Transformative Religion
Religion as Situated Knowledge in Processes of Social Transformation

International Research Training Group

Event Archive

Decolonizing the Public University: Views from the South African Experience

The public university in the global South has been correctly diagnosed and classified as an imperial/colonial/apartheid invention, and thus continues to be dis-located and seperated from its indigenous/ Black communities.

In this presentation, I attempt to do two things. Firstly, I reflect on the continuing struggles for decolonizing the public university in South Africa through foregrounding and explicating the experiences of Black academics and students in our quest to reclaim ourselves, being and epistemic traditions in the academy. Secondly, I propose three sites, that is, curriculum design, teaching and learning as well as institutional culture(s) – that offer us the decolonial possibilities for real and material change in the public university. I end the presentation with some parting shots on the future of the decolonial university, and its implications for those who continue to occupy the underbelly of global modernity.

Professor Mlamulia Nkosingphile Hlatshwayo is an Associate Professor at Ali Mazrui’s Centre for Higher Education Studies at the University of Johannesburg South Africa. His research interest include theorising higher education transformation and decolonisation in the global South; student movements and re-placing African epistemic traditions in curricula. Prof Hlatshwayo has over 22 peer reviewed publications, over 30 national/international conference presentations, and have given over 32 invited seminars/public lecturers across the South African, US, British and Indian higher education institutions. He holds a PhD in Higher Education Studies and a Masters’ Degree (Cum Laude) in Political and International Studies from Rhodes University. Prof Hlatshwayo was a visiting scholar at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education for 2018-2019. He was the 2020 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans, the current Jakes Gerwel Distinguished Fellow in Education, as well as the 2021-2022 Andrew W. Mellon Early Career Fellow in higher education. He served as a member of the Council on Higher Education’s 20 year national review of the South African higher education system in 2019-2020. Prof Hlatshwayo’s co-edited book, Decolonising Knowledge and Knowers: Struggles for University Transformation in South Africa, was published with Routledge in 2022.

Decolonizing Development

Talking about development is still considered by many to be an expression of thinking that indicates the global dominance of the Western model of society. Development thinking is suspected, not without good reason, of following a modernisation-theory understanding of social evolution that continues to focus on rationalisation and economic growth despite the consideration of sustainability.

Recently, however, serious changes have occurred in global development discourse. In this context, new attention is given to the social role of religion plays a crucial role. The secularisation narrative and with it the assumption of an increasing loss of public significance of religion arelosing their explanatory power for the present. Alternatives to modernization theory models of social evolution are coming into view and consequently a post-development discourse is gaining ground. It proposes alternative objectives of social evolution, especially from the global South. Voices from the global South are, therefore, increasingly taking a leading role in the discourse on values and norms, goals and criteria of a societal transformation oriented towards sustainability, social justice, equality and democratic participation.

The IRTG „Transformative Religion“ researches the transformative power of religion also in terms of development discourse. This prominent panel on „Decolonizing Development“ promises further inspiration on how to rethink development. What could a practice of development look like that is not oriented towards predefined development goals, such as the UN Agenda 2030, but rather makes situational knowledge fruitful in local contexts? Can religious communities unfold a transformative power due to their situated knowledge of people’s needs and abilities?


Ezra Chitando is a Professor, History and Phenomenology of Religion at the University of Zimbabwe and Theology Consultant for the World Council of Churches. His research and publication interests include religion and: development, security, gender, sexuality, climate change and others. DPhil (UZ 2001); MA (UZ 1993); BA HONS (UZ 1991). Research fellowships: Humboldt Georg Forster Research Award, Bamberg, Germany, 2016; Humboldt Research Fellowship, Bayreuth, Germany, 2004-5; Nordic Africa Institute Guest Researcher, Uppsala, Sweden, 2001; DAAD Scholarship, Bayreuth, Germany, 2001; Short-Term Fulbright Fellowship, New York, 1999; African Guest Researcher, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1997. Doctoral supervision in the following areas: Religion and Gender, HIV, Politics, Leadership, Development, Sexualities, Human Rights, Environment, Biblical Interpretation.

Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where she leads the center’s work on religion and global development, and a professor of the practice of development, conflict, and religion in the Walsh School of Foreign Service. She helped to create and now serves as the executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue. She is also vice president of the G20 Interfaith Association. Marshall, who worked at the World Bank from 1971 to 2006, has nearly five decades of experience on a wide range of development issues in Africa, Latin America, East Asia, and the Middle East, particularly those facing the world’s poorest countries. She led the World Bank’s faith and ethics initiative between 2000 and 2006.

