Intercultural and Interreligious Pastoral Caregiving -  - ebook

Intercultural and Interreligious Pastoral Caregiving ebook



Worldwide, in theory formation and the practice of pastoral caregiving, intercultural and interreligious aspects receive a growing attention. Since its formation in 1995, the "Society of Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling" (SIPCC) has been at the forefront of this development, providing initiative and space for learning and reflection. The essays collected in this publication are a result of this work. Written both by practitioners and by specialists, they reflect challenges and open perspectives for an inclusive ethics of caregiving in the 21st century.

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Foreword and Acknowledgements

Helmut Weiß, Germany, 2015

Relationship in Difference:

The SIPCC as a Learning Community


















Julian Müller, South Africa, 1996

Intercultural Exchange:

A Discovery of Being Different

Karl H. Federschmidt, Germany, 1997

Reflections on Intercultural Pastoral Caregiving and the Seminars of SIPCC

Eberhard Hauschildt, Germany, 2002

Intercultural Pastoral Care as a Model for a Theory of Radically Interactive Pastoral Care

Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Ghana, 2004

New Perspectives and Challenges for Pastoral Care and Counseling in a Globalizing World

Joseph George, India, 2004

Emotional Upheaval and Relational Refugeism in Contemporary Indian Experience:

An Intercultural Exploration and Proposal for Pastoral Therapy

Mary Rute G. Esperandio, Brazil, 2008

Identity and Care in Times of Change: Is the Idea of Identity Meaningful for Pastoral Care and Counseling?

Daniel S. Schipani, Argentina, 2008

Interfaith Pastoral Counseling: A Wisdom Model

Ronaldo Sathler-Rosa, Brazil, 2010

From the “Living Document” to the Living Web:

Pastoral Care and Counseling Before New Challenges

Daniël J. Louw, South Africa, 2012

Cura Animarum, Cura Terrae and Eco-Spirituality:

Towards an Aesthetics of Humility in an Eschatological Approach to Land, Nature and Environment
















Robert Solomon, Singapore, 1995

Pastoral Counselling in Asian Contexts

Ursula Pfäfflin / Archie Smith Jr., Germany / USA, 1995

Death and the Maiden:

The Complexity of Trauma and Ways of Healing – A Challenge for Pastoral Care and Counseling

Daisy Nwachuku, Nigeria, 1999

Pastoral Caregiving Within the Fragmentations of African Urban Life:

Creating Community and a Sense of Belongingness

Edwina Ward, South Africa, 2005

Cultural Diversity in Sickness and Healing:

The Domain of Caring in South African Traditional Cultures

David Stevens, United Kingdom, 2008

Explorations into Reconciliation:

The Corrymeela-Community in Northern Ireland

Emina Čorbo-Meši


, Germany, 2013

Islamic Care for the Victims of War in Bosnia

Dominiek Lootens, Belgium, 2014

Diversity Management in European Healthcare Organizations:

The Catholic Chaplain as Advocate












Jalaluddin Rakhmat, Indonesia, 2002

The Ethics and Practice of Caring in Islam: A Sufi Perspective

Elliot N. Dorff, USA, 2005

A Jewish Perspective on the Ethics of Care

Kathleen J. Greider, USA, 2010

Pastoral Theological Reflections on Caregiving and Religious Pluralism

Indigo J. Raphael, United Kingdom, 2010

Faith Specific and Generic Chaplaincy:

“Jewish Chaplain” or “Chaplain who Happens to be Jewish”?

Daniel A. Smith, United Kingdom, 2013

Mercy as Basis of Care and Counselling: A Jewish View

Silvia Horsch, Germany, 2013

Mercy as Basic Principle of Pastoral Care in Islam


The “International Seminars on Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling” from 1986 to 2015

About the Contributors

Foreword and Acknowledgements

When in 1986 Howard Clinebell was invited to an “International Seminar on Pastoral Care and Counselling” in Germany, the organisers hardly expected that this meeting would turn out to be an intercultural encounter. But that was exactly what happened and what was experienced there.1 Indeed, this seminar started a tradition of yearly seminars, in which the intercultural aspect in pastoral caregiving more and more was made an explicit focus of reflection. In 1995, this resulted in the foundation of the “Society for Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling”, SIPCC.2

For the last 20 years now, SIPCC has been an international “learning community”3, with seminars, studies, publications and networking activities – thereby becoming a catalyst (and in some respect a forerunner) in the reflection of intercultural aspects in the field of pastoral care and counselling. And step by step, this focus was widened from the intercultural to the inter-religious field.

This book contains essays that reflect the work and the “learning course” of SIPCC:

• Serving as Introduction, in the first essay Helmut Weiß discusses the hermeneutics of intercultural and inter-religious encounters, based on the experiences of SIPCC’s 20 years history.

• The essays in Part A tackle – albeit starting from their specific contexts or challenges – general questions for a hermeneutics of pastoral caregiving in intercultural and interfaith perspective. The authors in this part approach pastoral caregiving from a Christian perspective. The intention is not to create an exclusive approach, but to enhance theory formation in pastoral caregiving in line with the very old tradition of the care or cure of human souls (cura animarum). This has been done with the vision that pastoral caregiving should explore new frontiers and take up the challenge to be inclusive, taking into consideration the connection between pastoral care, spiritual care and wholeness in healing and helping.

• Part B focusses on themes and challenges of caregiving in concrete contexts. Thus, the emphasis is on local issues on grassroots level within different cultural and religious settings. It is clear that the themes that are tackled here are by no means exhaustive, but exemplary in character.

• Part C, finally, takes up the challenge of inter-religiosity. For SIPCC, this challenge was present right from the beginning,4 but it took some time to find ways to approach it methodologically. The essays in this section show steps to do that without neglecting the fact that religions like e.g. Judaism, Christianity or Islam are (in their self-understanding and in their empirical phenomenology) more than just “cultural expressions of different spiritualities”.

