is her religious context’s specific
symbols related to sexuality and gender that add to the shaping of her identity.
Furthermore, Karen experiences, in her selfassessment, not loss in her turn to
religion but rather relinquishment of some aspect of her identity, and gain in
other aspects.
The exchange between the intrapsychic and the cultural reveals the necessity
of a womanist pastoral perspective on religion. Thus, in the case of Karen, for
example, Karen’s sense of self as a religious person is shaped by her desires and
attachment to her sexual and gender orientations as represented in her black
communities. McGuire has suggested that the “religious meanings attached to
gendered bodies are socially defined, contested and changeable” (McGuire,
2008, p. 159). However, until she changed, Karen did not experience her gender
and sexuality as changeable. Gendered bodies are also racial bodies situated
and experienced in racial religious contexts, and the racial self, unlike gender
and sexuality, is less changeable. The sense of unchangeableness of race and
racial embodiment in the social milieus in which Karen lived is represented
most by the fact that Karen never indicated that the selftransformation of her
understanding of gender expression and sexuality affected her identity in terms
of race. Race was treated as a biological given, and therefore, her understand
ing of her racial selfidentity could not change, was not subject to the content
of her desires and, therefore, was not included in Karen’s selfnarrative of
transformation. While it seems that the intersectionality of race, religion, gen
der, and sexuality is transparently powerful on the one hand, this was not so for
Karen. This may be because the ideology of gender and race did not change in
the various contexts in which Karen’s life formed meaning; instead, her rela
tionship to specific gender and sexuality representations were reconfigured
internally and externally. In other words, among her butch–femme community
and her church community, these categories were similarly defined, under
stood, and expressed. In her religious context, she was required to be anything
but butch. Psychologically, the leap seemed not to be a significant one for her.
Karen’s religious context prescribed gender and sexuality by legislating
transgressing embodiment. Women primarily seemed to fall under the head
ing of differing degrees of the “respectable black church lady.” Most other forms
of gender expression were disavowed or, through the theological discourse of
sin, repentance, holiness, and total transformation, were marked as religious
violations and subject to strategic religious practices aimed at altering not only
sexual behavior but also the psychology that informed behavior. Karen and
those around her would soundly reject notions about fluidity of gender and
Womanist Pastoral Theology
sexuality or queer identity. The sermon was a central site for the “straitjacket
ing” of gender. In
Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black
, Katie Cannon takes note of the womanfocused disciplinary use
of the sermon, and challenges womanists to undertake reading and listening
practices that work to eradicate negative depictions of black women in black
preaching (Cannon, 1995). Along with preaching, other seemingly innocuous
practices were also engaged to shape women’s, and men’s, views of gender and
sexuality to bring them in line with particular religious teachings. On one occa
sion, during a Sunday morning service, Karen’s husband began preaching a
sermon about love and hospitality, but midway through his preaching he
began shouting about homosexuals sinning and heading “straight toward hell.”
Karen did not seem surprised, and while the congregation joined the “amens”
with vigor, Karen did not. Karen was subject to these prescriptive and forma
tive practices, on a most intimate level, and was conforming to them, externally
and in her psychology of her self. In many respects, her selftransformation
narrative was surprisingly void of inner conflict or complexity for her, and,
possibly, as a result, she had garnered something that she could not have in her
previous expression of her self as a black lesbian butch: Karen was now a reli
gious leader as the preacher’s wife. She was asked to pray in services.
Congregants turned to her for help. She was respected.
Converting Sexuality through Religion
When I asked her how this religious experience lined up with her attraction to
women, she initially challenged that such an attraction remained, “I don’t
notice women that way anymore,” but upon reflection added:
well, to be honest, there’s a woman I care about. She’s married too, and
we just vowed not to betray our marriages; her husband is a preacher
too. I’m happy with my life this way. I love Bill and I love the church. And
about her; I don’t want her that way. Sometimes I miss the lifestyle
and the friends; not the sex, but this is my life now. I never lied to Bill
about who I was and we just prayed about it, and we’ve been together
fifteen years.
Karen’s experience of religion is intricately tied to her understanding and
embodiment of gender, sexuality, and aspects of black church culture rhetoric
and spirituality specific to her context. We might even think about her new
found life as one of “converting”—her gender and her sexuality. Furthermore,
we are left with the question of how her newly structured selfexpression might
be understood psychologically, in the culture of a conservative black religious
context, and what processes and practices keep it intact; that is, how has Karen
Pastoral Theology and Care
existed with selfcoherence in two distinctive ways? In the theory of selfpsy
chology, the self develops, when in an empathically mirroring milieu, toward
coherence and continuity over time. Karen’s longing for and experience of reli
gious practice was tied to her desire and longing for a psychologically and
socially acceptable gendered and sexuality identity. In other words, her longing
was for a context where she could experience the supportive mirroring of her
sexual and gendered self, in a particular religious context, and thereby add to
the strengthening of selfexperience. The turn toward the practice of religion
disrupts her sense of self and provokes a dismantling that cannot be seques
tered from the rest of her life, and ultimately results in social–sexual identifica
tions she can accept. Karen’s experience challenges notions of a psychology of
the self where the evidence of a formed sense of self is in her experience of
herself as “cohesive, harmonious, firm in unit in time and space, connected
with … the past” (Kohut, 1984) with regard to gender and sexuality. It is reli
gion, and the practices related to her newly formed status, that serve to create
a firm and (more) harmonious self, but it is not a self that is contiguous across
time and space. Religion, gender identities, and sexualities, as integral to psy
chological and cultural experience, are, then, tethered in her transformation.
Her narrative pushes the boundaries of what we study when we study black
women’s experience of black religion.
When womanist pastoral theology privileges the role of experience as a pri
mary source for womanist theology, we are speaking of the intersectional real
ity that is inherent in the convergence of race, gender, sex, classism, and
heterosexism, as well as transphobia in black women’s lives and culture. Our
analyses are informed by the premise that experience is socially constructed,
culturally informed, and infused with responses to the oppressive
structive forces that shape black life. This includes oppression in the broader
culture, the black community, religious institutions, familial relationships, and
the psychological impact of oppressive ideologies. Conversely, we recognize
that experience also includes those individual and collective practices,
responses, aimed at resisting and eradicating the demoralizing effects of sys
temic injustices.
Conclusion: Womanist Pastoral Ethics
fromtheGround ofEmergent Being
There are ethical implications of womanist pastoral practice in this emergent
approach to womanist psychology of religion, and Karen’s life brings to the
foreground several pastoral ethical dimensions for womanist pastoral theology
to consider. Fleshing out intersectionality to more fully include lived experi
ences of religion, gender, and sexuality strengthens womanist pastoral theolo
gy’s methodological commitment to ground our work in black women’s lives.
Womanist Pastoral Theology
There a womanist intersectional analysis brings with it an ethical obligation to
fully represent the complexity of lived experience and to integrate the capacity
of complexity in lived experience to interrogate our previous constructions.
Karen’s fluidity of gender representation, sexual expression, and identity can
challenge fixed notions of self—that is, that the person who has developed a
cohesive self looks and identifies in fixed public, religious, and relational mode.
Karen’s sense of her self is not linear, as in an epigenetic model of development,
but she experiences her self as
In their article “‘I am just so glad you are
alive’: New perspectives on nontraditional, nonconforming, transgressive
expressions of gender, sexuality and race among African Americans,” Layli
Phillips and Marla Stewart rightly argue that “established models of queer
identity have taken their form from established and widely accepted stage
models of racial and ethnic identity” (Phillips and Stewart, 2008, p. 379), and
are not able to account for complexity of identity and affiliation. For instance,
they argue that it is problematic that these models are not able to theorize
individuals’ simultaneous “psychological affiliation with multiple social
groups” (Phillips and Stewart, 2008, p. 379). Nor, in my view, do they account
for gender, sexuality, and religious identification such as Karen’s. In other
words, there is not enough of the intersectional in these models. Karen’s life
interrogates the ideology and theoretical explanation of what constitutes a
cohesive self. That is, I am suggesting that a cohesive self is determined by, in
this case, Karen’s experience of her self, and not an external litmus test of cul
turally biased privileging of asymmetrical power hierarchies in social relation-
ships. In other words, ideologies of the cohesive self very often ignore system
power and its mark on psyches. Nor do they give weight to the idea of a
self. Furthermore, Karen’s coherence is also emerging in the context of her
subjective experience of spirituality, which is experienced in and beyond the
dogma of her church. The ethical demand here is
that lived experience is
always privileged
and has the
efficacy to reform our theories
(of self, embodi
ment, gender, and sexuality) and
practices of care
. Karen’s experience directs
us toward the necessity of ethical and intentional practices of
Formation, then, is an aim of pastoral ethics, and the aim and means must be
interrogated to ensure that their effect engenders a vision of black women’s
being that is not conformity or even static being, but
emergent being
. Emergent
being presses the question how do womanist pastoral theologies and ethics
contribute to development?
