A woman of many talents and gifts, Rev. Dr Seforosa Carroll is a mother, church minister, theologian, social activist, and academic who recently completed six months of work as resident member of a research team at Princeton University in the United States.
Dr. Sef is of Rotuman heritage and grew up in the town of Lautoka which lies just outside of Fiji’s International Airport in Nadi. Having grown up in Fiji before migrating to Australia, Dr Sef’s work and research has centred heavily around the Pacific Diasporic communities. *[Diasporicor diasporais a fancy way of describing any group of people who have migrated from their country of origin to another place.]
I recently met up with Dr Sef at the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva, after her presentation at the Association of Practical Theology in Oceania (APTO) Conference. I have known Dr Sef for a good five years now and to be quite honest, her public persona of humility, hospitality, kindness, and sharp, yet conscientious intellect, is true to her nature in private as well.
Theology, which in its most-simplest of terms means “the study of God”, is an area that is heavily dominated by men throughout the world and especially here in the Pacific region. Yet, Dr. Sef has beaten the odds by not only becoming a female minister in the Uniting Church of Australia, but she attained her Doctorate of Theology in 2015 and has gone on to work interactively with both Australian and Pacific church communities.
Bula Dr Sef, thank you for giving PWN some of your precious time to speak to our community of readers throughout the Pacific. Could you please begin by introducing yourself?
Thank you for having me. I’m Rev. Dr. Seforosa Carroll and I currently work for Uniting World, which is the Uniting Church’s international partnership and development agency. In this role I work as a theological researcher as well as in the area of church partnership within the Pacific.
You presented a paper this morning to an audience of religious leaders and academics. Here in the Pacific, a woman in the theological field is quite a rare feat to behold. Could you speak on the importance of theological development in the Pacific for women?
Theology or theological development is really important in the Pacific because the region is very faith based and orientated. The church, in most cases is the pivotal point in Pacific society, so if we are looking to make transformative and lasting change, then we need to look at theology because the Bible is sacred and held to be the “Word of God” in most instances. So, for example, if you want to address and change attitudes/behaviour towards violence against women, then you have to engage theologically with the Bible, because it has been used to validate or justify violence against women. People sometimes miss the connection of how religious teachings often influence societal attitudes towards women, so it’s important to educate and create discussions.
You also spoke on “bridging the divide” with the diaspora, could you elaborate on that a little?
Women in the diaspora and the Pacific can actually help resource, empower, and support one another across the line. There are some universal issues and themes they could work on together, like violence; the violence doesn’t stop when they migrate, so there are common themes and issues they could work on together. The other is in terms of resourcing one another theologically, this is an untapped area which hasn’t been thoroughly explored. Also, politically, the women in diaspora could be conduits through which the voices of the people and women of the Pacific can then be amplified to the Australian context. In return, women in the Pacific could educate and reconnect the diaspora back to their indigenous roots – there is this yearning from many of us overseas to reaffirm our place of belonging to our native countries.
Is there a space for men at the table when speaking or doing work on women’s issues in the Pacific?
Yes, I believe that men need to have a space at the table when it comes to gender issues. When feminism entered into the region, it was primarily seen as women’s issues/challenges, and I think there was a space for that, but it’s now time to move on. I believe that women, the church, and NGOs now recognise that men need to be part of this “weaving” of solutions when it comes to the vulnerable situations which many women find themselves in.
Sister Katy said something profound yesterday, she said, “If men weave together with us women, it would make it hard for them to destroy what we have woven together.” In other words, men would have a harder time dismantling or destroying something they have helped to create. So yes, men have a part to play because you can’t continue to empower women while leaving the men behind, this as you can imagine, would create problems of its own.
Final question, in terms of women’s theology in the Pacific, what is the place of Pacific Theology with regards to women in the global context? Does the Pacific have something to contribute to the global theological conversation?
Definitely! We have something to contribute to the global conversation, and part of that is our difference. Feminism in its most basic aspiration, is about the inclusion of a diversity of voices. So, it’s never really about one particular experience, it’s about multiple experiences. Therefore, Pacific theology or Pacific women’s theology, have a place in that spectrum. Robert Schreider talks about the criteria of a good contextual theology, and one of them is that – contextual theology should not only speak to or within its own context but should actually speak beyond it. If the theology does not go beyond its own context, then it becomes myopic or narrow in its nature, and this does not make for a sound theology.
Interviewing Dr Sef that morning, it became evidently clear that theology is indeed a crucial subject that is in much need of demystification throughout the Pacific. It can be seen as a lofty academic pursuit, but the reality is that theology has daily repercussions in the lives and faith of most Pacific women. Although the act of studying God and the church (or other religious institution) is often seen as exclusively male orientated, the example of a female minister and theologian such as Dr Sef, is a promising sign of agency, representation, and a shattering of the ecclesial “glass ceiling”for women in the Pacific.
Glass ceiling: a limit to professional advancement which is imposed upon women or other non-dominant groups in their line of work.