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29 May 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Pexels
Prof Melanie Walker
Fostering human capabilities in universities may potentially transform education, says Prof Melanie Walker.

Education is at the centre of human life, and has the potential to be a crucial support for democratic life. Prof Melanie Walker’s recent research paper strikes a balance in dealing with people, education and the implications for democracy through the lens of human capabilities theory and practice and her own research.

People and papers

In her capacity as the SARChI Chair in the Higher Education and Human Development Research Programme at the University of the Free State (UFS), Prof Walker recently published a paper titled: Defending the Need for a Foundational Epistemic Capability in Education. It appeared in the special issue of the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities in honour of renowned Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s 85th birthday.

Nurturing epistemic justice

Within the context of existing literature such as that of Sen’s concern with the value of education on the one hand, and public reasoning on the other, Prof Walker argues for a foundational epistemic capability to shape the formal education landscape – as well as quality in education – by fostering inclusive public reasoning (including critical thinking) in all students. It would contribute to what Sen calls the ‘protective power of democracy’ and shared democratic rights, which, he argues, are strongly missed when most needed.

“Sen’s approach asks us to build democratic practices in our university and in our society in ways which create capabilities for everyone. If our students learn public reasoning in all sorts of spaces in university, including the pedagogical, they may carry this into and back to society,” she said.

Educating for equality

Empowering society and fighting for justice are some of the crucial contributions made possible through fostering the epistemic capability of all students. “The capability requires that each student is recognised as both a knower and teller, a receiver and a contributor in critical meaning and knowledge, and an epistemic agent in processes of learning and critical thinking,” states Prof Walker.

In a young democracy like South Africa’s, inclusive public reasoning becomes all the more essential in order to achieve equality, uphold rights and sustain democracy as enshrined in the constitution, thereby improving people’s lives. 

News Archive

‘Sola Scriptura’ — Does Scripture still reign as authority?
2017-02-21

Description: Theology Open Day Tags: Theology Open Day

Thania Labuschagne, Nico Oosthuizen, and
Suthea van der Westhuizen.
Photo: Supplied


Reformation 500: Sola Scriptura [scriptural authority] and contemporary conflicts of interpretation was the theme for the Faculty of Theology and Religion’s official opening and annual Open Day on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS). The faculty was recently renamed to be more inclusive of other denominations, as well as to be sensitive to the impact religion has on society, both in the past and presently.

In his welcoming address to first-year students, Prof Fanie Snyman, Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, said, “I hope that you indulge in the theological dish served to you, and that it will create in you a deep hunger to know more.”

One first-year, Neo Kgaje, had this to say, “I first wanted to do Archaeology, but then I decided to follow my calling as a missionary and study Theology. I would like to serve in my own community in Botshabelo.”

Thania Labuschagne, former chairperson of the Sola Gratia student association, said, “The annual opening is always very special for me. We become part of a family here.” Her message for first-years was, “Maintain your passion for what you do. Make sure of your calling, and everything else will fall into place.”

Prizes awarded
Prizes were awarded to several students who excelled in the previous year. The best third-year student in 2016 was Suthea van der Westhuizen; best fourth-year BTh student, Thania Labuschagne; and Nico Oosthuizen was recognised as the best Master of Divinity in the fifth year.

The Director of Shepherd Centre for spiritual leaders, Dr Gerhard Botha, awarded certificates for the completion of a 9-module short learning programme presented by the centre.

"May you hunger to know more"—
Prof Fanie Snyman, Dean of the
Faculty of Theology and Religion

Current affairs addressed through scriptural analysis
While acknowledging that the debates around the authority of Scripture are complex and not easily resolved, Prof Hendrik Bosman from the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU) argued that it is an indispensable precept of Christian theology. However, it can no longer be taken as a given, since the authority of Scripture is increasingly vulnerable. He said, “Sceptic academics and critical theologians are challenging the more traditional ways of accepting the authority of Scripture.”

Prof Bosman highlighted the negative impact that certain claims of scriptural authority have had on the marginalised and vulnerable groups in society — “the suffering endured by people of colour, Jews, the LGBTQI community, and women due to prejudice and hatred. … [When reading the Bible], one must also be held accountable by the marginalised and the vulnerable in society.”

Prof Juliana Claassens (Faculty of Theology, SU) presented Beyond Revenge: Responsible Bible Reading Practices in a Traumatised Land. “As a community of believers who hold dear the principle of Sola Scriptura, what do we do with texts that revel in the downfall of the enemy and propagate revenge as a viable solution to the hurt and pain people are experiencing?”

Prof Claassens continued, “This question is particularly relevant given the deep wounds that many in this beautiful country of ours carry. … There is thus a real danger that expressions of violence survive and grow ever stronger with each utterance, until the violent ideas they propagate are considered to be normal.” Her recommendation? “Foster communities of care, focused on breaking down walls, instead of erecting them.”

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