South African theologian and university administrator to lead February Meetings

South African theologian and university administrator to lead February Meetings

January 8, 2008
Karen B. Eldridge, Director of News and Public Information

Dr. Russel Botman, rector of Stellenbosch University in South Africa and president of the South African Council of Churches, will be the speaker for Maryville College’s 2008 February Meetings, scheduled for Feb. 4-5.

Held annually at the College since 1877, February Meetings have offered the College and local community an opportunity to reflect on authentic Christian faith and action in the contemporary world. In years past, guest speakers and special music have been highlights of the condensed lecture series, which is open to all members of the College community, people in the area and visitors, including the College’s Board of Church Visitors.

Botman’s three talks will center on a theme entitled “Confessing Hope: Stories of Faith and Struggle from South Africa.”

“Dr. Botman has been an important figure in helping his country and his church find the path from division to unity and from struggle to hope. His stories and reflections promise to inspire our own Christian commitment in the places we live and work,” said the Rev. Anne D. McKee, campus minister at Maryville College and one of the organizers of February Meetings.

“While South Africa ended its system of official segregation more recently than we did in the United States, I’m sure that people who attend February Meetings will be able to draw connections from Dr. Botman’s experiences to their own,” she added. “Here in the United States, we, as a country, still work toward greater understanding of those who are different from us.”

Botman was recommended as a February Meetings speaker by longtime friend Dr. Ronald Wells, director of the Maryville Symposium.

“In a time at our College when we are talking about diversity, Russel’s message of hope across racial lines will be powerful,” Wells said.

Botman’s first presentation, scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday, Feb. 4 in the Alumni Gymnasium, is entitled “God’s People Divided: Life Under Apartheid.”

“Through most of the 20th Century, the church in South Africa suffered under the same divisions, or apartheid, that the rest of society did. And many churches defended the apartheid system as the will of God,” McKee explained. “Between 1982 and 1986, officials of various Reformed churches in South Africa, including Dr. Botman, gathered to discern what the gospel required in their situation of racial division. Out of those meetings came the Confession of Belhar, which asserts that being committed to the unity of God’s people is essential to being a Christian.

“Dr. Botman will speak about what it was like to live under apartheid, how a church’s words and actions can make a difference, and how life is changing in the new South Africa,” she added.

At 1 p.m., Tues., Feb. 5 in the Samuel Tyndale Wilson Center for Campus Ministry, the guest speaker will present “The Greatest of These is HOPE: The Confession at Belhar.”

“Leaving Hate Behind: Life in the New South Africa” is the title for the concluding presentation, scheduled for 7 p.m., Tues., Feb. 5 in the Alumni Gymnasium.

Botman obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in theology from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in Cape Town, South Africa. During the 1980 and 1990s, he served as minister and assessor of the former Dutch Reformed Mission Church. He was appointed in 1994 as senior lecturer in practical theology in the faculty of religion and theology at UWC. In 1999 he was promoted to associate professor and later named dean of the faculty.

He joined Stellenbosch University in 2000 as professor in the department of practical theology and missiology. Two years later, he was appointed vice-rector. In December 2006 he was named rector (president).

An internationally known theologian, leader and ecumenical role-player, Botman has advised the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Geneva on several topics. Since 2004, he has been president of the South African Council of Churches and has also served in the ministerial task group that advised South Africa’s minister of education on matters regarding religion and education.

He serves as a member of various organizations such as the International Academy of Practical Theology. In 1989, he received a special award from the Town Council of Milwaukee (Minn.) as a leading champion for justice and humanness. He is the former chairperson of the Theology Association of Southern Africa, the founding member of and senior advisor to the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology and was the former chairperson of the Higher Education Quality Audit team for the Witwatersrand University in 2006.

Botman has contributed 24 chapters to a number of books and major publications. He has also published 14 articles in theological magazines and has made a number of contributions to popular journals.

For more information about February Meetings, contact McKee at 865.981.8298 or

Session 1: 7 p.m., Monday, Feb. 4

Session 2: 1 p.m., Tues., Feb. 5

Session 3: 7 p.m., Tues., Feb. 5

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.