Center for Public Theology Transforming Hope into Reality

What is “Public Theology”?

Theology is a unique discipline with the ability to unite aspects of academic learning and practical, social development in order to engage with the challenges faced by modern society.

Rather than remaining hidden behind academic walls, public theology purposefully seeks to share and offer its insights within the broader community’s discussion on social development and interdisciplinary issues.

The CPT does this by taking both a global and a local approach. On the one hand, it draws on the historical insights developed within a 3,000-year-old global community of faith. On the other hand, it locates its own discussion within the context of issues facing Asian communities, particularly in Taiwan.

Why Public Theology?

Over the last decade there has been a growing global interest in the role and influence of religion and religious organizations on political and social structures. Unfortunately, much of that attention has been negative, focussing on the serious and real abuses of religious extremism and fundamentalism. Sadly, this negative concentration overshadows the long and supportive role played by many religious groups, especially Christians, in the positive development of culture, both in the West and in Asia.

In the West, it has long been recognized that various Christian figures and traditions, as well as the study of Christian thought, have played an important role in the promotion of a more supportive and beneficial society (e.g. in the development of democratic political structures and the defense of human rights). Yet Christian theology has also played an important role in the development and growth of a number of Asian cultures, especially in Taiwan. Yet while Christian institutions, churches and academies have had a growing influence on national and international politics, few research centers in this region have focussed on the best ways to make use of those theological resources, or on ways to apply theological insights in the development of more just and equitable social policies.

What do theology and social development have to do with each other?

Christians believe that the one God of the Christian faith is also the God of all creation and history. For this reason, theology can never be satisfied with a division between theological work and the broader world — or between academic theology and society. The Christian faith, in its belief in the one God of all creation, challenges Christian communities to engage theologically with created and especially human life in all its aspects — political, economic, legal, social, and environmental. Following in the footsteps of the historical Jesus theology must engage critically with the public sphere for the benefit of public life, and for the benefit of the church itself. Thus the role of the center is to focus on advancing local, interdisciplinary as well as international (though primarily Asian) partnerships and academic research that

  • promotes the development of a theological perspective on social issues, especially those issues affecting the poor and marginalized; and
  • develops methods for the practical implementation of the results of such research and collaboration.

Why launch the CPT in Taiwan?

A number of research institutions and universities around the world are already involved in the work of public theology.

Despite its small size, the Christian community in Taiwan already has a long history of making important contributions to the development and construction of Taiwanese society and nationhood. While centers for public theology in other countries are often in contexts where Christianity is a majority or significantly sized community, Taiwan is unique in that it offers a public theology perspective in a developing country with a minority Christian community (only 4.5% of the population). This means that the character of our work and the challenges that we face are unlike those in many other nations.

The Directorate for Human Rights and Public Policy

In order to concentrate the research capabilities of its staff, the Center for Public Theology is organized into a number of directorates, based on thematic areas of interest.

The number of directorates is expected to grow as new researchers and fellows join the CPT.

At the moment, the CPT is launching with the Directorate for Human Rights and Public Policy, which is focussed on theological and religious bases to rights development, political democratization and the processes behind the structure of public policy. The Directorate for Human Rights and Public Policy gathers together research focussed on rights development as well as historical analyses of human rights from a theological perspective. It also seeks to promote studies on church involvement in democratization processes and social development, particularly in regions classified as new or growing democracies.