In preparing for the fifth edition of the Osijek Doctoral Colloquium in the summer of 2020 we experienced significant challenges due to the global COVID–19 pandemic. The question was, in such a time as this, how to provide an open space with mentoring assistance and peer interaction for the development of contextual approaches to mission and for strengthening the missiological dimensions of PhD research projects across Christian traditions, in CEE countries and institutions in order to help the churches to be relevant witnesses in the post–communist world. Interesting enough, in this search for alternative delivery modes and meeting places, several theological schools whose faculty previously benefited from ODC as participants, now showed a greater eagerness to serve as satellite locations, and to advertise the program in their local networks.
“I liked the comments by the brothers and sisters from different countries about my research. I was surprised to see how my thoughts resonate in different contexts, and at the same time how I became richer because I heard others and what they do for research.” (Student participant from Russia)
The 2020 Summer Osijek Doctoral Colloquium was attended by 23 participants: 17 students and six mentors. ODC students came from seven countries, while in terms of geographical areas, 13 (actually 12) participants were from Central and Eastern Europe and four (actually five) from Central Asia. Students and mentors participated at various locations. Only three out of the 17 students met daily in a so-called satellite location, in the Almaty Bible Institute. Others worked from home, some had arranged to be in a cottage, some went to a nearby theological school or seminary.
“The greatest benefit of the programme for the participating students and candidates to become PhD students is the peer interaction and the exposure to the breadth of theological research in similar and in quite different contextual circumstances. This leads to the appreciation of the ‘listening and responding ear’ – the recognition that academic work cannot be carried on successfully in isolation apart from the academic community and critical interaction.”
Most students joining this year’s ODC were still in the process of being admitted to a PhD program. They were highly appreciative to the time they had during the summer to (re)think their topics in an academic setting, with peers and mentors, and to develop their ideas to serve their PhD research proposal.
“I had four meetings with the teachers to clarify the topic and methodology. As a result of the meetings, the topic was made more precise and a methodology more convenient to suit the purpose of the research.” (Student participant from Croatia)
ODC as a learning community was also valued highly. Students commended different methods and especially highlighted the advice and comments received from the mentors as well as the help and access to resources provided by Katharina Penner, including CEEAMSPrints and other tools provided for their research. They appreciated the new insights gained through interactions with the colleagues and opportunity to share their research with the peers and hear their comments. ODC is a much-needed meeting point of the Christian scholars where they get to know each other academically, personally and spiritually.
“I am thankful to God for these two weeks in this program… This is my first on–line certificate, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from all of you, professors, and students likewise.” (Student participant from Romania)