Aram Ziai is head of the department Development Policy and Postcolonial Studies, which was established as Heisenberg-Professorship of the German Research Foundation (DFG) in 2014. His focus lies in the fields of development theory and policy, postcolonial and Post-Development approaches and global economic governance. He has studied in Aachen and Dublin (MA in sociology, minors history and English literature), got his PhD in political science in Hamburg and his habilitation in political science in Kassel. Afterwards he had research and teaching posts in the universities of Aachen, Magdeburg, Kassel, Amsterdam (UvA), Wien (IE), Bonn (ZEF), Accra (Legon), and Teheran (UT).

Transversal Disputation: Global Health: How can the concepts of „vulnerability“ and „Deservingness“ faciliate new (situated knowledge based) futures?



Seth M. Holmes is a sociocultural anthropologist and physician and Dean’s Professor at the university of Southern California. He has worked on social hierarchies, health inequities, and the ways in which such asymmetries are naturalized, and resisted in the contexts of transnational im/migration, agrofood systems, and health care. He has received national and international awards from the fields of anthropology, sociology, and geography, including the Margaret Mead Award. In addition to scholarly publications, he has written for popular media such as The Huffington Post and; spoken on multiple NPR, PRI, Pacifica Radio and Radio Billingüe radio programs; and produced the multiple-award winning ethnographic film, First Time Home. Most recently, he was awarded an ERC Consolidator grant focused on invisibilized relations between migrants and the rest of societies through foodsystems.


Ukhona Ntsali Mlandu is an artist, activist and decolonial critic/ observer based in South Africa. She is currently the director of Greatmore Studios in Cape Town and founder and head curator of makwande.republic in the Goshen Village, Eastern Cape. Her creative and activist work focusses on the lived and embodied experiences of black women, with special reference to the politics of public space and place-making, spatial gender and obstetric justice, as well as heritage and memory. Among her many awards and installations, Mlandu’s recent work included a public art intervention called ukuzibuyisa: giving myself back to myself. She was a finalist for the Birthrites Collective, and is presently working on the embodied archives of black women’s bodies and social lives.

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Religion as situated knowledge in processes of social transformation and decolonization

Troubling the social and epistemic origins of religion and social sciences has enjoyed a great deal of attention in recent years. Most significantly, scholarly entanglements with colonial and imperial regimes has seen calls for decolonization of various academic disciplines and methodologies, as well as critical research in this field. As societies with histories of colonialism and segregation, both South Africa and Germany have experienced postcolonial transformations to their social fabric, and both countries have seen increasing calls for more critical research on coloniality, religion and social transformation. Our project, Religion as Situated Knowledge is one such effort to bring into conversation scholars and research from the Southern Africa and Germany to interrogate the ways that religion has shaped, and has been shaped by different relations to power. We are happy to invite you to this opening panel of the IRTG on Religion as situated knowledge in processes of social transformation and decolonization. It will explore several key questions related to religion from different contexts, lived and embodied experiences, and not only expose the coloniality inherent within the academic enterprise, but also show how it might open new avenues about what religious experiences, worldviews and engagements count as knowledge and what ramifications this might have for social transformation processes in Southern Africa, and Germany.

In an effort to launch our own efforts to trouble the coloniality of religion and social sciences, we brought together three established researchers known for their work on the intersection of religion and knowledge production, and especially its relation to social transformation. Prof Nelson Maldonado-Torres brings his keen observations about coloniality of being, of power and of knowledge in the Americas and Southern Africa, while Prof Birgit Meyer’s work on material religion in social transformative processes in West Africa and Europe might make decisive contributions to how we think about migration development and national identity. Finally, Claudia Jahnel’s work on intercultural theology and the body in a range of empirical context will complete the panel which will be convened by our own Prof Federico Settler.


Nelson Maldonado-Torres is a Professor at the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and the Comparative Literature Program at the Rutgers School of Arts and Science. He is particularly interested in the crossings of different genealogies of thinking, and their appearance in different genres of writing, discourses, artistic expressions, and social movements. 

Birgit Meyer is a Professor for Religious Studies at the Universiteit Utrecht. Trained as a cultural anthropologist andworking on lived religion in Ghana for more than 20 years, Birgit Meyer studies religion from a global and postsecularperspective.

Claudia Jahnel is a Professor for Intercultural Theology and Embodiment at the Ruhr University Bochum. She is especially interested in theological and religious hybridity, identities, and deconstruction of othering.