As an interdisciplinary pursuit, I turn to the psychological concept of mir
roring. The contexts depicted in the “Karen” case study reveal similarities and
differences in the practices of mirroring—that is, practices, habits, and spaces
that acknowledge and value selfexpressions that represent and mirror the
stated views and ideologies undergirding a community’s self. As such, in both
of these formative contexts discussed from Karen’s life, we see that mirroring
was a linchpin for identity of individuals and communities.
Pastoral Theology and Care
The ethical demand provoked by lived experiences is that womanist pastoral
theology must critically read its implicit views of the self and its formation
especially with regard to gender, race, religion, and sexual identities, and
requires an analysis that appreciates the reality that black women may hold,
with minimal internal conflict, seemingly opposing views. Karen, for instance,
experienced deep satisfaction with a sense of kinship and mirroring in her role
as a “first lady” as the preacher’s wife. She experienced this satisfaction even
though he held negative views about lesbians and gays. This did not seem to
interfere with her sense of being valued and respected by him even though she
did not support his most negative views. The interlocking
lived experience
gender, race, religion, and sexuality are crucial for womanist pastoral theolo
gies that are relevant and potentially efficacious in black women’s resistance to
the forces that deny their humanity and restrict their voices in public and reli
gious spaces. The absence of such a commitment is an ethical failure and
reveals the underside of theological anthropologies that, implicitly or explicitly,
deny all black women full humanity, and theologizes embodiment from a het
erosexual normative view.
The ethical or moral vision embedded in prioritizing lived experience sug
gest that womanist pastoral ethics must be grounded in a nonhierarchal rela
tionality between womanist theologians, the women in our cases narratives,
and the various communities that permit us entrance. Furthermore, we are
obligated to situate ourselves in the narratives we construct for our research
based on case analysis and acknowledge that we do not enter black women’s
lives as if we are entering “research space” to which we have no investment or
obligation. We do not have, as Joyce Ladner wrote in reflecting on her research
with black women, some “valuefree sanctuary” (Ladner, 1972, p. xxvi) absent
of bias or commitment to a side. The side on which I stand is that of black
women’s fullness of being, unfiltered, unapologetic, and meaningful on their
terms and in dialogue “with my original purpose” (Ladner, 1972, p. xxxi) for the
research. The shift to privileging lived experience is both a methodological and
an ethical claim and emerges out of critically engaged reflection and dialogue
with black women. Just as black women’s being is emergent, so is womanist
pastoral theology.
Courtney Bryant in conversation, 4 August 2014.
Psychology of religion efforts from a psychoanalytic perspective have generally
scussed race, and feminist psychologies of religion have not generally dis
cussed black women’s
. Important discussions of psychoanalysis, race,
and religion can be found in the work of Celia Brickman (2002, 2008).
Karen is also discussed inSheppard (2006). Referenced withpermission.
Womanist Pastoral Theology
Ali, Carroll Watkins. 1997.
Survival and Liberation: Pastoral Theology in African
American Context
. Atlanta, GA: Chalice Press.
Brickman, Celia. 2008. “The Persistence of the Past: Framing Symbolic Loss and
Religious Studies in the Context of Race.” In
Pastoral Theology and Care
Hollies, Linda, Ed. 1992.
Womanistcare: How to Tend the Souls of Women
. Joliet,
IL: Woman to Woman Ministries, Inc. Publications.
Kohut, Heinz. 1978.
The Search for the Self: Selected Writings of Heinz Kohut
Volume 2. Edited by Paul H. Ornstein. Madison, WI: International University
Kohut, Heinz. 1984.
How Does Analysis Cure
. Edited by Arnold Goldberg and
Paul E. Stepansky, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ladner, Joyce. 1972. “Introduction to Tomorrow’s Woman: The Black Woman.”
Womanist Pastoral Theology
Spirituality and Embodiment
, edited by Phillip J. Anderson and Michelle
CliftonSoderstrom, pp. 241–256. Chicago, IL: Covenant Press.
Sheppard, Phillis. 2011.
Self, Culture and Others in Womanist Practical Theology
New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sheppard, Phillis. 2014. “Religion—It’s Complicated! The Convergence of Race,
Class, and Sexuality in Clinicians’ Reflection on Religious Experience.” In
Introduction andLiterature Review
In this chapter we explore intersectionality as a methodological resource for the
critical trajectory of public pastoral theology that emerged in the US in the late
20th century to address abuses of power that create asymmetries of opportunity
especially related to forms of difference treated oppressively such as gender,
race, nationality, and class. The arc of literature in this trajectory points to the
need for methodological strategies that will enhance analysis and strategic
engagement of such asymmetries of power. These asymmetries quietly shape
the normative assumptions and practices of powerful cultural institutions,
which in turn organize our social identities to reproduce patterns of privilege
and marginalization in persons’ selfunderstanding that are often held unreflec
tively. We will also explore possible generative reciprocities between intersec
tionality and public pastoral theology and practices of care. We will begin with
close attention to the literature in public pastoral and practical theology emerg
ing in multiple contexts in the last five years. Then we will explore the metathe
ory known as intersectionality and assess its adequacy for addressing the needs
of this critical trajectory.
As a preface, I note this chapter is shaped by my own personal, professional,
and religious identity as a Protestant pastoral theologian whose social identi
ties are largely formed by privilege. My Scots ancestry includes complicity in
colonial practices. Ancestors who migrated to the US indirectly benefited from
the wealth that slavery and Jim Crow laws inequitably brought to white
Pastoral Theology and Care
Americans. They farmed the fertile Midwestern land that Native Americans
were earlier forced to abandon in a process of oppression and genocide. My
family benefited from the economic privileges that the GI Bill inequitably
offered my father and other white veterans after World War II. While I know
the marginalization and violence of sexism that continues to shape my culture,
I also am more protected than women of different racial identities. I experience
the privileges of heterosexism. As a Christian in the US, I am also protected
from the religious oppression that is increasing here. I receive the socio
onomic benefits of a professional education. As a pastoral theologian, I seek
to be, to teach, and to develop scholarship in solidarity with those whose expe
riences are dominated by oppression. The goal of relational justice that first
named this trajectory in the field of pastoral theology in the US is also my own.
Review ofLiterature
By the 1980s, pastoral theologians in the US began to recognize that practices
of care focused on individuals were inadequate for addressing the structural
and systemic distortions of injustice such as racism. It became clear that the
field would require methods that explored care in relational and systemic con
texts that presumed the interconnection of love and justice (Smith, 1983). By
1993, the metaphor of a “living human web” (MillerMcLemore, 2012) further
clarified that this new trajectory was actively engaging issues of difference and
power in individual, relational, and ecclesial contexts as well as in public struc
tural and systemic contexts. Larry Graham captured the guiding vision of this
trajectory in his phrase “relational justice” (1995). In the brief review that follows,
we will see how pastoral and practical theologians in the US and around the world
continue moving toward strategies for addressing issues of power and difference.
Across 30 years these two intersecting issues became prominent themes in public
pastoral and practical theology as well as practices of care. The complexity of
accounting for the multiplicity of differences organized by asymmetrical power
(Collins and Bilge, 2016) and efforts to assess the scope of inequities insinuated in
normative systems and structures are recurring themes.
A fuller description of the emergence of this trajectory is detailed in
Care and Counseling: Redefining the Paradigms
(Ramsay, 2004), a supplement to
Dictionary for Pastoral Care and Counseling
(Hunter, 1990). The contribu
tors’ essays name the reciprocal ways theory and practice fund each other and
include resources to foster contextual transformation such as critical theories
and liberation theologies. The essays point to two concurrent paradigms opera
tive in the field: communal contextual and intercultural. Both reflect similar
commitments for care shaped by love and justice but focused differently. The
communal contextual paradigm addresses ministries of care within local faith
communities and through such communities attending to their social contexts
including attention to inequities in power and difference such as homophobia,
racism, ethnocentrism, and economic injustice. The intercultural paradigm is
also funded by critical theories and gives particular attention to cultural differ
ences including religious differences and their political and hermeneutical
importance for revising practices of care locally and internationally. Both para
digms continue to include public theology as a prominent aspect of theory and
practice. The intercultural paradigm, for example, now draws on decolonial
and postcolonial theory to inform practices of care and the selfawareness of
those practicing care (Andraos, 2012; McGarrah Sharp, 2012, 2013, 2016;
Lartey, 2013, 2016).