Most essays in this book have been presented and discussed at one of SIPCC’s seminars, and later been published in SIPCC’s magazine Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling.5 Some were specially written for books of SIPCC and are published here by courtesy of Neukirchener Verlag.6 All contributions have been reviewed and selected according to their contribution to the field of caregiving, helping and healing; to their representativeness for the different areas of discussion and the intercultural profile of SIPCC’s work; and, finally, to their availability in English.

As is appropriate for an intercultural publication, the styles of language in the different contributions show the different backgrounds of the authors. The style of bibliographical references in the footnotes was unified, in order to assist readers who do further research. All references to internet resources have been checked and, if necessary and possible, have been updated.

As any selection remains arbitrary to some extent, we want to give thanks also to all those colleagues and co-workers, who have valuably contributed to SIPCC without being explicitly present in this book.

Especially we want to acknowledge the input and insight of the following members of SIPCC for their assistance in the editorial process: Dr. Dominiek Lootens, Belgium, who helped reviewing essays and was willing to scrutinise the final document; Prof. Dr. Kathleen Greider, USA, who helped clarifying communications and translations in a number of essays; Prof. Dr. Solomon Victus, India, and Prof. Dr. Martin Walton, Netherlands, who offered their consultation in the setup phase.

Karl Federschmidt and Daniël Louw

August 2015

1 For the story of this seminar and the follow up until the founding of SIPCC, see Helmut Weiß and Klaus Temme, “Reviewing the Journey”, in Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling, 1, 1996, 6-13. See also the list of seminars in the appendix of this book.

2 For actual information about SIPCC, see

3 Cf. the essay of Helmut Weiß in this book.

4 In the first seminar of SIPCC 1995 already, a Buddhist monk participated with a lecture.

5 This series (ISSN: 1431-8954) is published since 1996 by SIPCC, Düsseldorf, with a parallel series in German: Interkulturelle Seelsorge und Beratung (ISSN: 1431-8962). All issues are also online available at The lectures of the seminar 2013 have been published in: E. Begic, H. Weiß, G. Wenz (eds.), Barmherzigkeit. Zur sozialen Verantwortung islamischer Seelsorge, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 2014.

6 See K. Federschmidt, E. Hauschildt, Chr. Schneider-Harpprecht, K. Temme and H. Weiß (eds.), Handbuch Interkulturelle Seelsorge [Handbook on Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling], 2002; H. Weiß, K. Federschmidt and K. Temme (eds.), Ethik und Praxis des Helfens in verschiedenen Religionen [Ethics and Practice of Helping in Different Religions], 2005; H. Weiß, K. Federschmidt and K. Temme (eds.), Handbuch Interreligiöse Seelsorge [Handbook on Inter-Religious Pastoral Care and Counselling], 2010; all books published by Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn.

Relationship in Difference:

The SIPCC as a Learning Community

Helmut Weiß Germany, 2015

Abstract: The article aims to summarise essential features of intercultural and interreligious learning based on the 20-year history of the association Gesellschaft für Interkulturelle Seelsorge und Beratung - Society for Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling (SIPCC). Interpersonal encounter is presented as the most important way of learning. Intercultural and inter-religious encounters challenge us to develop a hermeneutics, formulated here as “relationship in difference” and “translational work”. Through various kinds of SIPCC meetings and processes of understanding the skills for intercultural and inter-religious care and counselling are enhanced. SIPCC is described as an “open space” where these skills and competences can be developed.


When on 17 October 1995 56 people from several countries around the world formed the Gesellschaft für Interkulturelle Seelsorge und Beratung – Society for Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling (SIPCC) as a legal association in Düsseldorf, the combination of “intercultural” and “counselling” was a novelty in Germany. Many other adjectives were set in combination with care and counselling: kerygmatic (preaching); therapeutic (healing); pastoral psychological; feminist; Biblical and others. Care and counselling were connected to depth psychology, human sciences and sociology, but what they might have to do with culture or interculturalism, had hitherto been hardly considered.

In other disciplines it was different: education, social work, economics were talking of “inter-culture”. In other countries colleagues were dealing with “cross-cultural counselling”, e.g. in the United States. But in Germany and other European countries the question was raised, “Why should we bring together culture and pastoral care?” Culture might be the business for missiology, but not for counselling. And the 56 people who included “intercultural pastoral care” in the name of this new association could vaguely explain what was meant and where the road would go with this society. But they were sure that pastoral care must be seen in the context of different cultures. For one thing was clear: the respective cultural environment determines people’s lives to a great extent – and therefore also pastoral work. Beside the inner dynamics that are at the core of pastoral care oriented toward psychology and therapy, the “external dynamics” of the cultural (and therefore social, political and economic) environment has to be recognised and understood in caring and counselling encounters with people.

Today, 20 years later, the situation is completely different. Almost every aspect of life in our multicultural world has to be viewed inter-culturally and that is so for care and counselling too. This is a development not only in the so-called “advanced” countries of the “western” hemisphere, but all over the world in varying degrees. Everywhere the knowledge of diversity of cultures and religions grows, as part of the improvement in modern communication. Care and counselling cannot negate these phenomena. Care and counselling must learn anew to understand the culturally influenced life-situations of people and to deal with various “cultures of care and counselling”, that is, with the diversity of concepts and practices of care and counselling.

In 1995 it did not come into our minds to put into the name of our association “intercultural and inter-religious care and counselling”. Only through an intensive examination of inter-culturality did we become more and more aware that the diversity of cultures and the diversity of religions are mutually dependent. Therefore the editors of the first SIPCC book in German, Handbuch Interkulturelle Seelsorge (Handbook of Intercultural Pastoral Care and Counselling), published in 2002, wrote in the introduction: “We want to say that there is a desideratum in this book – meaning a separate thematic treatment of inter-religious aspects of our subject. Intercultural encounters are often simultaneously inter-religious encounters, and the question of different ‘pastoral cultures’ could also be extended to the question of forms and traditions of pastoral care outside the Christian range of culture and religion.” 7

In SIPCC we speak now of “intercultural and inter-religious care and counselling” with one breath, and we see that they are closely related and depend on each other, without being identical.

