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Strong transformational focus at faculty opening, celebrating 40 years

Transformation and inclusivity were at the forefront during the annual opening of the Faculty of Theology and Religion. Although the faculty is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2020, its leadership and academics are not resting on their laurels when it comes to making changes that will have an impact on the broader society and even their local communities.

On Monday 3 February, Prof Rantoa Letosa, Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, welcomed new and returning students, together with staff, supporters, and alumni to the Dutch Reformed Church Universitas' Faith Centre (NG Geloofsentrum). He informed the audience that the Faculty of Theology was instituted 40 years ago on 4 February 1980 as a partnership between the Dutch Reformed Church in the Free State and the then University of the Orange Free State. Later that year, on 17 August 1980, the first ministers from the faculty were ordained in the NG Geloofsentrum Universitas the very same venue where they were gathered to commemorate this historic event. Although the faculty initially offered only a postgraduate degree, it quickly grew in stature to provide a full academic offering, including a Bachelor of Divinity (BDiv), MDiv, PhD, and a Higher Certificate in Theology.

Transformation milestones

Prof Letosa took the audience back to 1997, when the first black full-time lecturer was appointed. From there, the BDiv was introduced in 2000. Subsequent to that, a new agreement was reached between the Dutch Reformed Church and the UFS in 2003, which allowed for a wider range of clients from different denominations across Southern Africa and the rest of the continent to be served. In 2007, the first female full-time lecturer was appointed in the faculty. Starting in 2012, the faculty delved into the meaning of transformation in epistemology, or the theory of knowledge versus belief.

The faculty was officially renamed the Faculty of Theology and Religion on 1 January 2017, and departments within the faculty were rearranged and the curricula revised, further indicating the commitment to a wider target audience. This has led to the faculty enjoying the highest number of first-year enrolments in its 40-year lifespan in 2020. Finally, in addition to publishing its annual peer-reviewed academic journal, Acta Theologica, a publication titled 4IR and Theology will be released later this year.

Continuous change needed

Both Prof Letosa and subsequent speakers emphasised the changes that have taken place and must continue to take place. One such change is the inception of a multi-denominational advisory board which guides the faculty leadership.

During his scripture reading and sermon, Rev Dintoe Letloenyane, Bishop of the Diocese of the Free State for the Anglican Church and a UFS alumnus himself, told the congregation that one's degree must be worth something in the community and society in which one lives. But he counselled: Forty years of great work and great transformation does not yet mean that we have arrived.

The two guest speakers likewise cited issues of transformation. Both cautioned against the commercialisation of the gospel and exploitation of afflicted ones. Prof Derrick Mashau, Chair of Christian Spirituality, Church History, and Missiology (UNISA), said that theology should propel the transformation agenda and drive change. Referring to Christ's ransom sacrifice, he said that deep-seated changes require a different approach: You cannot carry out fundamental changes without a certain amount of 'madness'.

Prof Takatso Mofokeng, Emeritus Professor: Philosophy, Practical and Systematic Theology (UNISA), said that his ministry had always been on behalf of the oppressed, stating that it is important to empathise with human suffering and consider how one can uplift the downtrodden. He exhorted the congregation to follow the example set by Christ, drawing everyone into God's family as a community of love.

Prof Letosa also gave thanks for the progress that has been made in the faculty in terms of transformation, not only as far as scholars and theologians is concerned, but in the faculty management as well.

Source: University of the Free State

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