Issues of power and difference in pastoral and practical theology now, of
necessity, also include recognition of religious plurality, which poses ontologi
cal and epistemological challenges for those who teach and practice pastoral
care. As KujawaHolbrook asks, how does the field itself decolonize the
Christianity that shaped it (2016, p. 154)? In this context pastoral and practical
theologians such as Kathleen Greider (2012, 2015) have noted the importance
of encouraging a highly reflexive literacy among Christians regarding not only
other religious traditions but Christianity as well. Religious plurality, alterity,
and multiple religious belonging are international in scope and fraught with
asymmetries of power that reflect not only colonialism’s association with 18th
and 19thcentury Christian mission, but concurrent precolonial, colonial, and
neocolonial realities (Lartey, 2016).
The horizon of public pastoral theology largely coincides with public practi
cal theology (Graham and Rowlands, 2005; MillerMcLemore, 2012). In
WileyBlackwell Companion to Practical Theology
(MillerMcLemore, 2012),
scholars in a wide range of international contexts shaped by colonialism
describe practices of care in the public pastoral theology trajectory giving clear
attention to matters of economic inequities whether addressed within postco
lonial themes or showing the influence of decolonial critiques in contexts such
as Brazil (Streck, 2012, pp. 525–533).
In the US, attention to economic policies that shape experiences of socio
economic class is prominent in both the communal contextual and intercul
tural paradigms. In particular, pastoral theologians are tracing the personal
and cultural indicators of the destructive influence of neoliberal economics,
which takes capitalism—so central to coloniality—to new extremes (LaMothe,
2012, 2014, 2016a, 2016b; RogersVaughn, 2015, 2016). Cedric Johnson probes
the intersections of neoliberal capitalism with race in
Race, Religion, and
Resilience in the Neoliberal Age
South African practical theologians voice parallel concerns for economic
stratification intertwined with racism (Dames, 2010; Mouton, 2014; Du Toit,
2017a, 2017b). Each describes the persisting, divisive legacy of apartheid and
forms of white resistance to assuring economic justice that reflect neocolonial
practices. Their protests that real justice remains unfulfilled, resonate with
Pastoral Theology and Care
important changes in ecumenical conversation at the World Council of Churches
that signal a reversal from a more colonial model of
as service to those
on the margins to interpreting
through the mission of those marginal
ized congregations as they initiate “acts of public witness against the structures of
evil and injustice in the world” (Gill etal., 2014, pp. 249–251).
Attention to economic and political justice and the legacy of coloniality joins
the practices of care in and by congregations and the urgency for intercultural
awareness and reflexivity. Lebanese practical theologian, Michel Andraos
(2012), teaching in Chicago, links economics with colonialism and epistemol
ogy. Citing Mignolo (2007, p. 451) and Quijano (2000), Andraos points to the
important intercultural claim of decolonial theory that decenters the presumed
universality of European rationality and reclaims the multipli
city of e
gies that colonialism ignored. Reflexivity thus becomes a quandary. Jaco Dreyer,
a South African practical theologian, deepened this challenge to reflexivity as he
recognized it included Eurocentric ontological assumptions as well as Western
epistemology (2016, pp. 90–109). McGarrah Sharp (2016) and Lartey (2016) use
postcolonial theory to explore the
challenge c
oloniality creates for reflexivity
and the capacity to trust and learn from one another. Lartey (2016) names the
challenge of “reading” the multiple layers of social context that reflect the simul
taneous complexity of preco
lonial, c
olonial, modern, and postmodern dynam
ics in international contexts such as subSaharan Africa, where he notes there is
an “eruption of subjugated indigenous knowledge” (p. 23).
The arc of literature seeking relational justice now names coloniality as power
fully contributing to foundational asymmetries of power through epistemology
and ontology as well as contextual asymmetries such as sexism, racism,
Christianism, and neoliberal capitalism. LaMothe (2014, pp. 375–391) recently
proposed a “pastoral political theology” that anticipates how this arc in the
literature points toward congregational and more public practices of care via
broadbased community organizing arising in the US as well as internationally
(Day etal., 2013, p. 10; Day, 2014, pp. 375–391).
sense of identity such as sexism, racism, and heterosexism, as well as structural
asymmetries insinuated in key cultural institutions that articulate and repro
duce norms in ideology, governance, and economics. Attention to asymmetries
of power also points to prioritizing methodological resources that help ensure
we hear and learn directly from the experience of those oppressed by asym
metries such as colonialism, racism, sexism, and neoliberal capitalism.
Intersectionality asaValuable Resource forPastoral
andPractical Theology
The metatheory known as intersectionality aligns well with methodological
needs posed by the current goals of pastoral and practical public theology.
Intersectionality’s guiding principles echo the theoretical, methodological, and
ethical values and goals of practical and pastoral theology and related practices
of care. In this review we will note ample opportunities for practical and pasto
ral theologians to contribute to this metatheory.
As a metatheory, intersectionality includes a dynamic range of methodological
approaches that share common philosophical, hermeneutical, political, and prac
tical commitments to critical analysis and critical praxis that challenge hegemonic
power through coalitions forged across diverse groups seeking social justice. It
promotes a resistant, interrogative knowledge that presumes an “architecture of
structural inequalities and asymmetrical life opportunities” (May, 2015, xi and 6).
Intersectionality began to emerge beginning in the mid20th century through
the voiced experience of women “of color” whose wisdom is shaped by the
hegemonic legacies of coloniality via chattel slavery and colonial conquest with
concurrent erasure of locally shaped identities and imposition of a European
ontology and epistemology. African American women led the way. Frances Beal’s
essay, “To Be Black and Female,” published in 1969 (Beal, 1970, 1995, pp. 146–
155) examines the intersections of race, gender, and the foundational role of
capitalism (as cited in Collins and Bilge, 2016, p. 66). Better known is the 1977
Combahee River Collective “Black Feminist Statement.” It adds heterosexism to
the hegemonic forces of racism and patriarchy, and names the underlying influ
ence of capitalism. It offers a politically informed analysis of oppressive, inter
locking, systemic power that functioned hegemonically (Collins and Bilge, 2016,
pp. 69–71). Publications followed by indigenous women in North America,
Chicanas (Moraga and Anzaldúa, 1983), and Asian women (Anzaldúa, 1987).
Toward the end of the 20th century two African American scholars proved espe
cially helpful in articulating intersectionality as a metatheory—Kimberlé Crenshaw,
a legal scholar who is credited with coining the term (1989, 1991) and Patricia Hill
Collins, a professor of sociology. Given the historical and continuing experience of
women whose lives are shaped by marginalizing forces, intersectionality is deeply
Pastoral Theology and Care
informed by attention to asymmetries of power as it organizes individual and
group identity (Weber, 2010; May, 2015; Collins and Bilge, 2016) and as it mis
shapes social institutions such as media, education, politics, and economics to
reproduce and extend patterns of subordination and privilege (Collins, 2000;
Weber, 2010). However, this is a methodology that is useful for all persons who
seek relational justice. Marginalization and privilege are intimately related, and
those seeking to resist hegemonic power whose heritage is shaped by the inherit
ance of privilege are equally served by intersectional methodologies.
Methods identified as authentically intersectional reflect a shared cluster of
core principles. Even these principles may vary slightly among interpreters.
However, the following six principles summarized by Collins and Bilge (2016,
pp. 25–30) and May (2015) reliably identify intersectional methodologies.
These principles demonstrate a remarkable alignment with methodological
goals that shape public pastoral and practical theology reflected in the litera
ture review earlier in this essay.
cial inequality is the precipitating challenge calling for an intersectional
response. The theory presumes a complex, multiaxis cause for inequalities
such as racism, patriarchy, and classism (Collins and Bilge, 2016, pp. 25–26).
Power r
elations are organized at the level of individual and group identity
through the intersections of aspects of social identity such as sexuality, race,
and gender. Power relations are also experienced in cultural contexts
through the normative influence of interactive “domains of power” such as
ideology, politics, and economics which are constituted by various institu
tions whose influences are interdependent (Weber, 2010, pp. 34–38;
Holvino, 2012, pp. 161–191; Collins and Bilge, 2016, pp. 26–27).
ationality or solidarity across differences (May, 2015, p. 34) is the context
for developing a dynamic understanding of power through the lens of
shared experiences at the intersections of social identities among those who
comprise the coalitions that construct rich analyses and critical praxis
(Collins and Bilge, 2016, pp. 27–28). May notes that honoring relationality
may call for strategies such as “bracketing” the hegemonic influence of
Western rationality and “bias” to support the value of coalitional analyses
that honor a fuller range of ontological experiences and epistemological
practices (Lugones, 2010 and Babbit, 2001 as cited in May, 2015, 186ff).
cial context shaped historically and geographically is critical for deeply
understanding the particularity of intersecting power relations; domains of
power that structure such relations; and the particular knowledges and her
meneutical standpoints that inform the intersectional analyses and emerg
ing critical praxis. Further, allowing history to inform a study of context
helps ensure that coalitions account for the diverse hermeneutical and even
ontological knowledges present and important for any analysis and response
(May, 2015; Collins and Bilge, 2016, pp. 28–29).