In the last two decades, a lot has happened in the field of intercultural and inter-religious learning. It is interesting to examine these developments and to explain them not only for care and counselling but for social activities and the living together in diverse societies. To illustrate these processes, allow me to present key findings within SIPCC.

SIPCC – an open space for encounters and relationships

Encounter as a basis for intercultural and inter-religious learning

SIPCC is an association which creates and designs “open spaces” in which interaction among people from different countries, cultures and religions can take place in order to promote learning of intercultural and interreligious care and counselling. In the already mentioned “Handbook of Intercultural Care and Counselling”, I wrote an article “The Discovery of Intercultural Care and Counselling” describing the pathway from internationality to inter-culturality.8 Already between 1986 and 1995 we had International Seminars with people from East and West, North and South, as well as rich and poor countries. Those were times of world conflicts between capitalism and communism, the time of the danger of war and the peace movement in Europe, the time of the so-called Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation – a strong movement in Eastern and Western Europe. During that time many connections and relationships started through SIPCC, and the conviction was growing that they have meaning and importance for our common work in care and counselling. Through the foundation of SIPCC as a legal body these connections became stronger: members took responsibility to involve themselves in this movement.

In the many years of the activities of SIPCC in several countries of the world, these relationships have continued and new encounters with new groups have arisen. There are now about 280 members from 35 countries, participants are both practitioners and educators, and there are people from different professions; there are not only Christian members of various sorts, but also Jews and Muslims as members and participants. SIPCC is trying to be international, intercultural, inter-religious and interdisciplinary.

This principle of promoting encounter and exchanges is featured in all the activities of SIPCC: not only the previously mentioned International Seminars (in 2015 we shall conduct the 27th)9 but also other meetings and conferences, study tours and training courses. SIPCC has done such training courses in Hungary, Romania, Indonesia, Slovakia, Poland, Tanzania and Germany (a course in Islamic pastoral care in hospitals). Additional courses are planned for the future.10

In SIPCC, personal encounters are understood as the basis for dealing with intercultural and inter-religious issues. Encounters challenge and stimulate new ways to deal personally and professionally with foreigners and otherness in a sensitive, understanding and open way. Encounters enable us to see people in a differentiated manner, to enjoy this diversity, to offer more respect, value and dignity. Personally, I find that I am strengthened in my faith by realising that God is showing himself in the many faces and acts of humanity in our world. The encounters with people from other cultures and religions are often joyful as we experience each other, though sometimes it can be painful and hurtful, for such conversation discloses our limitations – so enabling us to learn humility and modesty.

Intercultural and inter-religious encounters become alive in storytelling: the meetings have a narrative feature and character. People meet each other and they begin to share. And in sharing they give each other a part of their own life. In this exchange, cultural characteristics immediately stand out. By sharing with people from other cultures and religions, one realises that in communicating with others, “understanding” cannot be taken for granted. One is invited to pause, to reflect and to think about the assumptions and conditions of myself and of my counterpart. As we experience that both of us start at different points, we question ourselves and others.

Intercultural and inter-religious encounters become alive by becoming open for questions. How does the other person live? Why does she/he live this way? How does he/she manage his/her everyday life? What makes him/her happy? What drives him/her to behave in such a way? What questions can I ask without embarrassing her/him? What can he/she understand when I tell him/her about myself? In being open for questions I show my interest, but by asking questions I expose myself to others and at the same time I show my borders and limitations.

There are many ways to learn about other cultures and religions and to move into their worlds. One can study them, read about them and acquire knowledge about them, so to speak, one can learn by looking and observing from the outside – without personal involvement. But it is different to encounter “living human documents” of cultures and religions and to experience life and faith in an unmediated and direct contact with people. When we engage in a personal encounter, intercultural and inter-religious learning has a direct, even a physical and bodily basis – and that has a lasting effect. The inter-subjective encounter can be described as the “royal way” of learning about other religions and cultures. If members of different religions meet on an equal level and live together as community for a while, memorable and sustainable cultural and religious learning occurs. In a dialogue of humans, mutual strangeness is breaking up, they become more and more open to challenge each other, fear is vanishing, and conflicts can be solved. In the meetings of SIPCC, people of different cultures and religions perform a “dialogue of life” where people are of equal worth and dignity and still keep their differences.

This principle that intercultural and inter-religious learning needs personal encounter as a basis has been used by SIPCC from the beginning and continues today. In order that a dialogue of life can take place, most SIPCC events are planned and carried out over five or more days so that the participants have the opportunity to live together and share over some time.

Personal and institutional relationships for intercultural and inter-religious learning

If encounters become significant, they leave an impression in memory, so relationships grow. The more people open themselves and share with each other, the less they fear each other. Strangeness may continue – but it does not frighten or bother so much as it did before. There might be a lot I cannot agree with – but the difference does not prevent the strengthening of the relationship. An emotional bond of perpetual mutual discovery can be created.

Again and again I have been impressed that through these new relationships, I perceive with fresh eyes what happens in the world. After getting to know a person from another country, news from that part of the world takes on a different quality for me. The events there – far away – come much closer, have a “face”, and become connected to specific persons. When in February 2015 a colleague from Eastern Ukraine in Morning Prayer at a conference prayed for peace, the bitter struggles and conflicts far away came much closer than even when I watch TV and see the fighting. When a Lutheran Pastor from Palestine presented in an international seminar his pastoral work with Christians and Muslims, the conflicts in the Middle East gained a different “taste” than that given by a television report of a few minutes. When in 2012 we organized a SIPCC Seminar in Tanzania with the theme Caring for Creation - Caring for People: Climate Changes and Natural Disasters as Challenges for Care and Counselling and the participants travelled for hours by bus through the parched land, then the problem of global warming becomes a more personal challenge to each one of us. When participants sit in a Seminar in Mainz in the New Synagogue, and admire that beautiful building and hear about the fate of the Jewish community there through many centuries, the question of interreligious dialogue is much more urgent than when we meet in “theological circles” and discuss at an intellectual level.

