Original Research

The ‘Frail Researcher’ in dialogue with existential phenomenology: The threat of empiricism within the quest for sound methodology in practical theological research

Daniël J. Louw
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 52, No 1 | a2361 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v52i1.2361 | © 2018 Daniël J. Louw | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 February 2018 | Published: 03 September 2018

About the author(s)

Daniël J. Louw, Faculty of Theology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; and, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa

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Within an academic environment and context of higher education, the question of disciplinary differentiation and research methodology are burning issues to adhere to the quest for scientific and sound epistemological based knowledge. While dealing with the dual tension: wisdom (sapientia) and reason (scientia), it is difficult for practical theology to identify and maintain its theological character. Under the pressure of human sciences, research in practical theology tends to turn to phenomenology so to gain clarity on the philosophical framework or paradigm for performing research projects in a systematic and methodological way. In this regard, existential phenomenology probes into the meta-realm of meaning-giving; it describes the frailty of life in terms of being (Dasein) as exposed to anxiety, dread, despair and fear of death. Due to the demand for empirical research, the threat of empiricism and the danger of Platonification (the ‘causation trap’) is discussed. To maintain both its spiritual-theological character (ministerial and ecclesial context), and its relevancy for the dynamics of life events (contextuality), a ‘spiritual empiricism’ is proposed by means of a praxis of practical theological verbing, namely understanding and interpreting, communicating and verbalising, acting, hoping, imagining, seeing, beautifying and living. It is argued that the notion ‘praxis of God’ could serve as theological paradigm in theory formation. The passio Dei is both a spiritual matter and existential-experiential entity within the encounter of God–human beings. It refers to both the reason or logic of God (ḥesed) and the wisdom of grace (compassion).


Theory formation in practical theology; research methodology; threat of empiricism; phenomenology; epistemology in practical theological reflection; praxis of God


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