Complexity is the presumed character of any intersectional analysis because,
s the prior four principles demonstrate, social inequality arises from mul
tiple, simultaneous dynamics of intersecting power relations and structures
of power. Many intersectional theorists use the term “matrix thinking” to
help capture the overlay of interpretive frames that may be used.
cial justice is the telos of any intersectional approach. As May puts it, inter
sectionality is not “neutral”: it seeks to develop a resistant imaginary (2015,
pp. 28, 34). The complexity of social justice is foregrounded by the dynamic,
historical, and political character of power that organizes identity and informs
intersectional analyses and strategies. Collins and Bilge (2016, p. 30) concede
that this telos may sometimes be limited to shaping the critical analysis.
The following graphic illustrates the way the core principles of intersectionality
that function as guiding commitments for its practice give shape to the
dynamic character of matrix thinking and shape analyses of the asymmetries of
power that organize and structure experiences of persons and groups. This
schematic is informed by theorists such as Lynn Weber (2010), Evangelina
Holvino (2012), and Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge (2016). The holo
graphic image that portrays the simultaneous coconstruction of identities and
interdependence of domains of power is used with the permission of Evangelina
Holvino (2012, p. 173). The vertical arrows in the graphic that join aspects of
social identity to the formative influence of domains of power and all to the
foundational influence of a geographic and historical location visualize the reci
procity of influence for each aspect of the context. This reciprocity points to
ways in which Charles Taylor’s discussion of social imaginaries (2004) informs
intersectional analysis. Cultures’ normative ideas may emerge from a smaller
often elite group and then take on a life of their own in the ebb and flow of the
culture. Such cultural conversations help both explain the ways asymmetries of
power form and reinforce ideological norms via media, education, and cultural
symbols that enter the domains of power. But those conversations also help
explain how the initiation of “resistant” or “interrogative” knowing can alter
normative assumptions and initiate a recursive process into all levels of context,
domains of power, and social identity (May, 2015, pp. xi and 6).
Exploring the“Fit” forIntersectionality
Pastoral Theology and Care
informed by practices of solidarity. We will explore points of correlation across
the six core principles and note those locations where pastoral theologians
themselves can contribute to expanding the constructive resources for this
metatheory such as: the individual and relational consequences of neoliberal
economics, embodiment shaped by historical effects of oppression, and reli
gious identity as an important aspect of personal and social identity also shaped
by asymmetries of power. Further, it is important to begin by recognizing the
deep alignment in a core methodological principle for pastoral and practical
theology: the synergy of critical analysis and critical praxis as reciprocally
informative (Collins and Bilge, 2016, p. 33).
Social Inequality
Social inequality as the difficulty that prompts engagement and social justice as
the telos of effective intersectional analysis and praxis demonstrate a deep ethi
cal alignment between intersectionality and pastoral and practical theology. Of
course, for theologians shaped by Christian tradition, the resonance of equality
and justice is not limited to any particular concept of universal human rights.
However, intersectionality’s priority for assuring the worth and protection of
each life signals a good fit in ethical values. Further, the ways intersectional
methods prioritize deep and wide listening for what equality will entail among
those differently oppressed prompts pastoral theologians toward more careful
listening for the historical legacy of inequality and the particularity and scope
of justice identified by those who are oppressed. For example, Collins and Bilge
tersectional model (from Holvino, 2012).
remind us, “Intersectional frameworks reveal how race, gender, sexuality, age,
ability, and citizenship relate in complex and intersecting ways to produce eco
nomic inequality” (2016, p. 16).
Power Relations
Intersectionality is especially helpful for understanding how asymmetries of
power organize the coconstruction of social identities such as racism, sexism,
heterosexism, and classism at both individual psychosocial and social identity
group levels. Intersectional theorists help clarify that social identities are not
additive and separable but coconstruct one another so that we experience
complex identities in a simultaneous fashion. Different aspects of identity
become more salient as our attention is turned from one situation to another
(Holvino, 2012). This concept of simultaneous coconstruction clarifies the
problem with relying on single axis analyses such as distortions of racism or
sexism, since these aspects of identity do not arise in isolation from each other.
The lens of intersectionality’s concept of power domains is especially helpful
for theological analysis and strategic interventions. This lens helps public,
storal, and practical theologians recognize the veiled ways privilege and
stigma are normalized and continue outside of awareness such as through the
media in the case of ideology, public policy enforcement via bureaucratic pro
cesses in the political domain, or credit policies in the economic domain.
Through its attention to ways asymmetries of power organize persons’ experi
ences of identity (racism, sexism, etc.), intersectionality assists pastors and
pastoral theologians in the work of helping persons recognize how forces of
dominance and oppression shape their experience personally and via social
groups with whom they identify (Wijeyesinghe and Jones, 2014, p. 16). Helping
persons individually and corporately develop this reflexivity is especially
important for enhancing capacities for pursuing transformative change indivi-
dually and corporately, as Collins asserts (2010, pp. 274–275).
Pastoral and practical theologians also can make constructive contribu
tions to this intersection of power and identity in part because of our famili
arity with psychological dimensions of identity as experienced emotionally.
Womanist pastoral theologian, Phillis Sheppard, for example, describes ways
experiences of embodiment demonstrate the enduring legacy of oppressive
practices such as rape and lynching that were common for Africans forced
into chattel slavery. Her work offers to intersectional theorists a deeper win
dow into the complex ways asymmetries of power penetrate emotional levels
of experiences of identity with lasting consequences for engaging asym
metries of power (2016, pp. 219–249). Pastoral theologians such as Greider
(2011, 2012, 2015), KujawaHolbrook (2016), and Bidwell (2015) demonstrate
ways in which religious affiliation and religious experience participate in the
asymmetrical complexity of social identity. Intersectional methodological
Pastoral Theology and Care
attention to multiple axes of identity and asymmetries of power may inform
pastoral theological responses to this urgent dilemma.
Relationality Through Solidarity Across Difference
Intersectionality’s preference for analyzing and challenging asymmetries of
power through coalitions that prioritize solidarity rather than sameness is
methodologically important for public pastoral and practical theology seeking
to understand the experience of those whose lives are shaped by marginaliza
tion. Intersectional analysis presumes that knowledge of the complexity of
oppressions cannot rely on a single point of view. Collaborative or coalitional
knowing ensures a fuller analysis and more effective strategic response. Further,
as May and others note, since the voices of those with a colonial heritage are
more dominant in the field now, pastoral and practical theologians do well to
practice strategies of listening that deliberately invite a wider range of experi
ence that does not draw on the hermeneutical or ontological assumptions of the
Eurocentric rationality that coloniality claimed as normative. Public pastoral/
practical theologian, Pamela Couture demonstrates this practice exceptionally
well in
We Are Not All Victims
(2016). Pastoral and practical theologians par
ticularly may be able to contribute to such analyses our own efforts to decon
struct the ways Western Christianity, as developed in the West, is itself deeply
insinuated by the assumptions of coloniality.
Social C
There is a helpful convergence between pastoral theology and intersectional
ity in prioritizing the need for close readings of social contexts and the forma
tive power of their historical and geographical particularity. Two aspects of
historical and geographical context are especially evident in contemporary,
public pastoral and practical theology and offer constructive possibilities to
intersectional analyses: the historical legacies of colonialism through the
frames of decolonial and postcolonial critiques, and neoliberal economics in
its expanding forms and influence.
Intersectionality’s preference for amplifying the voices of those whose experi
ence is shaped by the consequences of colonialism and now neocolonialism is a
resource for pastoral theologians who are beginning to expand our reliance on
postcolonial critiques to draw on decolonial theory as well. As Walter Mignolo
advises, postcolonial and decolonial theories, “both walk in the same direction,
following different paths”; however, the latter allows us to hear the voices of those
who know firsthand the reality of the extraordinary violence of colonialism
rather than through a more Eurocentric critique (2011, p. 55). Andraos, McGarrah
Sharp, and Lartey’s use of decolonial and postcolonial theories, as noted earlier,
demonstrate that current scholarship by pastoral and practical theologians can
expand intersectional analyses and praxis in areas of pedagogy, hermeneutics,
and the complexity of recovering identity distorted by coloniality.
Because of pastoral theologians’ close attention to interior experience, we are
able to add to the initial ways neoliberal policies are emerging in intersectional
cultural analysis. Through his clinical practice, RogersVaughn (2016) describes
ways the selfunderstanding of many individual Americans is changing by virtue
of a gradual and thoroughly radical individualism shaped by neoliberal econom
ics. Having dismissed obligations for the most vulnerable, neoliberal economics
presumes hierarchical economic stratifications that justify “losers” as an inevita
ble side effect of creating economic winners. Over time, “neighbors” become
competitors in each other’s eyes. Similarly, Cedric Johnson (2016) offers resources
largely absent in intersectional theory through critical engagement with the
intersections of racism, neoliberal economics, spiritual resources, and ritual
practices that help sustain resilience in the practice of resistance.
