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Using theological action research to embed Catholic social teaching in a Catholic development agency: abseiling on the road to Emmaus

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posted on 2023-08-30, 14:10 authored by Susanna Brouard
Little has been written on the pedagogy of Catholic Social Teaching and how to teach it in a way that encourages a living out of its main principles. Working for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), I was interested in how staff of diverse faith backgrounds might be encouraged to live out, in their work, the espoused values of the organisation, rooted as they are in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. My research question asked how effective Theological Action Research is in enabling CAFOD staff to interpret, embed and embody CAFOD’s values in their work. As an insider-researcher, I set up a research project called Reflecting on Values and invited 12 members of staff, from three different parts of the organisation, to conduct their own research on one of CAFOD’s values in conversation with their practice. Theological Action Research was both the research methodology and a tool under investigation. My findings were threefold. First, Theological Action Research revealed itself to be a strong tool of adult theological education, which allowed CAFOD staff to interpret, embed and embody CAFOD’s espoused values in their work. Second, the research process identified practices that enhanced the confidence and competence of staff in ecclesiology, in religious and faith language, and in theological reflection. Third, the data revealed an operant Eucharistic theology rooted in CAFOD’s practice of responding to poverty and injustice pastorally, politically, and in partnership. The research is original in that it demonstrates how CAFOD’s practices embody Catholic Social Teaching and can contribute to its development. It also offers the first systematic evaluation of Theological Action Research as a tool for adult theological education which is rooted in both theory and practice. The findings affirm the importance of allowing space for theological reflection within CAFOD, and that for this organisation, the practice of theological reflection is an essential dimension of living out its Catholic identity.



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