Scientific fusion in integrative organisational praxis

Herewith a brief about a project grant that I applied for with the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust in late 2015. While the award was granted to another deserving project I keep this overview in tact.  If needed the project can be adapted. It conveys my research interest, some academic articles, and a document with select personal and corporate training programmes that were relevant for the particular year. This will put my esteemed colleague in a position to know something about what is on my heart as a theologian and more specifically as a practical theologian.

It is through the project that I refer to as integrative organisational praxis’ that I develop the notion of facilitative practical theology. Considering Wentzel van Huyssteen’s work on the dialogue between science and religion, this project involves the dialogue between theology and organisations. It is however also an exploration in practice that conceptualises facilitation as an expression of postfoundational and transversal perspectives among other methodological approaches from postgraduate participants..

Broadly interdisciplinary

The project is ‘integrative’ in separating it from the tradition of ‘integral’ approaches for the time being. It integrates cross-professional practice with, broadly defined interdisciplinary endeavors. The concept of fusion is for instance one that formally appears in natural sciences and it raises questions about our ideals for doing interdisciplinary work and what it produces. Other conceptualisations of fusion comes from the arts (particularly music and culinary descriptions) A quick and easy read on fusion (for creating energy) can be found here. It also stems from philosophy and some pastoral theologian’s work that you will be known to you in terms of a fusion of horisons. In facilitation language we would say that we want to move from interdisciplinary autocracy (perspectives that position one discipline over the other as authoritative voice among peers), to democracy (mutual democratic participation), to co-operacy where our horisons surely fuse. This seems to be a more plausible ideal in what is formally known as ‘mode 2’ knowledge production but that kind potential can only be realised if one can adequately address organisational and bureaucratic hierarchies and deconstructing traditional modes of knowledge production.

Part of the idea therefore is to systematically engage in conversation with some of the larger branches of science. This would for instance include from life sciences to humanities and beyond, to explore overlap of interest and inquiry about shared epistemic values while maintaining the focus on organisations. The process is also reflective in that, even with concepts that might not directly relate to practical theology it calls for reflection on the role of practical theology (practical theologian with his or her story) as the discipline/person facilitating. In this, for the actual facilitative role, as well as the discipline decentralising practices are followed so as to not succumb to discourses that posit theologian’s as the knowing experts about God, or organisations for that matter.

Design considerations

[one_third]For this proposal I could not afford to follow a known methodology since I want to work with the established (and future) postgraduate group who does some of the research. Their research will be situated differently, some following postfoundational perspectives while others follow (depending on the theme) approaches akin to that of Johannes van der Ven. It is therefore broadly situated in exploratory, emergent designs while relying on basic network chain referral. It does attempt however to map some important concerns and considerations of the various formal industries in corporate South Africa in relation to theology.
Since I will be involving postgraduate students I asked them to participate. I also know that some of my colleagues (if contacted and where relevant) will be asked about my relationship to the students. Hopefully this document shows relevant engagement. I purposefully try not to lecture or supervise in the traditional mode of delivery. This also, is an exercise in facilitation.
[gview file=””]

Specifically organisational, uniquely practical theological

While any practical theologian can write about the organisational space (economy and more) this is different in the sense that I am building and intentional scientific and practitioner community around it and focus almost exclusively on the organisational context. I am also not aware of anyone internationally that advances facilitation as a key metaphor in science and theology. Apart from being a key metaphor, the argument is that for long term change and sustainable development to take place we have to move beyond advocacy (on behalf of) and towards facilitation (though the prior can be part of the latter). In this mode of research, activist and political advocacy, critical societal research and so on is not quite the same as when putting the emphasis on and doing facilitative work.

Reflection still needed

A great deal of my own reflection on the organisational space still needs to be expressed in writing but that is exactly what my students are helping me with. See for instance one of my students’ videos below the articles. I also host a number programmes, restarting some again in view of this research project, during which I meet organisational stakeholders to further explore the interplay between theology and organisations. The document below on said programmes in 2016 will give an indication of my interest and the spaces I create in which to also reflect academically. One of the quaterly events is closely associated with my postgraduate group where we engage with a diverse audience on a really wide variety of topics from Reverse Engineering the Future (that I presented at the Da Vinci institute for management leadership), to juxtaposing workplace spirituality with artificial intelligence, to doing facilitative-learning around the arts in narrative practice and organisational employee assistance programmes.

Current research themes (not titles)

Typical research themes of my postgraduate students revolve around:
• The corporate chaplain’s role in the multidisciplinary team (A, Bester)
• Spirituality in the contemporary hospitality industry (C, Meletiou)
• Stories of the experience of love or the absence thereof in the mining sector (S, Moruthane)
• An inquiry into the spirituality of strategy processes (L, Songca)
• A narrative approach to work-life balance (P, Visser)
• A critical evaluation of pre-modern, modern, and postmodern knowledge production (P, de Villiers)
• Teal organisations in the South African context (P, Smit)
• The viability of theological education (J, van Biljon)
• Genade-stories in die werkplek [Stories of grace in the workplace] (G, Slabbert)
• Die problematiek van Christen leiers in die sakewêreld [The concerns with and challlenges of Christian leaders in the business world] (R, Esterhuyse)
• Religion and spirituality in the healthcare industry (R, Steenkamp)
• Executive challenges and deconstruction (F, Human)

Selected articles

Since one of the main concerns is the development of facilitative practical theology, herewith some of my academic articles that broadly relate. They should be view-able with a standard internet connection or otherwise can be downloaded.

[tab title=”Article 1″]
[gview file=”üller-story_vsmall.pdf”]
[tab title=”Article 2″]
[gview file=””]
[tab title=”Article 3″]
[gview file=””]
[tab title=”Article 4″]
[gview file=””]
[tab title=”Article 5″]
[gview file=””]

Spirituality and the contemporary hospitality industry

Herewith a video on the ‘Mask of Hospitality’ produced by one of my PhD students. With her research she focused on the hospitality industry and participants’ experience and understanding of workplace spirituality. Following a narrative methodology the video is part of her interpretation of the co-researchers stories. It is therefore not an outcome as much as it is taking part in the conversation with participants (as co-researchers).


Programmes for 2016

The programmes mentioned reflect my interests in the field. Some are standing programmes while others are pursued for the sake of this application.
[gview file=””]

Programme description

Please find below a related account of the project description. It contains a process schematic and more articulation of what is aimed at.
[gview file=””]
Thank you for your time and consideration. I do appreciate it. You are welcome to raise questions, critique or make comments (below or in other ways).