Professor Julie Claassens is a Professor of the Old Testament in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Stellenboch. Her work at the university explores the intersection of theology and issues around gender, race, sexual orientation, amongst others. Though IAM has been active with the University of Stellenbosch’s Masters of Divinity program since 2006, Prof Claasens was first connected to IAM in 2012 when the University received a grant to start a Masters in Gender and Health.
The Masters of Divinity program is focused on training in contextual ministry, for pastors before they go out to the field. It has evolved to include a four-week block focused on church and society, with two of those weeks focused specifically on gender. As part of the course, IAM leads a practical, hands-on three-day workshop facilitating students to bridge the gap between theory and practice – to deconstruct their own thinking on the intersection between gender, culture, and popular religion, as well as how they can bring this understanding of diversity and inclusivity into their future congregations.
“I’ve found over the years that students are very positive about what IAM brings to this course, they feel that it’s very practical. IAM helps them to have a larger understanding of diversity in terms of sexual minorities but also in terms of gender, race, class, and disability. Because they are very much aware that they are going into communities, often rural communities that are very conservative, this work with IAM helps them to understand how they can raise some of these issues more constructively. After five years with us, the students are very open and affirming in terms of their view also of diversity and have started to think about how they will get their local congregations to be more tolerant, and how they can help them really engage with diversity.”
IAM has also partnered with Professor Claassens and the University of Stellenbosch team on events such as panel discussions, conferences, and their gender unit’s movie night where films like Kanarie and Rafiki are screened and paired with a moderated discussion. She says “it’s wonderful for me to work with IAM, they help us make a bridge to the communities. Their involvement helps us contextual Bible theologians ground our work in the context. They help us remember that the context is important, that what we do in the classroom affects real people’s lives.”
“IAM is a very important partner for us. They play such an important role for us in the course. The students have studied for four or five years, they have knowledge, they have skills, but the work with IAM really helps them to think how they will live these lessons out in the communities which they go in to.”