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Systematic Theology at the Grassroots – an Oxymoron or a Way to the Future? A Story of Combining Anthropological Methods and a Systematic Theological Approach*

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Abstract This study explores the challenges and possibilities of using anthropological research methods in constructive systematic theology and ethics. This analysis is approached through a discussion of the methodological choices that the author has made in conducting her PhD research in an area that lacks the sources that are traditionally affiliated with systematic theology, written texts and documents. Aligning with a liberation theological call for listening to the voice of grassroots communities that may offer academia and society insights into promoting social justice, this study suggests that a gap that still exists between much of mainstream Western systematic theology and the liberation and postcolonial paradigms should be replaced by a critical, constructive dialogue. It is argued that as the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, Western academia needs to recognize the epistemological and methodological insights of theologians from the South. This analysis then continues to discuss the agency of a researcher who collects her or his data in the midst of a living community. In agreement with scholars such as Said and Appiah, this study highlights the subjective nature of any research and the need for the researcher to be aware of the factors that influence his or her perception. On a more practical level, the concepts of the Praxis Cycle and Grounded Theory as frameworks are introduced and demonstrated that these are of help in creating a functional way of combining anthropological and systematic theological approaches in order to do theology from below.

Affiliations: 1: University of Helsinki Finland


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