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) cum laude;
  • Dipl. Theol. (University of Pretoria) (1985) cum laude;
  • B.D. (University of Pretoria) (1984) cum laude;
  • B.A. (University of Pretoria) (1981) cum laude

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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
  • 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.

Book chapters:

  • 2018. Response: Religion, politics and the desire to live together in diverse societies and communities: reflections from South Africa. In: Charbonnier, L., Cilliers, J., Mader, M., Wepener, C. & Weyel, B. (eds.) Pluralisation and social change: Dynamics of lived religion in South Africa and in Germany. Praktische Theologie im Wissenschaftsdiskurs 21. De Gruyter, 249-254.
  • 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

  • 2018. Difficult tolerance: A Ricoeurian account and some practical theological reflections. Stellenbosch ­ Theological Journal 4(2), 33-54.
  • 2017. Practical theology and the call for the decolonisation of higher education in South Africa: Reflections and proposals. HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies 73(4), a4805. https://doi.org/ 10.4102/hts.v73i4.4805
  • 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 Society of Empirical Research in Theology (ISERT) – President
  • 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
  • Editorial board member of the book series Interdisciplinary and Theological Studies (Lit Verlag)


Research focus areas

My research focuses on two areas, namely the development of a distinct South African public practical theology and the methodology of practical theology. This can be described more concretely with reference to the following collaborative and individual (but also overlapping) research projects for the period 2019 ‐ 2024.

  1. Religion and Human Rights 2.0 (RHR)
    This collaborative empirical project is a continuation of research conducted in public and private schools in 1995/1996 and 2000/2001 in South Africa. Prof H‐G Ziebertz of the University of Wurzburg, Germany, is the international project leader. About 26 countries from Europe, the USA and Africa participate in the project, and I am the project leader for South Africa. This project will conclude at the end of 2019 with a final conference in Würzburg, Germany.

  2. Religion, Citizenship and Democracy (RCD)
    The international research group on Religion and Human Rights decided in December 2017 to continue with another international empirical project when the RHR 2.0 project ends in 2019. The preliminary theme for this project is "Religion, Citizenship and Democracy: An international empirical research project". The three main research questions of this proposed research project are: First, whether religious citizens recognise the state order in which they live; second, whether religious citizens consider their religious tradition to have a constructive‐critical function in society; and third, whether the religiosity of citizens strengthens the cohesion in society. Empirical research will help us to answer these questions for the South African context with its high percentage of religious citizens living in a young and fragile democracy. I therefore plan to continue my collaboration in this international research group from 2020 onwards (with Dr Garth Aziz).

  3. Practical Theology in South Africa in the 21st century: towards a public practical theology
    I plan to continue with this individual research project for the next six years. The overall aims of this project are to develop the rationale for and methodology of a public practical theology in the South African context, and to contribute to the discussion on public issues and policies from a practical theological perspective. Although this is a theoretical rather than an empirical research project, it is done in close interaction with the collaborative empirical research projects referred to above (RHR and RCD). I thus plan to focus specifically on the issues of human rights, citizenship and democracy as part of the agenda of a public practical theology.

  4. History and theory of practical theology
    This ongoing research project forms part of my teaching of the introduction to practical theology. This project is important, not only to develop a good understanding of the history of practical theology in our South African context, but also to further discussions on the future of practical theology in (South) Africa. It thus partly overlaps with the previous project on the development of a distinct, South African public practical theology. However, the focus in this project is more broadly on an understanding of the developments of different approaches to practical theology in different contexts. I plan to specifically attend to the research work that I started in the previous research cycle on the decolonisation of practical theological theory and research.

  5. 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. In view of my recently developed interest in decolonial theory, I plan to include the work of decolonial scholars and intellectuals such as Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko. I have not yet systematically explored the relevance of these key thinkers for practical theology, and plan to do so in the following years.