Attention to the complexity of lived experience is an important convergence in
pastoral and practical theological analysis and praxis in intersectionality. Both
approaches insist that the method be apt for the context and forego forcing a “fit”
between the two. Presently, intersectionality contributes a richer analysis of the
ways power misshapes social identities and domains of power. As noted earlier,
pastoral and practical theologians offer resources for deeper understanding of the
embodied, emotional experience of persons shaped by asymmetries of power.
Social Justice
Social justice and social inequality reciprocally inform each other. Pastoral and
practical theologians offer important contributions from the wealth of reflec
tion in Jewish and Christian traditions regarding the character of justice and
love and their conceptual linkage. As Daniel Day Williams wrote, “
Justice is the
order God’s love requires
” (Williams, 1968, p. 250, italics in original). While any
conversation about love, love defined by particular religious traditions, as well
as the relation of love and justice, must be developed nonnormatively in pub
lic contexts, such explorations bring considerable, complex richness to inter
sectional resources. It will also prompt interpretive richness through the
reflections of those whose lives and spiritualities were distorted by colonial
versions of Christianity. Public pastoral and practical theologians are only
beginning to engage the ways religious plurality will expand understanding of
both love and justice and shape collaborative endeavors toward justice in the
public sphere with those whose interest in justice are not shaped religiously
(Ramsay, 2014, pp. 117–139). This intersectional learning will be relevant for
effective communitywide organizing efforts.
Pastoral Theology and Care
Intersectional Implications forPastoral Practice
The following fictionalized, composite case is informed by qualitative research
I conducted with several congregations. It illustrates the experience of hun
dreds of moderate to progressive congregations in the US whose members
largely reflect racial and economic privilege. They are initiating caring minis
tries with those often marginalized by such aspects of identity as race, ethnic
ity, and socioeconomic class. These ministries create opportunities for more
privileged persons to see and talk about the implications of faith as they
encounter inequities of power shaping social identity and domains of power
that shape systems and structures that were previously invisible to them.
I developed this case to feature ways intersectionality pierces the veil of privi
lege to disclose asymmetries of power operative culturally and through social
identities because I believe this is a compelling need currently in contemporary
pastoral and practical theology. In the case that follows we see the sorts of change
and possibilities for solidarity with marginalized populations that can arise
through intersectional strategies. Currently, descriptions of intersectional strate
gies more often reflect coalitions of marginalized populations, and readers are
able to find recent descriptions of such engagements in Collins and Bilge (2016).
A Case
Paula is one of three EuroAmerican clergy who serve a thriving 1500member
Episcopal congregation, St. Stephen, in a southern metropolitan area of the US.
A 34yearold woman, Paula grew up in a middle class family where both par
ents worked. The membership at St. Stephen is overwhelmingly EuroAmerican
and middle to upper middle class. Recently a core group of laity succeeded in
strengthening the vision of the vestry and the congregation for stronger mis
sional outreach. The new clergy team is guided by this missional vision. During
seminary, Paula worked in a faithbased urban community ministry that served
individuals and families, including new immigrants, who were economically
vulnerable. Paula is drawn to the congregation’s clear decision to engage the
needs of the working poor who live in a nearby area of the city and whose
children attend an elementary school near the church.
Currently, St. Stephen has an international outreach program in Antigua that
includes a yearly trip to support an Anglican congregation in a rural area that
the denomination helped them identify. The church has also just responded
positively to a Diocesan request to host a Muslim refugee family from Syria.
The vestry led a discussion process with the congregation and acted positively
after a good congregational response to the opportunity. A team of parishion
ers, staffed by Paula, is preparing to receive the family.
A year ago, the congregation launched a ministry to serve the needs of the
working poor and some homeless who live in a nearby area, though their living
conditions reflect a markedly different situation than the relative affluence of
many members at St. Stephen. The ministry, titled, “Good Samaritan,” distrib
utes food weekly for those whose food stamps run out before the end of the
month and food for those without homes who also come weekly. A clothes
closet is also on site. Every Wednesday volunteers from St. Stephen cook and
serve an evening meal followed by a Eucharistic worship service with adult
Bible study and church school classes for children. Paula’s responsibilities at
Good Samaritan include recruiting and supporting volunteers and supervising
a staff person who leads the complex work of managing the services offered.
There is some overlap among the volunteers at Good Samaritan across the
other two outreach programs.
Near the close of the first year of operation, Paula convenes a representative
group of lay volunteers at Good Samaritan to invite them to talk about their expe
rience. All in the group are EuroAmerican and most are economically privileged.
She asks what is working well, and what is proving meaningful for them.
All say they find sharing the meal with persons from the community and
sharing the Eucharistic service are powerful experiences. Receiving the bread
and wine standing beside those with so little reminds Bill, “We are all God’s
children.” Diane chokes up when she says, as a mother, she carries in her heart
images of the children coming up for second and third helpings each week. She
did not know there were hungry children in the city. Joyce talks about the Bible
study with adults after the meal. They are helping her see biblical texts in new
ways. Raul, for example, observed recently that probably the workers hired last
in the story in Matthew 20 had been waiting all day hoping for work. He knew
what that was like. That interpretation makes such a difference. Dave will
always remember Patricia’s comment at dinner that she and Hector bring their
children to the evening program so they will know the homeless man they see
in the neighborhood is a person God loves just as God loves them. Betsy enjoys
working with Gladys as her coteacher of the early elementary class. The class
worked a lot better after Gladys, a community participant, asked to colead it
with her. Gladys has great ideas, and the children are responding better.
Then Paula invites the group to share any concerns they have. Bill grumbles
about the nice cars he sees in the parking lot as persons come for a bag of gro
ceries. After visiting a family last week, Diane wonders about seeing last week’s
groceries from Good Samaritan were unopened, but take out containers from
fast food places were on the counter. A widescreen TV was in the small living
room. How could they afford the TV and still be on food stamps? Is the congre
gation really helping people in need? Or are we are providing food they don’t
like? Dave voices his disillusionment that despite months of helping Frank to
get back on his feet from a health crisis and find a job, last week Frank said
helost the job and was about to lose the room he rented. The work was too
hardto reach by bus due to the limited bus schedule and the recent fare hike.
eman didn’t care about the bus schedule and fired him. Dave wonders,
Pastoral Theology and Care
“Why can’t Frank ‘man up’ and find a job and stick with it?” Diane is puzzled by
how many children come on Wednesdays without parents because their par
ents work two or even three jobs. How do these parents manage to carry such
loads, and why are they still barely able to cover expenses? Joyce finds such
stories hard to hear after coming back from Antigua last month. She was glad
the church bought materials needed to repair and paint the school, but why
isn’t St. Stephen helping feed the children in that parish who are hungry every
day? Such poverty haunts her. “Why aren’t we focused on changing that? And
why are children hungry in our own city?” Dave wants to know what to say
when some of the EuroAmerican and African American participants com
plain that the Hispanics are taking their jobs. He thinks that might be true. But
how should he respond to such comments? They all need assistance, but he
says there are differences and tensions among the participants. Paul mentioned
that the reading and discussion he was doing for the refugee reception team
made him wonder if poor persons who aren’t Christian feel welcome at Good
Samaritan. He hoped so, but he doubted it.
They all agree that Good Samaritan is a powerful spiritual and emotional
experience and very complicated for them as well. They are startled to find they
are learning as much about themselves as they are about the participants. All of
them also say they had no idea how big the gaps are in services between the poor
and middle class citizens in the city. Their ministry matters, but it is not enough.
But they doubt anyone could change realities that are so complex.
As she listened, Paula was remembering some of her experiences in her
seminary field work in the city. She, too, had many of these unsettling experi
ences as she encountered differences she hadn’t needed to notice before. She is
pleased many congregants are beginning to notice systemic issues and wonder
about change. Maybe now they are ready to think about how their faith can
engage the seemingly invisible systems and structures at work in their city
shaping their lives and the lives of those they serve in their outreach ministries.
What, she wondered, would she hear if she convened a group of the partici
pants who’ve been coming for the past year? If the participants felt free to talk
honestly about their experience with the volunteers, she knows a whole new
range of possibilities will emerge for this ministry.
Intersectionality asit Informs Our Pastoral Response
As we use the lens of intersectionality to reflect on this case, we will see that in
practice, the six core principles of intersectionality function integratively rather
than in a linear fashion to inform a critical analysis and praxis. In particular we
also see how formative the social context becomes for each of the other five
principles. For the purposes of this chapter, we will seek to distinguish the func
tion of each principle.
