Doctoral Student Profile: Koos Tamminga
My Ph.D. research (at TU Kampen, The Netherlands) centers around the question of disability inclusion and the church. A large part of the project exists in an ethnographic study of the Ontmoetingskerk (Encounter Church). The Ontmoetingskerk is part of a new initiative called Hart van Vathorst (HVV, Heart of Vathorst, Vathorst being a part of the Dutch town of Amersfoort). HVV is a cooperation project of a local church, an ‘inclusive daycare center’ for children and two disability service providers. About 100 people live in HVV. The Ontmoetingskerk joined the project stating that they wanted to share their lives, not just the roof of their building. They framed this desire in terms of being an ‘inclusive congregation’. Through participant observations, interviews and document study, I try to find out what inclusion means in relation to church life, and how it is embodied in HVV. This research will shed light on how churches in the Netherlands and internationally can become places where people of all abilities belong.
The main reason for using ethnography in this research project is what Bonhoeffer writes about Christian communities in Life Together. Bonhoeffer argues that the ideal of a perfect community suffocates the life of the actual community. The danger is that someone’s dreamed community becomes more important than the given community, causing endless frustration and, more importantly, disregard for the gifts that the Spirit gives. When talking about inclusion in Christian communities, this danger is very real. I’m highly influenced by disability theologians, yet the risk in their approach may be that their ideal community never comes into existence but remains a wonderful dream. Ethnography functions as a chastening (a term borrowed from Nicholas Healy) of such ideals. In this regard, the work of John Swinton is highly influential for my own research, as he, too, combines qualitative research methods, practical theology, an interest in the life of the church, and the theme of disability in his work.
At this moment I’m in the difficult phase of ‘making my data speak’ (Cf. Knut Tveitereid’s recent chapter in What Really Matters). It is a phase that I love because all the things I collected during my fieldwork start to come together. But it is also a very difficult phase, specifically because I have to choose which themes I do and do not include and discuss.
Contact Koos at email@example.com