IAM at 25: Learning institutions reflect on their work with IAM (Professor Sarojini Nadar)

IAM’s partnerships with learning institutions over the last 25 years have been an integral part of the way that we work and how we have evolved as an organisation. We reached out to a number of the partners we’ve worked with over the years and asked them to reflect on our work together and the impact that it has had in their work.

Professor Sarojini Nadar holds the Desmond Tutu Research Chair in Religion and Social Justice at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and previously headed up the Gender and Religion program at the University of KwaZulu‐Natal for over a decade. In both of these roles, she has worked with the IAM team in various capacities.

IAM has worked with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice primarily in the thematic focus area of religion and gender, which seeks to foster critical research and civic engagement that actively challenge the intersecting and systemic powers that produce and maintain the marginalisation and oppression of those who identify as female and queer. 

“Our partnership with IAM has enabled us to host public dialogues and lectures with international and leading scholars of gender and religion, such as Professor Adriaan van Klinken, University of Leeds. In a key event titled, “Religion, Sexuality, Art and Activism” The Centre and IAM co-convened a panel discussion to engage in a critical conversation around religion, sexuality, and activism in South Africa. The event aimed to “support and empower the LGBTI community… to stimulate dialogue in building welcoming, affirming and inclusive faith communities.” The panel, facilitated by Megan Robertson (UWC PhD Student), included IAM program staff (Rev Michelle Boonzaaier, Rev Hanzline Davids, Mx Thuli Mjwara) who are doing research on developing resources, training, and contextual Bible readings on human sexuality. They discussed why an organisation like IAM exists in South Africa, as well as some of the challenges of working in religious settings which are influenced by dynamics of race, culture, and gender. Through events such as this we are able to bring academic work to bear on activist work and vice versa in a meaningful public conversation.

Megan Robertson

Megan Robertson

In addition to IAM’s partnership with UWC and the Centre on public events, Prof Nadar reflected on the importance of IAM’s direct support for UWC PhD student, Megan Robertson.

“Apart from the benefits of having IAM partner with us in our public engagement, IAM also supported a PhD student, Megan Robertson, who graduated in 2020. The scholarship provided to support Megan was invaluable for her fieldwork as well as enabling her to participate meaningfully in conferences and seminars. 

Her dissertation, “Called and Queer: Exploring the lived experiences of queer clergy in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa” was the first PhD thesis devoted to the study of queer clergy in South Africa, and Africa as a whole. As such, this study made an original and innovative contribution to the body of work on religion and sexuality. In her research, Megan focused on the lived experiences of clergy who identify variously as LGBT, in the ‘church of Mandela,’ the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Much of the existing work that exists on the subject shows Africa as a continent in which religion fuels homophobia. By focusing on the actual lived experiences of queer clergy, Robertson’s research tells a different and more complex story. This story goes beyond phobia to show how queer clergy negotiate multiple forms of power in their daily engagement with church and society. The originality of this study lies not just in its content but in its theoretical sophistication and methodological rigour. Megan Robertson produced what is sure to become a major reference work in the field. The importance of IAM’s support in this work cannot be overestimated, especially in contexts where Africa is portrayed as irredeemably queer-phobic.”