In immediate personal – physical and bodily – encounter, relationships are formed that are inescapable. They set the life and the surrounding of persons in a new light. Intercultural and inter-religious learning needs this incarnational (born into) “corporality” so that encounters and relationships take place not only on an abstract and intellectual level, but in a physical, sensory, and emotional manner. SIPCC offers safe and open spaces for such relationships and for learning processes of care and counselling in an intercultural and inter-religious framework.

Our association conducts all events in cooperation with other institutions and agencies. As an example: the annual International Seminars take place each year at diverse locations (2009 Israel, 2010 France, 2011 Hamburg, Germany, 2012 Tanzania; 2013 Mainz, Germany; 2014 Netherlands, 2015 Poland) with organizations from that country. We want to build up relationships on institutional levels too and to enhance the learning of institutions. Preparations with these organisations mean sharing and crossing structural boundaries without abandoning our respective institutional identities. These processes between organisations offer many opportunities of intercultural and inter-religious exchange and dialogue. But in SIPCC we always have a common interest and goal: to enhance care and counselling and to become aware of and engage to the needs of the people. We orient ourselves in our cooperation to a “third reference point” outside of ourselves and the respective organisations: people in need. They are our common objective.

Not only as individuals, but also as a Society we want to learn. That is why we have set up what we call a Study Group and a Research Network to reflect on and develop this common institutional learning. At the same time, we offer our experience and expertise to other institutions. The collaboration is usually done without much difficulty, but sometimes conflicts may show up. They can begin with language differences (for example, different understanding of “Seelsorge”, “cure of souls” and “spiritual care”), different ideas about the title of the seminar, or how the social and political specificities in different countries can be taken into account (for example, differences between pastoral activity in hospitals in the Netherlands as compared to Germany). This raises again the question of how we can work together with all the existing institutional differences and interests and how we can foster communal learning.

Areas of learning

In intercultural and inter-religious context – in personal and institutional encounters and relationships, but also in intercultural and inter-religious care and counselling – we have to adapt to new perspectives on a wide range of topics. From the experience of our activities in the SIPCC, we have learned that many issues are at stake: language, family, gender roles, authority, power, work and economic conditions, violence, values, religion, health and disease, to name only a few. All of these issues are closely tied to specific cultural and religious meanings; there is a great variety how these terms can be understood and these different understandings must be discovered and explained in conversations. All of these words are complex in meaning, and that is marked by the context. Only in context are words spoken and and only through the context do words become fully alive. Out of these many areas of learning I would like to give a short outline of just three examples: Language – Family – Religion.


Language is not the only one, but an essential element of interpersonal communication. Again and again it is necessary to reflect the on linguistic issues in communication. This is even more urgent when people of different cultures and religions meet and have to speak in foreign languages. All who have to speak in foreign languages know that translation is an art form that succeeds more or less. Present day needs for understanding have improved the effectiveness of translation. But still: what are we talking about when we use certain words? Does the equivalent in the other language – and sometimes there is none – really match or does it transport a foreign “world”? What images do certain words produce in speaker and hearer, if they come from different linguistic and cultural contexts? Are the images compatible in speaker and listener? In SIPCC meetings we operate mostly in two languages, and it is interesting to observe the linguistic misunderstandings and how they affect the emotions. Many times it happens that misunderstandings do not originate through errors in translation, but from different interpretations of terms in the other language. Language is not static, it moves.

As in care and counselling listening plays a major role in intercultural and inter-religious exchange. Both sides have to have the chance to express themselves, and tell their stories from different sides until the listener gets the impression of coming close to the meaning of the words. And the speakers have to direct themselves to the listeners; they have to stay in contact to them, relating to them. That is a good exercise and needs a lot of patience.


Human beings like most animals start their life in families – and they live in one or another form through their whole life in families. But there are different family models shaped by culture and living conditions that make it difficult simply to talk about the family. When people from India, Africa or the United States are speaking about “my family,” what is on their mind? When Turkish patients in a German hospital expect the visit of “the family,” who will come? When a German patient in the hospital is telling the chaplain that he has good relationships to “his family,” whom does he include? Care and counselling with people from our own, but especially from other, cultures have to understand the respective family structures of people to understand the person: how she or he is living in community, who is sustaining him or her not only emotionally but economically and spiritually. Of course, there is the possibility that certain family structures are poisonous and destructive, that traditional structures have become outdated, and care and counselling has to deal with that too. Quite often counselling an individual is at the same time a sort of family counselling. And family counselling in different contexts has to take many different forms and methods. Systemic and intercultural approaches are supporting each other in care and counselling.


When you meet people from other religions, you will encounter persons with convictions that are essential to them and part of their identity. For religious people, these beliefs are ultimate truths that are non-negotiable. How can we converse on religion and deep conviction when people hold theirs as fundamental? You can inform each other about your faith, but for most it is what is done that shows “faith”. It is very valuable to exchange information about our own religion, the contents, rituals, ethical standards and the everyday practices and how all of that was formed through tradition and how it can be understood today. But it would still be talking “about”. To go into a personal encounter about religion and truth means to share with others one’s own spiritual life, with all its joys and doubts, opening one’s own heart intimately, sharing confidence and hope, unrest and despair. We could share how faith shapes our lives. We could show what role religion plays in our personal biography, how it has become a resource for life and the points where we struggle with religious traditions. Such exchange not only requires mutual respect for the religious experiences of the other, but mutual appreciation. This is not easy because religious truths always have a claim of “personal certainty”. Certainty is not meant as an ultimate “security” in oneself. Certainty and confidence is formed in dialogue and in relation to the “ultimate reality” of each religion, that is, in relation to what concerns us ultimately. These certainties become “truths” only in relationship. If truths, certainties, confidence and claims of ultimate concerns (even if we call them divine) are perceived as expression of relationships to our “ultimate reality”, they can become fruitful for inter-religious communication.

