Discipline of Practical Theology

Prof Jaco S Dreyer

College of Human Sciences
School of Humanities
Department: Philosophy, Practical and Systematic Theology
Tel: +27 12 429 4023
E-mail: dreyejs@unisa.ac.za


  • D.Th. (University of South Africa) (1989);
  • B.A. (Hons.) (Psychology) (University of Pretoria) (1989);
  • Dipl. Theol. (University of Pretoria) (1985);
  • B.D. (University of Pretoria) (1984);
  • B.A. (University of Pretoria) (1981)

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Fields of academic interests

  • The development of a public practical theology
  • Approaches to practical theology
  • Practical theology in South Africa
  • Empirical research in theology
  • Spirituality and leadership
  • Critical hermeneutics
  • Religion and human rights

Field of Specialisation

  • Practical theology
  • Research methodology


  • 2004. Van der Ven, JA, Dreyer, JS & Pieterse, HJC. Is there a God of human rights?  The complex relationship between human rights and religion: A South African case.  Leiden: Brill.
  • 2002. Dreyer, JS & Van der Ven, JA (eds.) Divine Justice - Human Justice.  Pretoria: Research Institute for Theology and Religious Studies.
  • 1993. Dreyer, JS & Pieterse, HJC (eds.) Die moderne gemeente en haar funksionering/The dynamics of the modern church.  Pretoria: Verba Vitae.

Journal articles

Book chapters:

  • 2016. Knowledge, Subjectivity, (De)Coloniality, and the Conundrum of Reflexivity. In: Mercer, JA & Miller-McLemore, BJ (eds.) Conundrums in Practical Theology. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 90-109.
  • 2012. Practical theology in South Africa. In: Miller-McLemore, BJ (ed.) The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Practical Theology. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 505-514.
  • 2009. Do we live in a secular world? An African perspective.  In: Gräb, W & Charbonnier, L (eds.) Secularization Theories, Religious Identity and Practical Theology. Developing International Practical Theology for the 21st Century. Münster / Zürich: Lit Verlag, 35-62. (International Practical Theology, vol. 7.)
  • 2009. Establishing truth from participation and distanciation in empirical theology.  In: Francis, LJ, Robbins, M & Astley, J (eds.) Empirical Theology in Texts and Tables: quantitative, qualitative and comparative perspectives.  Leiden: Brill, 3-25.
  • 2007. Participation and distanciation in the study of religion.  In:  Heimbrock, H.-G. & Scholtz, C.P. (eds.) Religion: Immediate experience and the mediacy of research.  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 189-211. 
  • 2004. Theological normativity: ideology or utopia?  Reflections on the possible contribution of empirical research.  In: Van der Ven, JA & Scherer-Rath, M (eds.) Normativity and empirical research in theology. Leiden: Brill, 3-16.
  • 2002. Justice for the oppressed: The HIV/AIDS challenge.  In: Dreyer, JS & Van der Ven, JA (eds.)  Divine Justice - Human Justice.  Pretoria: Research Institute for Theology and Religious Studies, 85-112.
  • 2001. The lens of collective narrative identity:  Ecclesiological explorations from South Africa.  In:  Ballard, P & Couture, P (eds.) Creativity, imagination and criticism:  The expressive dimensions in practical theology.  Cardiff: Cardiff University Press, 299-321.

Journal articles:

