Original Research - Special Collection: Practical Theology

Detecting God in practices: Theology in an empirical–theological research project

Rein Brouwer
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 66, No 2 | a805 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v66i2.805 | © 2010 Rein Brouwer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 February 2010 | Published: 19 November 2010

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Rein Brouwer, Protestant Theological University University of Pretoria, Netherlands

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What is the nature of reality in theological research and how can this ‘theological’ reality be known? Can we empirically research God’s performance in reality? This article tries to find some common ground on this contested issue by presenting a debate between three Dutch practical theologians: Van der Ven, Immink, and Ganzevoort. Their positions on the theological dimension of empirical reality are traced, followed by some thoughts on critical realism and on a ‘cataphysic’ approach to empirical theological research, inspired by the theologian Alister McGrath and the philosopher of science Roy Bhaskar. This results in three concluding remarks. Firstly, realisme and social constructionism are not excluding options. Social constructions presuppose the existence of reality. Secondly, a stratified model of reality, perceiving the nature of reality as emergent, layered, and complex, points in the direction of multidisciplinary discourses and helps to avoid forms of reductionism. Thirdly, prioritizing the ontology of a stratified reality that reflects revelation, creates a common ground for the debate on the nature of theological reality.


Critical realism; empirical theology; epistemology; methodology; ontology; research strategy


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