“This is the place where it needs to happen”

28 May 2024

Faith is always looking for forms to express itself in. And those forms in turn give direction to faith. With this conviction, Mirella Klomp has been working as a practical theologian for years. In April she started as professor of practical theology: worship and formation at PThU.

Experience that transcends the act

Her first memories of church service coincide with her first organ and piano lessons, and that combination laid the seeds for her later work. She found it fascinating: that music is something you can do together, for pleasure, but that at the same time something can arise in it that transcends the act itself. ‘That experience that something comes from the other side, is bigger than yourself, that you can't give words to.’ Her fascination with this led to her work as a liturgy scholar, and to various studies on liturgy and rituals in and outside the church, for example on the Dutch media phenomenon The Passion.

Major issues of our time touch on faith

Through her research, Klomp says, she has increasingly come to realise that the dynamic between action and faith also plays a role in how we deal with the big issues of our time, such as climate, refugees or housing shortages. ‘Major themes that dominate our lives touch on what our faith looks like. Our dealings with others, with the earth, with technology: it does something to you when you pray for refugees, when as a church congregation you decide to start a vegetable garden project, when you transfer collection money using your smartphone. It impacts our lives, thinking and faith. Our way of looking at the world and how God is involved in it. It expresses something of our faith, but also shapes our faith.’

Issues from life in the church

This idea of ‘embodied faith’ is a common thread in all her research and the research of the Worship and formation chair group she leads within the PThU. And not without reason, Klomp believes: ‘The church is part of society. So all the issues we face in life, big and small, are also in the church, for the church. If the church had nothing to do with that, it would not be about us. And therefore also not about how God is involved in people's lives - how people are involved in God's story.’ Klomps' research therefore tends to be at the intersection of church and society. ‘Because if you assume that God has made himself known as human in this world, then this world is the place where faith wants to take shape.’ She thinks it risky if faith is only about our inner world. ‘If that's the case, faith is about only part of ourselves. God created the earth, but not as a springboard to heaven. This is the world given to us, the earth given to us; we are given to each other. This is the place where it needs to happen.’ In researching how faith is embodied, her chair pays particular attention to ritualism, art practices, young people and those on the ‘margins’ of society.

‘You don't get there with one approach’

To be relevant and remain relevant, theology needs its own vision and narrative around the issues facing us in this world, she believes. To the development of good and relevant theology, she wants to contribute further as a professor, in the coming years as leader of the PThU project Soil, among other things. ‘In this project, we look at how we relate to the earth, using soil as a lens.’ She is joined in her research by practical theologians, systematic theologians, biblical scholars and scientists outside theology. The research team she leads wants to figure out how to arrive at an integral theological approach that connects and engages practices, beliefs and sources. ‘It does present a challenge for theology to figure out how to have an integral approach in a fruitful way. As a practical theologian, I would like to contribute to that. Our world is so complex; if you want to understand it, say something meaningful about it, as theologians you won't get there with just your own approach. To make a real contribution, you need each other's knowledge and expertise.’