Theological action research and education: a TARN Dreaming Space, 29th June 2020

The original plan for this event was to host the day in a venue away from the busyness of everyday work and life. Clearly under the COVID-19 restrictions this was not possible, instead an online dreaming space was designed to achieve similar aims. 

The Idea:

Theological action research and the four voices embody a particular understanding of theology and revelation which has been explored in a variety of publications, most recently in Disclosing Church [1].  It is clear that they also embody a particular understanding of pedagogy which values conversation, practice and attentiveness to God.  There have already been various attempts to take the ideas, values and commitments of theological action research and see how they might be used in theological education [2]. This has meant encouraging conversation, recognising the different loci of theology and revelation, and developing a commitment to theology being disclosed in the conversation. 

In light of this it seemed an opportune time to develop a conversation which reflected further on this and to begin to formalise some of the practices and theological insights.  We looked to reflect on the ways people have used theological action research in their teaching both explicitly and implicitly; to think about the pedagogical and theological implications of theological action research for theological education; and to develop creative and innovative ideas about how theological action research can be actively engaged with in theological education.

Dreaming Space:

A dreaming space is a space created outside of the normal working environment to take a creative and reflective look at a particular idea/subject/practice etc.  As it says, it is a space to dream, away from the demands experienced in normal working life.  People are invited to come, to share, to reflect and to converse around the theme.  Space is given to eat together, to break into smaller groups and to experiment with new ideas.

Moving this online presented a whole series of challenges. While we gave quite a bit of thought in advance to how this could be facilitated virtually, we invited further insights from participants ahead of the event.

Proposal for the Dreaming Space:

We anticipated between 12 and 15 people participating in the day.

Preparation work

James (Butler) and Clare (Watkins) planned short presentations about engaging with theological action research in education were provided in short videos to be watched beforehand.  Extracts from feedback for teaching and other reflections were also sent out ahead of the dreaming space.  We encouraged participants to spend some time thinking about how they had used the insights from theological action research implicitly or explicitly in their teaching.

Anticipated Outcomes:

The outcomes of the day were envisaged as including:

  • Individuals developing creative ways to include theological action research in their teaching
  • Ideas about the kinds of resources which might be needed to support such education
  • A book of edited essays exploring some of these ideas in more detail
  • A podcast/Youtube channel, encouraging others to engage creatively through theological action research
  • Suggestions of how TARN can develop and practically support theological educators.

Participant Feedback

“I really enjoyed the day. I enjoyed the format and shape of the day and appreciated the effort that went into conceiving this within the Zoom format. I liked meeting existing, old and new colleagues – and putting names to faces. I really enjoyed the conversation and the creative thinking it generated. And I especially enjoyed the interruption to the normal swing of things this time of year – it was an energising, refreshing break from marking and all that.”

“I particularly valued the recognition that non-faith voices can be part of the TAR model; the importance of making a hospitable space for any genuine theological learning; the significance of dissonance/disruption within any genuine theological learning and the time needed to rebuild after deconstruction or find a new theological home after homelessness.”

Can you give any concrete examples of how you will incorporate insights from the day into your teaching? “I used a case study this term in a worship module on communion in the Church of England in lockdown and have made a note that I think an exploration of that case study would work using the four voices.”

Are there other resources/events that the network might helpfully work on in future? “I wondered if a video of TAR actually taking place would be useful? (if it hasn’t already been done). I imagine ethics would be very difficult, but a bit like the last 15 mins of Blue Planet – i.e. showing the process e.g. this is what a reflector group looks like.”

  1. Clare Watkins, Disclosing Church: Generating Ecclesiology Through Conversations in Practice (London: Routledge, 2020).

2. For example Susanna Brouard, ‘Using Theological Action Research to Embed Catholic Social Teaching in a Catholic Development Agency: Abseiling on the Road to Emmaus’ (unpublished doctoral, Anglia Ruskin University, 2015) <; [accessed 11 May 2020].