For postgraduate Religious Studies I presented a host of thesis proposals to my professor. My hope was to pin down what it was that I really wanted to write on and what I wished to explore in detail. Some readers of this blog might know that I’ve written on religious apologetics and a wide array of topics related to apologetics for a few years now, and, as such, I thought I could use this information by feeding it into my dissertation.
I intend my dissertation to be phenomenological study focusing on the state of Christian apologetics within South Africa. I’ve chosen South Africa for several reasons. Obviously, it’s where I live, and thus where I could engage in important research, research on which to make valuable commentary. And perhaps even more importantly, is that apologetics is largely unexplored here in the way it has been explored in places such as America and England. My professor and I both agreed that this was an opportunity to explore uncharted territory.
It’s clear from my reading of the literature that the religious intellectual climate is thriving in the US especially where apologetics is concerned. Religious believers in the US, living within a secular society in which alternative and dichotomous ideologies are at play, find themselves having to defend the truth of their religions, as well as having to provide good reasons as to why one ought to adopt belief in a religion. Unsurprising it is then that within this milieu Christian apologetics has flourished. Books on the topic are being sold, shelves are populated, and people realize the need to provide a rational defense of their Christian faith.
The realization has been far reaching, cascading into debate forums, seminars, and conferences. Over in the US and England, there has been no shortage of high profile debates between skeptics and believers alike. The likes of William Craig, Frank Turek, John Lennox (and many others) would ring a bell to those familiar. This need to provide rational defense of faith has also cascaded elsewhere, as into online mediums of apologetic ministries, social groups, pages, and the work of many others who have attempted to specialize in this sort of thing.
If apologetics could perhaps be measured in its efficacy and presence, the likes of the US and England would be shown to be miles ahead of others.
One of these other places is South Africa. South Africa has a higher Christian population than America and England (by way of public adherence which stands over 80%), yet this is no way has translated into any meaningful presence of apologetics. As one might suspect, there are reasons for this, and these I will be exploring in my dissertation.
My one suspicion at this point is that religious believers over here haven’t felt the rear end of the secular and skeptical stick that their fellow believers in the US and England have. The perceived challenges to faith through the controversies of intelligent design, evolutionary theory, the separation of church and state, religious freedom, and other topics, have had a much longer and far more pronounced historical development in those places than they have ever had (or will probably ever have) within South Africa. What’s the result of this lack of motive? The result is that if one were to go to South African churches the overwhelming majority in the pews would not be able to name a single argument (historical or present) for God’s existence, or show any awareness of an evidential basis for why they believe what they do.
In my own experience I can attest to the fact that apologetics does exist within South Africa. I’ve been a member of certain groups, visited certain places, and attended some conferences, but by in large these are unusual activities evidently far removed from the spiritual lives of the religious, or at least far removed from most of them.
This has further translated into a lack of notable South African scholars who represent the Christian faith intellectually. There are a handful of them, but they’re mostly unknown beyond the specialized fields of their expertise. Again, it’s a different beast in America as within a second or two I could personally name numerous Christian scientists and philosophers. I live in South Africa, and I can barely name one. Fortunately, South Africa can sometimes make up for this due to it being a relatively popular destination for prominent apologists to visit. When I was part of Ratio Christi, there were efforts to have the notable William Lane Craig visit, probably to give a speech or engage in a debate. As such, Craig had visited before, as has John Lennox (on several occasions), Frank Turek, and Josh McDowell. This should be appreciated and emulated, but none of these men are our own professional apologists. South Africa tends to produce no such person.
My dissertation will look at these themes, and it intends to be even more specific. As is normally the case for a thesis, one has to engage in a literature review. There I intend to be far more broad in my treatment of apologetics within the South African context, providing a big picture (if such a picture is at all possible) of its existence here. I then intend to narrow my research down into resurrection apologetics specifically, which involves those arguments Christians have used to establish the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. How, for example, have locals understood this data? How has it been presented in churches and the books penned by South African religious thinkers, theologians, and philosophers?
My professor and I agreed that me venturing here would be into the realm of uncharted seas, a place where little research, if any, has been previously done, which can admittedly be of some intimidation to the student of religion such as myself. But it too presents an enormous opportunity, an opportunity to make valuable commentary on a much neglected topic within this country.