IAM once again bore witness to how transformational a constructive, intentional engagement with ‘space’ can be during our annual engagement with the Gender Unit Conference and the Master of Divinity Students at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. 

Master of Divinity Workshop

IAM has partnered with the Masters students at Stellenbosch University since 2006, and we were privileged to continue this journey with the class of 2024. Our two-day workshop formed part of a module aimed at the formation of Christian diaconal leaders within a congregational context. This includes the development of human potential in neighbourhoods exposed to chronic poverty, the cultivation of sensitivity for diversity regarding gender and sexuality, and the nature and implications of current children and youth culture. 

This year we placed a particular emphasis on creating a dialogue space that is enabling, participatory, inclusive, and liberating. Students were invited to co-create their classroom space, which was met with gratitude, as one of the students’ remarked: 

“It was not a gay debate, it was a gay dialogue, and having people who are gay truly changes the atmosphere of how we speak about this reality especially concerning how our classes have previously played out. So thank you for showing us that such a productive dialogue is possible. This definitely will be one of the few best memories I’ll keep from the faculty. I feel educated and curious to learn more.” 

Another student noted, 

“The workshop equips students in a way that the theory of the academics and the discussion in class could not.” 

Claiming Space Conference

Leading up to our workshop we also had the opportunity to engage with students and scholars during the annual interdisciplinary conference hosted by the  Gender Unit. The theme for this year’s conference, in collaboration with The Ujamaa Center for Biblical and Theological Community Development and Research, University of KwaZulu-Natal, was Claiming Space: Exploring Gender, Sexuality, and Economics in the Bible and Beyond. 

The conference explored the intersections between gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and economics that exist both in biblical texts as well as in contemporary communities. It drew on various conceptions of ‘space’ such as invited space, which is carefully curated by those in power; invigorated space, which sees marginalized entities contend for space within invited space; and invented space, the transformation of such spaces in which the marginalized can exert control.

IAM staff members, Thuli Mjwara and Louis van der Riet, together with former IAM staff member Hanzline Davids, also took part in the book launch of Queering the Prophet: On Jonah, and Other Activists (SCM Press, 2023). This edited volume contains a chapter with contributions by Thuli, Louis, Hanzline, and Ashwin Thyssen. 

Louis van der Riet and Charlene van der Walt also presented on the creation of a Queer Narrative Archive, probing into what we can learn from this method of “claiming space” for queer voices. 

For questions or comments about how IAM works toward creating transforming dialogue space in faith communities, contact Louis van der Riet (louis@iam.org.za)