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Otago University to house theological think tank

By Marie Sherry

The Otago-Southland synod of the Presbyterian Church has granted $150,000 to the University of Otago to help establish a Centre for the Study of Theology and Public Issues.

The university’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies is seeking donations of $1 million to establish the centre, which will be part of the university’s Leading Thinkers’ advancement programme. All donations will be matched by government funding on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Professor Ivor Davidson hopes to have the centre established within 18 months or two years, but said it all depends on the fundraising.

The department believes public perspectives offered by the theological disciplines largely go unheard. However, these theological disciplines have a significant and distinctive contribution to make to a whole range of issues in society, including poverty, unemployment, peace and justice, the environment, politics, law and order, as well as expressly religious questions.

“Our hope is that it will take some of the issues that theologians are talking about into the wider community. Theology in New Zealand isn’t always heard in that kind of way,” Ivor says.

These contributions would involve historical and sociological as well as theological and ethical analysis and comment. The centre’s activities would include research and research publications, running conferences, seminars and other educational events, and media commentary.

The resulting research-informed perspectives will enrich public debate and hopefully benefit society, as well as of the churches. The centre will seek to have a national focus, attract research students, and be able to apply for research funding.

The centre will be run by a professorial director, who will be part of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and who will be involved in research and in the coordination of the activities of the centre. The director will be able to attract research students and research funds, and undertake some teaching.

Staff from across the University of Otago will be associated with the centre, as will staff from other universities, other tertiary institutions, the churches and other organisations with an interest in the centre’s activities.

Once established, it is hoped the centre will be able to attract further funding.

Any individuals or groups wishing to make a donation for the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Theology and Public Issues can contact the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Otago, phone (03) 479-8798.