International Perspectives on Research in Diaconia

Autorinnen: Dr. Megan Arndt und Johanna Schade

The international conference “International Perspectives on Research in Diaconia” was attended by 30 colleagues from 20 countries, representing all 6 continents at Heidelberg University. The Institute for the study of Diaconia (DWI) and the chair for Systematic Theology/Ethics had organized this conference which took place from June 9-11, 2022 at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, together with the Institute for Diaconic Studies and Diaconic Management of the University of Bielefeld (IDWM). For two years, the corona pandemic has postponed this conference and finally the majority of the 30 colleagues could actually travel to Heidelberg in June 2022.

The aim of the conference was to create a basis for international exchange for scholars in the field of diaconal studies on issues of theological conceptions of diaconia. Therefore, these conceptions were discussed along with their leading theological questions, their theoretical and cultural references, their implications concerning the societal frame of diaconia, its relations to the church and to the state as well as the dominant organizational forms they consider.

Program and results of the conference

The program contained four thematical sections: “structures and frame conditions of diaconical organisation”, “Societal and cultural background of diaconia”, “Diaconia engaged in societal transformation”, and “theology as a scientific discipline of diaconia”. Overall, there was wide agreement among the participants that the conference was an important enrichment for the perspective on diaconia in the respective national contexts. Despite the strong differences in tradition, culture, piety and demography, some broad lines could be identified that may be relevant for international diaconia studies. The consideration of many perspectives is helpful for developing a theology of diaconia, reflecting the following questions: What is the function of our theology? Are we helping people who are in need? Is it an option for the poor? Is it mission to or with the gentiles? Do we listen to the people as a starting point for theology of diaconia and how do we do that? The question of the degree of collaboration between church and diaconia was discussed controversially: Some demanded a closer cooperation; others highlighted the advantages of the independency of organized diaconia for forming new communities of faith or of diaconia as an original way of being church. The function and the starting point of diaconical theology are open questions.  The difficulties to find one definition of „diaconia“ that got obvious throughout the conference, is not just a conceptual difficulty but congruent to the wide range of diaconia in practice. To leave something indefinite in the term „diaconia“ could be an adequate definition that also allows to link to this concept to different contexts. Theology of diaconia can have the task to reflect values in practice – values that are found in the broad varieties of empiric diaconia. The conference contributions will be published in a book in a renowned international publishing house in 2023.

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