There is much to commend in the motivation and commitment of St. Stephen
Parish and these parishioners who have volunteered for a year in a ministry
that is more challenging than they expected. The congregation and these vol
unteers apparently imagined that their ministry at Good Samaritan was an
opportunity to offer a “hand up” to those who were like themselves but were
simply “down on their luck.” With a hand up, they imagined these persons and
their families could be “back on their feet.”
Social Inequality
With Paula we hear that the opportunity for sustained interaction and sus
tained relationships for some volunteers is crumbling their earlier assump
tions about the situation of those they serve at Good Samaritan. They imagined
that their experience of their city and its services was common to all and equi
tably available, but they have now encountered evidence that creates fault
lines in those assumptions. Without experiences that challenge such norma
tive versions of life in their city and country, these congregants would have no
reason to question their assumptions. Instead of persons who are just down
on their luck or have made poor decisions, they now experience a more com
plicated scenario. The working poor they meet at Good Samaritan are very
hard working parents as dedicated to their children’s education and religious
values as they are. They think deeply about their faith. They try hard to meet
the needs of their children and to find work. Close conversations with them
reveal a sociocultural, political, and economic context that creates a maze of
challenges these parishioners could not have imagined. Somehow the playing
field seems not so level as they had always imagined. How to explain this
social inequality?
Power Relations
Power relations are especially salient in this case and point to two intersecting
levels in which asymmetries of power shape public and personal experience.
The first and more encompassing are the three domains of power shaped via
intersecting institutions in each:
(cultural symbols, media, education,
religion, etc.),
(bureaucracies of governance through which policies
are implemented that shape personal and communal access to services and
resources), and
(local financial policies, mortgage and housing poli
cies, national regulations, international trade practices, etc.). The second and
equally powerful lies in the way asymmetries of power that function norma
tively organize individual and group social identities such as racism, heterosex
ism, neoliberal capitalism, etc.). These politicized aspects of identity cannot be
understood in isolation as if additive. They coconstruct each other and func
tion simultaneously.
Pastoral Theology and Care
In this case we see how the intersections of the domains of ideology, politics,
and economics construe a picture of the social context in ways that allowed
these otherwise thoughtful and wellmeaning congregants to be remarkably
unreflective about the socioeconomic realities of the persons they meet at
Good Samaritan. This absence of critical reflectivity is in fact understandable.
These are persons whose view of their country and world is shaped by institu
tions that comprise the domains of power through which normative under
standings are promulgated. For example, the volunteers rely on national and
local media and their own experience to interpret their context. They find the
city council attends to services that they need in their neighborhoods and to
the schools their children attend. The recent small hike in bus fares announced
in the media that complicated Frank’s employment seemed reasonable. They
grew up shaped by the assumptions of neoliberal economic policies that gov
ernment should limit services especially to those who seem to make repeatedly
poor choices about education and employment. They regret the historical
realities of chattel slavery and genocide of indigenous peoples and believe now
every American begins on a “level playing field.” After all, the country recently
twice elected a black president. They aren’t aware that the GI Bill benefits that
their fathers received after World War II were not available to African American
veterans. They had no idea that the absence of those benefits coupled with
governmentsanctioned segregated housing practices meant their parents
accumulated equity in their homes while African Americans could not. Nor do
they understand that these housing decisions and subsequent employment,
banking, and educational practices shaped their very racially segregated expe
rience. They do not know how the credit practices of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) contribute to the levels of poverty they see in Antigua.
This partial litany of social and historical injustices characterizes the gap
between the world as the volunteers at Good Samaritan imagine it and the world
in which those they serve live. The litany discloses what Christian theologians
describe as sin, the “negation” of the obligations of compassion and justice
toward all persons (Matsuoka, 1998) that creation in God’s image prescribes.
This litany describes two aspects of this “negation of relation.” Social or original
sin reflects the ways sin posits itself in historical life by creating deep inequalities
in access to resources and freedoms that ensure human dignity and protection
under the law. “Sin as lie” describes how those who are privileged by interlocking
systems of advantage posited by social sin learn rationalizations to explain and to
avoid acknowledging complicity in the consequences of inequitable access to
resources and protection for those whom God also loves (Farley, 1990; Suchocki,
1995). Sin as lie then also coopts such persons into participating in social sin
with various rationalizations rather than choosing to resist it. The seeming
naiveté that domains of power intend to create and the ways they disguise cur
rent practices that reproduce such inequalities align closely with this central
claim about power and sin in Christian theology (Ramsay, 2010, pp. 344–346).
Dave’s comments about Frank demonstrate how asymmetries of power
organize his unreflective sense of his social identities and those of others. In
suggesting that Frank showed no initiative in getting a job and should “man up”
and get to work, we see how privilege weaves through the interstices of Dave’s
racial, socioeconomic, and gender identity to create his assumptions about
how any “responsible” man will support himself and his family. Dave has no idea
how this view reflects ways racial and economic privilege shape his normative
assumptions about masculinity and agency. He is unreflective about how rac
ism, sexism, and neoliberal capitalism differentially shape his access to employ
ment options and success in his field; education to prepare for employment; and
structural supports for access to employment. Dave’s unreflective experience
leads him to imagine that every person is able and responsible for making his or
her own way in a country where those who try hard enough will succeed. Dave
and the other volunteers in this conversation have no close friends who identify
by another race or nationality, who vary significantly from their socioeconomic
level, or who are not Christian. It is no surprise that they came to this ministry
assuming that they and those they want to help live in the same “world.”
Power relations also point to another important implication for the practice
of critical reflexivity. For those of us with European ancestry, the challenge of
critical reflexivity is profound because it is ontological as well as hermeneuti
cal. EuroAmericans have learned to imagine ourselves through a deeply
flawed understanding of a uniquely privileged and hierarchical location within
the human community and to marginalize others. For those whose heritage is
colonial oppression, critical subjectivity calls for deconstructing the colonizers’
attempted erasure of identity and revaluing their own worth and experience.
The depth of this challenge for Paula and the volunteers affirms the practice of
coalitional solidarity central to intersectional practice to which we turn now.
Identities and perspectives organized by privilege “protected” these volunteers
from relationships and conversation that could have challenged their assump
tions prior to this experience. Their praxis and sustained experience in an
environment of real difference are in fact precisely what now prompts their
critical analysis. As pastoral and practical theologians affirm, reflective engage
ment with lived experience is the source of new constructive theological wis
dom. That is what has begun to happen here. It would not be accurate to
describe their experience to date as solidarity, but their sustained relationships,
and for some, deepening friendships are what may prompt the reciprocity in
learning that change through coalitional action requires.
Paula, the priest serving this missional effort, is already also thinking about
ways the congregation’s efforts could be more effective if they join in a com
munitybased group whose common goals include changing political/
Pastoral Theology and Care
bureaucratic and economic/banking and housing practices to ensure such ser
vices are equitably offered and protect the most vulnerable. Such coalitional
work will require that she and the volunteers become more skilled in articulat
ing the faithbased commitments of St. Stephen’s outreach to those whose
motivations are not shaped religiously. In this regard, St. Stephen’s situation
illustrates the public practical theology strategy that Elaine Graham describes
as an “apologetics of presence”—a resistant knowing that speaks truth to power
as it seeks the “welfare of the city” (Jer. 29:7) (Graham, 2013, pp. 212–213).
Graham’s point echoes a commitment clearly present in the field to demon
strate a religious/spiritual sensibility that prioritizes constructive, politically
informed engagement to promote the wellbeing of all God’s people, regardless
of religious status simply because through the lens of faith, they are our neigh
bors. Ammerman’s recent research on rationale supporting practices of spirit
uality and religious affiliation in the US also reveals that the most widely held
definition of spiritual commitment in the US is an “ethical spirituality” that
expresses a humanistically based obligation of compassion and functions as a
political and strategic commitment to neighbor love regardless of any other
aspect of social identity (Ammerman, 2013, p. 272).
Intersectionality would also affirm Paula’s afterthought following the conver
sation with volunteers, that she could learn important information by talking
with participants. Coalitional praxis resides in the authenticity and particular
ity of the wisdom of those closest to the gaps in justice and compassion. It is the
shared learning that prioritizes experience unfamiliar to the volunteers’ experi
ence that has prompted their dawning realization that the work before them is
not what they first imagined but is indeed authorized by the faith that prompted
their choice to serve their neighbors.
Historical andGeographical Social Context
Two factors loom large in describing the formative consequences of historical
and geographical context for the experience of these volunteers: colonialism
and the related subsequent rise of neoliberal capitalism. In each exploration of
the prior five intersectional principles we have recognized the ways colonial
ism inflects this method. The colonialism that arose in the 15th century is like
a threelegged stool including the emerging patriarchal capitalism that
prompted its hunger for bigger profits, the fiction of race, and practice of rac
ism to authorize the commodification or subjugation of other people. The
mid20thcentury rise of neoliberal economics extends the consequences of
colonialism anew. No aspects of social identity or of the norms that circulate
through the three domains of power are untouched by these realities.