  • 2015. Ubuntu: a practical theological perspective. International Journal of Practical Theology 19(1), 189-209.
  • 2014. The narrative turn in practical theology: A discussion of Julian Müller’s narrative approach. Verbum et Ecclesia 35(2), Art. #889, 9 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/ ve.v35i2.889.
  • 2014. Dreyer, J.S. & Hermans, C.A.M. Spiritual character traits and leadership in the school workplace: An exploration of the relationship between spirituality and school leadership in some private and religiously affiliated schools in South Africa. Koers – Bulletin for Christian Scholarship 79(2), Art. #2136, 9 pages. http:// dx.doi.org/10.4102/koers.
  • 2012. Practical Theology and Intradisciplinary Diversity: A Response to Miller-McLemore’s “Five Misunderstandings about Practical Theology”. International Journal of Practical Theology 16(1), 34–54.
  • 2012. Forgiveness: a Ricoeurian perspective. Theologia Viatorum 36(1), 141-168.
  • 2011. Public theology and the translation imperative: A Ricoeurian perspective, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 67(3), Art. #1157, 8 pages. http:// dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts. v67i3.1157HTS
  • 2010. Dreyer, JS & Pieterse, HJC. Religion in the public sphere: What can public theology learn from Habermas’s latest work? HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 66(1), Art. # 798, 7 pages. DOI: 10.4102/hts.v66i1.798.
  • 2008. Practical theology and human well-being: An exploration of a multidimensional model of human action as conceptual framework.  Practical Theology in South Africa 23 (3), 3-22.
  • 2007. The national policy on religion and education in South Africa: reflections from a public practical theology.  Practical Theology in South Africa 22 (2), 40-60.
  • 2006. Van der Ven, JA, Dreyer, JS & Pieterse, HJC.  The evil of violence. A trigger for a human rights culture?  Religion & Theology 13 (3-4), 264-313.
  • 2005. Land reform: A key human rights issue and a challenge for religion in post-apartheid South Africa. Practical Theology in South Africa 20 (2), 1-18.
  • 2004. Dreyer, JS, Pieterse, HJC & Van der Ven, JA. Religious socialisation and the ongoing quest for a human rights culture in South Africa. Practical Theology in South Africa 19 (1), 33-53.
  • 2003. Van der Ven, JA, Dreyer, JS & Pieterse, HJC. Human rights: A channel for salvation? Journal of Empirical Theology 16 (2), 50-86.
  • 2002. Dreyer, JS, Pieterse, HJC & Van der Ven, JA.  Interreligious orientations among South African youth: Expressions of religious identity. International Journal of Education and Religion 3 (2), 158-178.
  • 1999. Dreyer, JS, Pieterse, HJC & Van der Ven, JA.  Interreligious orientations among South African youth.  Religion & Theology 6 (2), 194-220.
  • 1998. The researcher: engaged participant or detached observer?  Journal of Empirical Theology 11 (2), 5-22.
  • 1997. Praktieseteologie, refleksieweverwetenskapliking en die verhoudingtussenwetenskaplikekennis en praktiesehandelinge.  Praktiese Teologie in Suid-Afrika 12(1), 13-30.
  • 1997. Van der Ven, JA, Dreyer, JS & Pieterse, HJC. Religious consciousness in a transformative perspective: A study in practical theology.  International Journal of Practical Theology 1 (1), 110-135.

Professional positions, fellowships & awards

  • International Academy of Practical Theology (IAPT) – President (2013-2015)
  • Member of the Executive Committee of the Society for Practical Theology in South Africa
  • Editor of HTS Section Practical Theology
  • Editorial board member of the following journals: International Journal of Practical TheologyJournal of Empirical Research, Religion & Theology, Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe


  • Practical theology in South Africa in the 21st century: towards a public practical theology

The aims of this individual project are to research methodological developments in practical theology, in particular the development of a public practical theology, and to contribute to the discussion on public issues and policies from a practical theological perspective. This project is a result of my growing interest in the contribution of practical theology to societal issues in the South African context. Research publications on land reform (2005), the national policy on religion and education in South Africa (2007), human well-being (2008), secularization (2009), and religion in the public sphere (2010, with HJC Pieterse, and 2011) were published as part of this research project. The overall aim of this project is to develop the rationale for and methodology of a public practical theology in the South African context. The emphasis in this project is on theoretical and conceptual rather than empirical research, but always in close interaction with the results of empirical projects on contemporary public issues and policies (such as the Spirituality and Leadership project described above). One of my concerns is that religion in the public sphere will be hijacked by conservative forces to further their own cultural, social, political and religious agendas. Continuing my work on Ricoeur I plan to proceed with research on conditions for religious participation in the public sphere that will further dialogue, mutual recognition and tolerance and a culture of human rights.

  • Practical theology and empirical research methodology

Although my methodological interest has broadened in the last decade from a focus on empirical methodological matters to paradigms of practical theology, in particular a public practical theology, I still continue with research on empirical methodology.

  • Practical theology and key contemporary thinkers

 The aim of this individual project is to research the significance of the work of some key contemporary thinkers for practical theological methodology and research. I have already done some research on the significance of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur and the German social philosopher Jürgen Habermas for practical theology (as reflected in some of my research outputs). Ricoeur’s view on human action (speaking, acting and narrating), his emphasis on ethics and justice and his work on memory and forgetting present powerful ideas that could enrich the understanding of practical theology in general and a South African public practical theology (see above) in particular. The richness and relevance of Ricoeur’s ideas inspire me to continue my research on the significance of this key contemporary thinker in the next few years and to be in the vanguard of this approach to his practical philosophy.

  •  Practical theology in South Africa

 This ongoing research project forms part of my teaching of the introduction to practical theology. This project is important, not only in order to develop a good understanding of the history of practical theology in this context, but also to further discussions on the future of practical theology in South(ern) Africa.

  •  Religion and human rights

 Our department, under the leadership of Prof Jaco Dreyer, was invited to participate in an international collaborative research project on Human Rights and Religion.  The project leader is Prof Hans-Georg Ziebertz of the University of Würzburg, Germany.  Apart from Tanzania, South Africa is the only African country included in this study. The main aims of this research project are to explore the relation between religion and human rights attitudes, to discern trends on the impact of religion on human rights attitudes, and to develop relevant hypotheses on this relation for future research.  This research will in particular focus on the relationship between human rights attitudes and religious beliefs and practices. The significance of the study lies in the knowledge gained among young people and future leaders about the human rights culture in South Africa, and from the comparison with results from similar age groups in other countries.