SIPCC – an open space for the development of a hermeneutics of intercultural and inter-religious care and counselling

The encounters of different people with their life and faith stories, with their beliefs and cultural and religious influences, always develop a dynamic that can be full of strangeness, tension, surprise, pain and blissful togetherness. Encounters in this – especially emotional – diversity with openness and respect are often accompanied with uncertainty and in some cases even with unconscious harm. It is therefore necessary to reflect again and again on the processes of encountering. They require an intercultural and inter-religious hermeneutics. During the many meetings and discussions in SIPCC we have found this to be a key question to understand what is going on in encounters with others: how can we, being strange to each other, go into relation? How can relationship take place in difference? Our answer: in each situation of encountering, we have to build up “relationship in difference”. We have to start with recognizing that we are Others to each other. From there we can try to come closer to each other emotionally or in finding a common third point to which we can relate together. Schleiermacher (the theologian and translator of Greek philosophers) said: normally we misunderstand each other, because we come from another “world”, and we have to bring these worlds into a dialogue to come closer to each other.

In SIPCC we are offering open spaces for this “translation work”: to learn to “read” the signs and the communication of others and to search for their meaning – despite diversity. Intercultural and inter-religious encounters clearly reveal what is constitutive of all work in care and counselling, namely, to become open to others and to meet them with one’s own personal being. This hermeneutical principle of difference in relationship provides an important clue for human encounter and caring action. SIPCC offers learning experiences in many forms: International Seminars and other conferences, study trips and courses and through reflecting on our experiences in a variety of publications.11 In order to promote intercultural and inter-religious learning and to develop the hermeneutics and theory building in our field, as mentioned earlier, we have established a Study Group for enhancing the processes in our meetings and a Research Network to do interdisciplinary research on intercultural and inter-religious care and counselling.

Understanding culture

When we talk about “culture” and “religion,” some explanation is needed regarding what these terms mean in our context, since both are understood in many ways. For care and counselling and for communication it seems to me that the description of Clifford Geertz, a U.S. anthropologist and ethnologist, is very helpful. He states that cultures are “networks of meanings”.12 Without these networks of meaning, people remain animals, because we need guidance and control mechanisms for our behaviour, which are not genetically given to us as they are to animals.13 Humans “spin a web of meaning” to communicate and to have orientation to appropriate behaviour.14 Culture as a system of signs and symbols and as a net of meaning is continuously changing. A continuous discourse has to go on about meaning under ever-changing circumstances. Since the circumstances are different from person to person, from country to country, from tradition to tradition and so on, the search for meaning is an intercultural search in all fields of life: we have to go into relationship with others to listen to their expressions and needs and to tell them what we need ourselves. “Culture as network” means: being with others, being in communion and taking responsibility for social developments.

Intercultural hermeneutics understands the expressions (words, gestures, behaviour, etc.) of others not only as individual expression, but as embedded into a collective “sign system”, which he/she shares with some others and which has become a “second nature”. But at the same time his/her expressions have to be taken individually and even if they can be understood by all humans to some extent. The “system of signs” always includes different levels and is plural in itself. Even my own expressions are to be understood as a system of signs that is ambiguous and plural. In intercultural communication we encounter diverse complex “worlds” that can only be understood when we reflect on them and go into communication with them.

Understanding of religion

Religion can be viewed as a particular “culture”, as “socially established structures of meaning”. However, culture and religion have to be distinguished. The theologian Gerd Theißen helps us to understand the difference when he writes: “Religion is a cultural system of signs that promises fulfilment of life by correspondence to an ultimate reality.”15 He continues: “What is so special about the religious system of signs? It can be characterised as a combination of three forms of expression that are coming together only in religion: myth, ritual and ethics.”16 However, religion is not fixed, but is formed in living myth, ritual and ethics. Every religion is based on basic stories, rituals and practice of behaviour, but religion becomes meaningless when it is not “practiced”. Religion is an interpretation of reality and life that helps us to reflect on the significance of our daily lives, provides an overall context and supplies meaning and purpose. If we accept this understanding of religion, we discover that pastoral care is a form of religious communication: it strives to bring to everyday reality of life the context of the “ultimate reality” – in Christian terms: to connect life with God, who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.

Steps of understanding in intercultural and inter-religious communication

Intercultural and inter-religious communications indicate complex dynamics in the encounter between people of different cultural and religious systems. To promote cultural and religious understanding in all difference, I propose the following steps:

a) sharing stories of our existential situations (i.e. not talking that is detached from the reality of life, but understanding such existential situations as a starting point for encounter;

b) exploring cultural and religious interpretations of these situations and the meaning of them;

c) reflecting on the background of these interpretations (this includes addressing the cultural and religious traditions and resources and dialogue with the “fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters” who are involved);

d) verifying what interpretations are currently applicable to the situations described (reality check);

e) if needed, looking for new, more helpful interpretations;

f) listening to how people from different religious and cultural traditions interpret the situation;

g) entering with them into an open conversation, even if the interpretations are controversial.

In such processes, relationship takes place – even if differences and misunderstandings remain.

SIPCC – a learning experience in intercultural and inter-religious competence

The activities of SIPCC enhance intercultural and inter-religious competencies. Emotional, rational and spiritual learning grows through encounters, reflections and understanding the interpersonal dynamics of people who are different from ourselves. The aim is to teach identity and relatedness as basic means of care and counselling and living together in societies. Personal and spiritual confidence and trust of oneself and the appreciation of cultural and religious convictions of others come together. In an open discourse, changes and learning become possible.