The volunteers at Good Samaritan, who initiated and now help staff this out
reach ministry, unwittingly understand the situation and experience of the
people they seek to serve through the historical and economic consequences of
the past 500 years. The literature review of the past 30 years in pastoral and
practical theology confirms that only now are the fields becoming alert to the
distortions created by the historical and geographical realities of coloniality.
These fields’ experience is not unlike the “cracks” in the selfunderstanding of
the volunteers, who begin to wonder what else they don’t understand. For pas
toral and practical theologians, this prompts a readiness to draw on decolonial,
liberatory, and resistant hermeneutics that shape intersectional methodolo
gies. Doing so would also enrich wider intersectional resources.
Presuming the complexity of lived experience is a shared principle of both
intersectional and pastoral and practical theology. Analysis of this case illus
trates how intersectionality can “thicken” pastoral and practical capacities to
assess the dynamics of power as it organizes identity, normative cultural
understanding, and practices of care in ways that are typically out of awareness
for those whose identity is more privileged. Intersectional approaches can
guide our exploration of how religious difference may be complicated further
at the interstices of race, tribe, gender, and sexual identity, or otherwise prob
lematized in many cultures. The current research by pastoral and practical
theologians who are exploring the rich complexity that religious difference
brings to social identities will be an asset for future intersectional resources.
Social Justice
Intersectional theorists and public pastoral and practical theologians share Iris
Marion Young’s apt description of social justice that it “requires not the melting
away of differences, but institutions that promote reproduction of and respect for
group differences without oppression” (1990, p. 47). She was countering the
prominence of distributive justice, which presumes the possibility of justice dis
tributed equally regardless of inequalities such as those our case illustrates. As she
then demonstrated, achieving social justice requires carefully accounting for and
resisting asymmetries of power that exploit, marginalize, disempower, culturally
subsume, and or violently harm others (pp. 47–65). As we recognize in this case,
ideological norms can certainly limit wellintentioned persons’ capacities to dis
cern how destructive forces of power obscure what social justice would require.
Certainly, intersectional theorists are right to assert how critical coalitional
conversation is for identifying harm and discerning shared assumptions of what
social justice would look like in any given situation. Many world religions such as
the Abrahamic traditions would also affirm that justice is shaped by the obliga
tion to care for the needs of those who are most vulnerable. As Larry Graham’s
phrase, “relational justice” anticipated, pastoral and practical theologians have
constructive resources to contribute to intersectional conversations about justice
Pastoral Theology and Care
as an obligation that enacts care or love. Many theologians recognize that love
has everything to do with power. Public pastoral and practical theologians affirm
that sharing insights from religious traditions in public processes of discernment
presume that such wisdom is offered as useful without normative status.
Certainly love is not a simple or generic term nor easily translated from the nor
mative context of religious traditions to a larger public context where it is one
value among others. However, religious reflection across millennia and diverse
contexts is also an asset for the complex ethical, emotional, and political realities
that lie ahead for congregations and communitybased organizations, especially
in a culture where love is often reduced to sentimental and apolitical emotion.
For example, theologian Daniel D. Williams described justice as ordered by love
that is particular rather than general, freely offered, open to the possibility of
suffering for others, responsive to the freedom and individuality of another in
ways that inevitably affect those who love, and reflective in assessing the situa
tions that shape the needs of others (1968, pp. 114–122). Such ideas may well be
useful for the intersectional discernment of coalitions in public contexts.
Practices ofCare forIntersectional Engagement
While this brief review illustrates ways intersectional methodologies and pas
toral and practical theology implicitly inform each other in situations such as
the Good Samaritan outreach program, it is also clear that the complexity of
practicing care invites explicit attention to ways to draw on the resources of
intersectionality. As the volunteers suggested to their priest, the complexity of
the situation can be overwhelming. Pastors such as Paula who help prepare
parishioners to join in an intersectional coalitional process need pedagogical
resources to help parishioners learn effective skills for practicing care that will
promote relational justice in the midst of the complex inequalities they have
come to realize are operating quietly out of view and in their own identities.
The volunteers’ growing recognition of gaps between their experience and
that of those they seek to help provides a good opening for Paula to draw on the
conceptual and experiential resources of social justice education (SJE) to sup
port a journey that is necessarily as personal as it is intellectual (Wijeyesinghe
and Jackson, 2012; Adams etal., 2016). Of course Paula and the parishioners
will recognize in this pedagogy resources for a deeply spiritual journey of
confession and repentance. SJE opens for them a journey that resonates with
theological themes of justice and neighbor that challenge and reject the ine
qualities they have learned to see. SJE is an interdisciplinary, conceptual, and
pedagogical resource that is easily adapted for faithbased contexts. Well
aligned with intersectionality’s core principles, SJE helps persons of faith such
as these parishioners and those who come to Good Samaritan for assistance to
become reflective together about how the complexity of power as oppression
and privilege organizes their own multiple and simultaneous social identities
through larger systems of oppression and privilege such as racism, classism,
and heterosexism. They also explore how institutional and cultural dynamics
are likely to impact their social identities (Adams etal., 2016, p. 40).
The conceptual and experiential resources available through SJE presume
and support the value of coalitional efforts. They support revising learned,
relational power dynamics shaped by privilege and marginalization to help
ensure the possibilities of power shared by groups of diverse persons who join
in resisting aspects of oppression. Such shared work enriches the pool of expe
rience of gaps in justice as well as widening the vision for what restoring justice
will require. Intersectional coalitions are shaped by mutuality in decision mak
ing that finds common ground in shared goals. As the case suggested at its
close, Paula already imagines that the educational work she will initiate with
those involved in outreach at St. Stephen will likely also point to joining a coali
tion of others in the city. However, SJE affirms her sense that this sort of coali
tional work will best begin with an educational process that encourages more
mutuality in the dynamics between volunteers from St. Stephen and those who
seek assistance at Good Samaritan. After all, for St. Stephen volunteers, the
best teachers about the real situation in their city are those who know first
hand the gaps that have been invisible to the membership at St. Stephen.
Together we have explored the feasibility of intersectionality as a methodologi
cal resource for public pastoral and practical theology as it is practiced interna
tionally in efforts to engage and promote justice ordered by practices of care or
love. Initial indicators affirm the close alignment between the core principles of
intersectional methodologies and those of public pastoral and practical theolo
gians. There is an especially timely reciprocity between the wisdom voiced in
the particular sociohistorical, embodied experience of formative contributors
to this metatheory and the needs for theologians addressing the consequences
of coloniality and neoliberal economics for practices of care. We also find sig
nificant, constructive possibilities that lie in future explorations between inter
sectional methodologies and public pastoral and practical theology.
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Page references to Figures are followed by the letter ‘f’ in italics, while references
to Tables are followed by the letter ‘t’. References to Notes contain the letter ‘n’,
followed by the number of the note.
Adams, Maurianne
see also
postcolonial criticism;
Afrocentric black psychology
al rule, effects
healers and he
Indigenous C
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and po
ligious pluralism
h Africa
uality in
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obiographical memories
Autonomists, versus Biblicists
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Bhabha, Homi
biblical w
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African Americans; black
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intensification of
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Collins, P
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Africa; postcolonial
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community building
community living, and religious
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congregational studies
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ton, Paul
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textualization, importance
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pastoral care and counseling
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pton, Stephanie
cultural awareness programs
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change between intrapsychic and
the cultural
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race and racism
Dixon, Lorraine
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ham, North Carolina
ecclesiology, and ethnography
lesiology and Ethnography Network
al Decade Committee for
Churches in Solidarity with
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Elhanan, Rami
emotion and re
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wis, Marjorie
sbians, gay, bisexual,
transgender and queer)
tion theology
limbic sy
stem, brain
oln, Yvonna
ture reviews, neurosciences
cation, religious
religious location
LópezSierra, Héctor
de, Audre
d’s Prayer
, Daniel
ugones, Maria
McClintock Fulkerson, Mary
y, Carolyn
arrah Sharp, Melinda
re, Alasdair
amara, Patrick
, narrative process of
st theory
, Star of the Sea parish (San
Pedro, California)
ttis, Jacqueline
, Vivian
, Ben
e also
brain; neurosciences
“fragile power” of memory
bility of memory
calling of
ering and forgetting
pressed memories
lective memory
ing and retrieving of
pes of memory
cer, Joyce Ann
leauPonty, Maurice
Mignolo, W
emore, Bonnie
or neurons
sunderstanding Stories
chem, Stephanie
tagno, Karen B.