To improve intercultural and inter-religious competencies means learning how to deal with the familiar and foreign, with individual and cultural weaknesses, with regressive and sometimes aggressive impulses in dealing with strangers and what is strange to us. It is about unbearable feelings of powerlessness, fear of failure, hurts and pain in oneself and in others and, if possible, to use the crises experienced in encounters with others in productive and creative ways. Crises, uncertainty and helplessness can be understood as a challenge and an opportunity of understanding and relationship. Communication becomes sensitive to intimacy and distance, to closeness and defence and to understanding and not understanding. All persons involved in intercultural and inter-religious situations can reasonably be expected to remain in conversation, even if it runs on different levels of interaction and communication. When faults occur, they do not revoke either the conversation or the relationship; if we keep talking and relating,, it is possible to make the disorder itself the subject of communication. This may create a joint effort that aims to bring the process to a mutual understanding again. The aim of SIPCC is to reinforce such abilities and make them useful for care and counselling.


SIPCC understands itself as a “learning community”. Our association sees its task as helping people to develop their cultural and religious identity and to relate to people with identities different from our own. In an open and at the same time protected space people may experiment in dealing with others, may learn and test themselves. It is important that others may remain different from us, they do not have to adapt and to resign - and yet those others may change in the exchange with us. In this way, diversity is lived, the exercise of power is reduced and togetherness is strengthened. Differences can be seen, endured and appreciated. At the same time, it is important to seek understanding and interpersonal similarities, to show that people are equal in dignity and share valuable experiences. Thus, integration and inclusion can be learned and the cohesion of societies promoted.

The learning community focuses its activities on care and counselling: Concern for people in their concrete life is the connecting reference point. The specific living conditions of people form the fundamental point of reference, which helps us not to circle around ourselves but see what is going on “outside”. Concern for others becomes the common task. The perception of the respective contexts of people and their impact on the physical and psychological conditions of those people are essential in order to go into relationship and to be helpful to them. Intercultural and interfaith care and counselling is learning with concrete people and their specific needs, difficulties, problems – and joys.

Through including cultural, religious, economic, social and historical contexts, care and counselling becomes a socially relevant activity and reinforces learning in civil responsibility and participation.

Inter-religious and intercultural care and counselling is learning in spirituality. It occurs in relation to an “ultimate reality” that can be named and believed in differently, but can be seen as a creative force that seeks and donates confidence in life. Caring for people is connected with this ultimate reality in practice and its spiritual and theological grounding. This leads to realising one’s own human limitations and to humbleness towards the power that “is greater than ourselves” and to the people who seek help and give help.

7 K. Federschmidt, „Introduction“, in: K. Federschmidt, E. Hauschildt, Chr. Schneider-Harpprecht, K. Temme and H. Weiß (eds.), Handbuch Interkulturelle Seelsorge, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2002, 14.

8 H. Weiß, “Die Entdeckung Interkultureller Seelsorge”, ibid., 17-37.

9 Cf. the list of these seminars in the appendix of this book.

10 For the activities of SIPCC, see

11 See

12 Cf. C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, New York: Basic Books, 1973, 5: “Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs.” And on page 12: “Culture consists of socially established structures of meaning.”

13 Ibid., 49: “Without men, no culture, certainly; but equally, and more significantly, without culture, no men.”

14 Ibid., 44: “Culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns – customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters – as has, by and large, been the case up to now, but as a set of control mechanisms – plans, recipes, rules, instructions (what computer engineers call ‘programs’) – for the governing of behavior… Man is precisely the animal most desperately dependent upon such extra-genetic, outside-the-skin control mechanisms, such cultural programs, for ordering behavior.”

15 G. Theißen, Die Religion der ersten Christen, 4th ed., Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2008, 19. (Revised and expanded version of G. Theißen, A Theory of Primitive Christian Religion, London: SCM, 1999).

16 Ibid., 21.

Part A

Towards a

Hermeneutical Approach to

Pastoral Caregiving

in Intercultural Perspective

Intercultural Exchange:

A Discovery of Being Different I

Julian Müller South Africa, 1996

Personal experience as a South African

The earliest story of my life that I can remember is a birthday story. It must have been either my third or fourth birthday, I am not sure. On that birthday I received as birthday present from my parents a box with a few toy cars in it. I remember that I was overjoyed and that my first intention was to show this wonderful present to my best friend. We lived on a farm and my best and only playmate at the time was Daniel, a black boy, a little older than me. He and his parents lived on the farm and they were our servants. So, I ran outside to show my present to Daniel. I remember that he was sitting on a little bench in a room in the backyard. Proudly I showed him the cars. He looked and admired, and then after a while, chose the two most beautiful ones and gently pushed them on their wheels, underneath his bench, backwards. With this act, he said to me without words: “I’ll take these, thank you!” The rest I do not really remember. There must have been a commotion, but I got my cars back. Perhaps my parents intervened. The fact is that I got the cars back.

This is a personal little story from my childhood and I would like to use it as a basis of reflection on the South African society.

1. The story of South Africa is one of involvement and even enmeshment of black and white people. Like the little boy who ran to share his birthday joy with his best friend, most people in South Africa would be able to tell stories of how they shared moments of joy and sorrow with someone of another race.

Black and white South Africa don’t exist as two completely separated and isolated worlds. Although the apartheid policy was a form of social engineering which forced people apart in different neighbourhoods, different schools, different churches, etc., it couldn’t stop people’s involvement with each other. Economical realities forced people towards each other, at least in the work situation. And today South Africa is very rapidly changing towards a totally integrated society – a process which started gradually long before the laws of segregation were repealed.

2. A second point of reflection on my childhood story: As in Daniel and my relationship, most South Africans grew up with definitive and even rigid role distinctions and expectations. Although Daniel was my friend, he knew and I knew that he was the servant and I was the boss. And because of historical reasons all the bosses are white and all servants are black in the South African community. Therefore we grew up with the stereotype that a person’s colour equals his/her value and status in society. When people are framed into these roles because of stereotypes which developed in our minds from childhood, one cannot easily get rid of such presuppositions. I must admit that within the South African context, it is up to this day not easy for me not to put myself in the boss-role when communicating with a black person. I think that I and many other South Africans try hard, but find it still an effort, a struggle to become free from the roles inflicted on us through our upbringing.

3. These are structures of society with a long history. The roles into which Daniel and myself fitted so easily from childhood, were the inheritance of generations before us and the way in which they structured society. The way in which the South African society developed was not the result of a criminal government which one day sat down and made a list of vicious laws. It developed through centuries and what the Nationalist government wrote in the law books from 1948, was only the legalising of social practice through many years. The development of this legalisation process represents indeed the deepest point of inhuman and unchristian discriminatory practices. But the fact is that it is deeply rooted in the history of our community.

4. This story represents most probably also a difference between the African and Western experience of personal property. According to the western capitalistic mind, personal belongings and property are individualistically earned. The African, on the other hand, has primarily a communalistic mind. The riches which were developed on African soil by western industries and capital, are seen as the corporate riches of all the people. Prosperity and poverty must be shared by all. That is why issues such as the private ownership of land and the rights of inhabitant workers on farms are the most difficult ones to handle in the negotiation processes.

It is against this background of personal bias, a history of social injustices, and conflicting cultural expectations in the South African context, that I would like to try and contribute to the development of theory which can be of value in our praxis of intercultural interaction, especially in the field of pastoral family therapy.

Approaches to culture in the social sciences and in family therapy

In recent literature, a number of different possible approaches to intercultural therapy were described:

The essentialist view: According to this view17 cultural differences are considered to be much like other differences, i.e. differences based on gender and age. Culture is seen as an overwhelming influence which determines the individual’s behaviour and thought. According to this view, the individual does not really operate as an agent constructing and making choices about his/her own life.

The essentialist definition of culture would have us think about culture as one great organism in which all parts are connected to all other parts. You have to take either the whole lot or none of it, for only in this way could culture have the iron hold on individuals required to form and mould their bodies and their minds. If, however, we combine a generative notion of culture with an interactive one then it becomes possible not only to consider some cultural differences more important than others but also to talk about them cross-culturally.18

The universalistic view: The universalist approach19 takes the position that persons and families of different cultures are more alike than different. This school of thought argues that there are basic similarities which are to be found in all cultures, for instance the concept that all children need love and discipline and that parenting always involves a combination of nurturing and control.

The problem with this view is that the perception of what is considered to be normative, may be local knowledge or beliefs based on a certain cultural experience. It also follows that adherents of this position have little use for training in cultural differences.

The particularistic view: This position is the opposite of the universalistic one. According to this approach persons and families of different cultures are more different than alike and no generalisations are possible. The uniqueness of each family is stressed and often idiosyncrasies of a certain family are referred to as “a culture unto itself”. As was said by Falicov: “In the particularist position, then, the word culture is tied to the internal beliefs of each particular family rather than to the connection between the family and the broader sociocultural context.”20

As is the case with the universalist view, this approach also doesn’t regard cultural training as very important, because the family’s interior, which is always unique, is held solely responsible for all of the family’s distress. In discussing this view, Inga-Britt Krause calls it: culture as an idiom of differences. The popular use of the word “culture” shows a preoccupation with diversity, choice and identity. “Culture becomes an idiom for the expression of all kinds of individual differences and appears to encompass everything.” 21

The ethnic-focused approach: According to this position families differ, but the diversity is primarily due to the factor of ethnicity.22 The focus here is on thought patterns, behaviours, feelings, customs, and rituals that stem from belonging to a particular cultural group. This school of thought would see culture as a symbolic expression, and “a symbol is some form of fixed sensory sign to which meanings has been arbitrarily attached. Persons within a cultural tradition share common understandings. Those outside this symbol system take great risks in inferring the meanings of symbols from the outside of their own system.”23

In this position there is a real danger in oversystematising and stereotyping the notion of shared meanings. It might be assumed that ethnogroupings are more homogeneous and stable than they actually are. We are actually talking here of an epistemological error: “...clients are seen as their culture, not as themselves.” Bateson warns also that “The map is not the territory, and the name is not the thing named.”24

Ethnic values and identity are influenced by various factors. There are variables within the group (education, social class, religion, etc.) and then there are the phenomena of cultural evolution and the effect of influences stimulated by contact with the dominant culture. Perhaps the most important limitation is the assumption that the observer, the person who describes the other culture, can be objective and has no effect on the conclusions being made about the group observed.

A narrative approach to intercultural pastoral therapy

Over and against these four approaches, I want to propose the narrative model of intercultural understanding and communication. The narrative approach implies that the therapist places him or herself in a not-knowing position. And that position calls for “...a kind of conversational questioning that leaves room for the client’s story as told by the client in the client’s own words, unchallenged by preconceived therapeutic knowing.”25 “The process of therapy is not to reveal the truth or to impose a reality, but to explore through conversation, through languaging, realities that are compatible with a particular client’s unique tendency to attribute meaning and explanation in his or her own life.”26

In spite of the well intended and well phrased theories introduced by Augsburger in his good book, concepts like interpathy and transspection27 are too much coloured by a knowing position and do not reveal the same epistemological position to be found in the not-knowing position of the narrative approach. The idea that a therapist is capable of moving over to persons of the other culture in a process of transspection, is already arrogant and knowing. It reveals something of an asymmetrical communication, of a messianic role instead of a partnership role. It consists of a movement initiated form here to there, while the narrative approach wants to experience the sensation of being drawn into the other’s world, of being drawn over the threshold of a cultural difference.