ore, Mignon
oreGilbert, Bart
Moschella, Mary Clark
motor c
ortex, brain
at, Harriett
h Madness is Divinest Sense
ucherera, Tapiwa
ltifaith Views in Spiritual Care
narrative theory
see also
ethnography and qualitative
research; qualitative research
collective narrative therapies
astoral theological ends, narrative
means to
onal and social narratives as
sites of transformation
ative research, narrative
approaches to
ce material, accessibility to
iting of ethnographic
gative equity
oliberal economics
ersectionality and power
e also
critical assessment
as a c
ultural process
onomics/culture split
al impact
gical divide
al meritocracy replacing
social solidarity
eral governance
eral turn
punitive neolib
esistance of neoliberalism
and suff
, Christie Cozad
see a
case study (Daniel)
tribution to understanding of
human nature
ure developments
ture review
and pa
storal care
se study
and race
ligious practices and living in
emembering and forgetting
ing and feeling
New D
eal, US
berg, Andrew
hnography and qualitative
, Imad Amin Abu
Nyengele, F
obliviousness (to race and
ccipital regions, brain
eary, Denyse
and blac
k women’s experience of
historical effects
power r
and priv
and so
cial class
, Judith
Orsi, Rober
outer c
ortex, brain
pain, mutual validation of
avers (village gatherings)
stinian–Israeli conflict
see a
Israeli bereaved family
members and Palestinians, case
of; Parents CircleFamilies
Forum (PCFF)
panic attacks
ble of the Good Samaritan
ble of the Unforgiving
arents CircleFamilies Forum (PCFF)
see a
Israeli bereaved family
members and Palestinians,
ormerly known as Bereaved
Families Forum
ituality and religion
os of participants
k, HeeKyu Heidi
ticipant observation
ticipatory action research
storal care
and class structure
unal contextual paradigm of
pastoral care and
tercultural pastoral care and
tersectionality as resource for care
stcolonial criticism in
and spirit
storal care and counseling
storal Care and Counseling
storal Care and Liberation Theology
astoral Care from a Third World
storal Counseling across Cultures
astoral ethnography
and practice
and qualit
ative research
astoral theology
and class struggle
uture developments
anic Caribbean
tercultural and postcolonial
ssues of power and difference
ession (
narrative means to pastoral
theological ends
ostcolonial criticism in
womanist pastoral
pastoral theology and care (PT&C)
istian literature
common c
and dev
ance, caring from
and finit
and plurality in re
ligious location
ttison, Stephen
tton, John
Parents Circle–Families
Forum (PCFF)
Penfield, Wilder
lps, Jamie
hillips, Layli
aces of Redemption
eligious location
oling, James
al pastoral theology
ostcolonial criticism
astoral theology
ial Practice of Ministry
Pui Lan and Burns)
ial Self, A
(Hee An Choi)
aim of pa
storal care
se study (Kofi and Ama)
terhegemonic activities
sm, epistemological
stemology and knowledge
anic Caribbean postcolonizing
pastoral theology
bridity of postcolonial practical
tegrative consciousness
and int
storal care and counseling
and pa
storal theology
postcolonial criticism in
astoral theology and care
tices of care
covery task
uality, pastoral care and
tegic requirement for pastoral
orming of cultures
voice of sub
altern, space for
ializing God
sterior cingulate cortex, brain
ower asymmetries
see a
class structure; class
struggle; intersectional pastoral
theology; Israeli bereaved
family members and
Palestinians, case of; Parents
CircleFamilies Forum (PCFF)
case study
Israeli b
ereaved family members
andPalestinians, case of
ture review
tical theology
eligious location
cial context
cial inequality
cial justice
power r
al theology
and cl
onstruction and radicalization
pirical knowledge
hnography and qualitative research
s of power and difference in
oetic dimension
power a
156, 160, 168, 169
ractical Theology and Qualitative
(Swinton and
ersectional engagement, practices
of care for
tices of care
and qualit
ative research
acticing Ubuntu
rontal cortex
d experience
and marg
and oppre
ocial power arrangements
cedural memories
otestant Christianity
ychology of religion
pastoral theology and care
qualitative research
see a
ethnography and qualitative
artistic and poetic dimension
lopment of research trajectory
rative approaches to
and pa
storal ethnography
and practic
ies seldom heard
aching in theological schools
n to culture
power a
symmetries (
Race, Religion and Resilience in the
Neoliberal Age
race and rac
ating of a black student (case
and blac
k women’s experience of
ass oppression and racism
trywide comparisons
and ec
onomic stratification
ing race
overt f
orms of racism
y, Nancy
ason and emotion
eductionism, avoiding
thnography and qualitative
efugee camps
lational justice
elational Self, The
lationship needs
black, emerging psychologies
sychology of
ligious location
ligious self, forming
and se
and spirit
womanist p
sychology of
igion, Theology and Class
ligious Education Association
ligious location
plurality in
ligious pluralism
ligious plurality
religious practices
ican American/black
and the brain
and comm
unity living
hnography and qualitative research
bridity in
tive theory
and neur
eligious privilege
ender Unto God
esident Aliens
(Hauerwas and
everse transubstantiation
vised correlation method, and social
ieger, Joerg
aughn, Bruce
Rohr, Eli
zeboom, William
Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes
h, Hanim
hacter, Daniel
haren, Christian
heib, Karen
hipani, Daniel
Schlosser, Lewis
hreiter, Robert
lective memory
elfpsychological theory
tic memory
and het
and raci
xuality, and religion
verting sexuality through religion
red Parish, A
n Copeland, M.
ard, Phillis
Shilo, Dudu
aneous coconstruction
bian identity
ast life
sinful b
sinful p
IPCC (Society for Intercultural
Pastoral Care and Counseling)
Smith, Ar
Smith, J
ames K. A.
Smith, T
, Timothy
cial brain
cial class inequalities
structure; class struggle
social context
orical and geographical
cial equality
cial Gospel
cial imaginaries
cial inequality
cial justice
ersectionality and power
cial justice education (SJE)
cial oppression
cial witness
cialist movements
ciety for Intercultural Pastoral Care
and Counseling (SIPCC)
ciety of Pastoral Theology
an Juan study conference (2007)
udy Group on Religious Practices
and Pastoral Research at
orajjakool, Siroj
h Africa
hern Baptist Convention
oviet Union, collapse of
in Africa
and practic
e of pastoral care and
ak, Gayatri Chakravorty
” patients
tewart, Dianne
ewart, Marla
oddart, Eric
udy Group on Religious Practices
and Pastoral Research, Society
for Pastoral Theology
ern, voice
ted knowledge
irtharajah, R. S.
suicide b
inam (South America)
inton, John
Tal, Ohad
ylor, Charles
ling Our Stories in Ways that Make
Us Stronger
(Wingard and
emporal lobes, brain
ure of God
pastoral theology
practical theology
en, versus lived practice
ologically motivated qualitative
st values
ory of mind
k description
ing and feeling
ree Eyes for the Journey
n approaches
ump, Donald
h, multiplicity of
(Southern African
nited Kingdom
black women in
and Ecc
lesiology and Ethnography
eration theology
womanist p
astoral theologizing
ed Methodist Church
ed States
see also specific American
black lesbians, in New York
eep South
Jim Cr
ow laws
ean immigrants
middle cl
asses, decline of
te to progressive
congregations in
thical norm
effect on African
urosciences and pastoral
w Deal, opposition to
sidential campaigning of
eligious privilege
ruling c
cond Gilded Age
gregated worship, history
hared parish,” in Catholic
ocial Christianity, during Industrial
urinam (South America)
ing classes
voice of subaltern, space for
Waldenfels, Bernhard
Waldman, Mar
er, Alice
on, Heather
on, Martin
War of Inde
pendence (1948)
d, Pete
We A
re Not All Victims
ber, Lynn
ems, Renita
sley, John
st, Mona
When C
hrist’s Body is Broken
ehead, Jason
ing the Horizons
tevenson, Natalie
eyesinghe, Charmaine
y, Christine
leyBlackwell Companion to
Practical Theology
uck, Susan
ams, Daniel Day
ams, Delores
erly, Anne Streaty
erly, Edward
ard, Barbara
winners and lo
womanist p
astoral epistemological
claims and aims
womanist p
astoral ethics
and emergent being
and int
st pastoral theology
see a
black women, religious
experience of; lesbian identity
black and white feminist
ase study (Karen)
ersectionality and black
women’sreligious experience
eligious self, forming
womanist p
astoral theologizing
nist Pastoral Theology against
Intimate and Cultural Violence,
womanist p
sychology of religion
women, ordina
ace stresses
ld Council of Churches
world r
The W
riting conventions
Yad Vashem
, Iris Marion
Zimbabwe (East Africa)
, Michael
Pastoral Theology andCare: Critical Trajectories inTheory andPractice
First Edition. Edited by Nancy J. Ramsay.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Pastoral Theology andCare: Critical Trajectories inTheory andPractice
First Edition. Edited by Nancy J. Ramsay.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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