The narrative approach to therapy is clearly and in detail described by authors like Anderson and Goolishian and Michael White.28 Anderson and Goolishian describe the therapeutic conversation as “...a slowly evolving and detailed, concrete, individual life story stimulated by the therapist’s position of not-knowing and the therapist’s curiosity to learn.” 29 Seen from this point of view, intercultural therapy seems no longer a complex and rather impossible task, as long as the therapist is honestly willing to learn from the person from the other culture. “The kenotic pattern of Philippians 2:25ff describes the Christ-conversation and makes clear that our position must be one of service rather than domination or social control. A stance of agape-listening places the pastoral conversation in the realm of mutual co-authoring of a new story for the one in need of healing by valuing the unique reality of the other while continually striving for a stance of openness and humility.”30

The “tools” which fit this approach to therapy are: responsive-active listening; a not-knowing position; conversational questions. The aim, as in all therapy, is change, but change within this perspective can be defined as “...the evolution of new meaning, new narrative identity, and new self-agency.”31 The narrative approach has a capacity to “re-relate” events in the context of new meaning. We can refer to this kind of therapy as “being in language”.32

When working in this school of thought, it becomes increasingly difficult to view culture on the basis of the previously mentioned approaches. Culture must be seen as a much more immediate and ongoing process and not as something static which is handed down unaltered from generation to generation. The broad definition which Falicov gives, is perhaps one which fits into this paradigm: “...those sets of shared world views, meanings and adaptive behaviours derived from simultaneous membership and participation in a multiplicity of contexts, such as rural, urban or suburban setting; language, age, gender, cohort, family configuration, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, socioeconomic status, employment, education, occupation, sexual orientation, political ideology; migration and stage of acculturation.” 33

When the combinations of “simultaneous memberships” and “participation in multiple contexts” are seriously taken into account, the groups that emerge are much more “fluid, unpredictable and shifting, than the groups defined by using an ethnic-focused approach.”34 It thus becomes much more difficult to make generalisations about culture groups and much more necessary to take on a not-knowing position.

In discussing the phenomena of cultures, cultural similarities and differences, Falicov refers to two important concepts:35

Cultural Borderlands, a concept which refers to the overlapping zones of difference and similarity within and between cultures. This gives rise to internal inconsistencies and conflicts. On the other hand, it is the borderlands that offer possibilities of connectedness. Falicov refers to the poet, Gloria Anzaldua who describes the “new mestiza” (a woman of mixed Indian and Spanish ancestry born in die USA): She “copes by developing a tolerance for ambiguity. She learns to be Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view. She learns to juggle cultures. She has a plural personality.”

Ecological Niche refers to the combination of multiple contexts and partial cultural locations. We can think of a family narrative which encompasses multiple contexts rather than a single label (Mormon, African, Afrikaner, Boer). The philosophy here is to emphasise large categories – a philosophy that supports inclusiveness and a diversified unity.

With these concepts in mind, I again want to strongly argue the notknowing position of the narrative approach as the only acceptable approach in an intercultural therapeutic situation. I agree with the approach and words of Dyche and Zayas: “We argue that one should begin cross-cultural therapy with minimal assumptions, and that one way to learn about a culture is from the client. This argument seeks to balance the cognitive model of preparation with a process-oriented approach by exploring two therapist attitudes: cultural naiveté and respectful curiosity.”36

The ideal is for therapists to be participant-observers. Rather than working with historically constructed descriptions only, the therapist should learn from a present and current cultural community.37 As is shown by Goolishian and Anderson, all human systems are linguistic systems and are best being described from inside by those participating in it, than by so called objective observers.38

Narrative pastoral counselling: a social constructionist approach

Narrative therapy can be described as the rewriting of history and autobiography.39 And this rewriting takes place through the mutual conversational co-creation of new stories. This is a view of pastoral counselling which takes seriously our “radical embeddedness in history and language.” “Such a view takes for granted the creative and creating power of language. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the God who is active in history is also active in language. Consider the powerful dhabar of the Old Testament creation narratives and the logos of John’s gospel and the early Church Fathers.”40

To focus on conversation in this way directs our attention away from the inner dynamics of the individual psyche or events in the external world.41 Instead, we are more free to be attentive to words in their speaking, words we create and by which we are created.

With reference to an article by Gergen, Boyd summarises the social construction orientation as follows:42

• what we take to be experience of the world does not in itself dictate the terms by which the world is understood,

• the terms in which the world is understood are social artifacts, produced of historically situated interchanges among people,

• the degree to which a given form of understanding prevails or is sustained across time is not fundamentally dependent on the empirical validity of the perspective in question, but on the vicissitudes of social processes (e.g., communication, negotiation, conflict, rhetoric), and

• forms of negotiated understanding are of critical significance in social life, as they are integrally connected with many other activities in which people engage.

To take a narrative approach is to look for a “negotiated understanding”. When a new negotiated understanding is reached, a new narrative has been constructed. By taking this approach, culture is no longer seen as a determining factor, but as an interesting “borderland” from where new “ecological niches” can be developed. Then human beings become inventors of and inventions of culture. The prerequisite is of course that we take on the risks of the borderlands and give ourselves for intercultural interaction. As Augsburger puts it: “This change comes from encounter, contact, and interaction, not from programmic education or social engineering. It occurs on the boundary, not in the cultural enclave. ... The capacity not only to ‘believe’ the second culture but to come to understand it both cognitively (‘thinking with’) and affectively (‘feeling with’) is necessary before one enters cross-cultural counselling.”43

The way we interpret our world, the rights and wrongs of our life, the good and bad, are all products of our social (and therefore cultural) embeddedness. “There is no recounting of the history of a country ... apart from a narrative loaded with interpretations of interpretations which are by-products of human relationships.”44

The South African context

Although things have changed much for the better during the past few years, the poem by a black South African, Oswald Mtshali, still describes the situation in our country:


Man is

a great wall builder

The Berlin Wall

The Wailing Wall of Jerusalem

But the wall

most impregnable

Has a moat

flowing with fright

around his heart

A wall without windows

for the spirit to breeze through

A wall

without a door for love to walk in.

Oswald Mtshali, Soweto poet

These walls of fear are part and parcel of the South African scene and history. The following story shows how in an ironic, but tragic way, it shapes our lives: “This is a parable of fear obscuring fear that occurred a long time ago, in a small town called Bulwer, in 1906 – the year of the Bambatha rebellion, the last Zulu uprising. Bulwer lay close to Zulu territory, and white farmers in the district feared the local Zulus might join Bambatha’s rebel army and butcher their masters in bed. So the whites called a meeting and formulated a plan of action: if the Zulus rose, all whites would rush to Bulwer and barricade themselves inside the stone courthouse.